My Search: a New Display for a Mac Pro, Part II

I've completed my search for a new display for my 2013 Mac Pro. In the first installment, Part I back on December 16, I described what my requirements were and how the Apple Thunderbolt display was not a strong candidate. It was quickly eliminated from the competition. In this Part II, the final verdict comes in.


The back story here is that, prior to the purchase of the Mac Pro in the summer of 2014, I had been using a 2010 27-inch iMac. That Mac has a 2560 x 1440 display, called WQHD. I became very accustomed to that size display, it fit my workflow, and I didn't have to move my writing apps around very much.

However, when the Mac Pro arrived, the best displays I had available to me were 1) an Apple 24-inch LED Cinema display bought in 2009. It's resolution is 1920 x 1200, and 2) as a second display, a trusty old 23-inch Aluminum Cinema Display from 2005 (also 1920 x 1200). Both are, of course, IPS displays.

I use one main display as a primary work display and focus there. The second display is for World Clock, email and Skype, so if my primary display isn't big enough, I feel cramped and unproductive.

The search began.

The Candidates

As I mentioned in part I, I decided not to go with a UHD/4K display because it seemed to me that everything would be too small for my eyes and my taste. One key guide was this fabulous article by Rob Griffiths at Macworld: "The pros and cons of adding a 4K display to your Mac." Another was a discussion with Bob LeVitus. And so I decided to go with what I had used before: 2560 x 1440.

Samsung S27B971D

This was the first monitor that I got excited about. It met my requirements, and the definitive review I found said:

A unique mix of form and function, it does its best to capture the minimalism that Apple products are famed for, but is not afraid to appear techy and complex at the same time.

It had a PLS display. So far, so good. But it's MSRP was $1000, more than I wanted to pay. Worse, I quickly found out that it was no longer available.

Samsung S32D850T

What was available in December 2014 from Samsung was the S32D850T. (Here's a good review.) This is a slightly less expensive display ($540 at Amazon) with a Vertical Alignment (VA) display. (For more on display types, see CNET's "Monitors buying guide.") I am fond of IPS displays, even though one article I saw mentioned that VA's are pretty good for office work and writing thanks to great black levels and contrast.

Samsung S32D850T. Image credit: Samsung

The decision point came when I visited Microcenter in the Denver Tech Center and saw one up close. When I touched it, it wobbled somewhat. It felt and looked cheap. While the Apple Thunderbolt display was not on my list, I'm familiar with its aluminum design and great stability, and that more or less set the standard for me in terms of what I wanted in a plastic display.

Also, while the resolution was what I wanted, it was in a 32-inch display. That meant more space used up on my desk, and I really wanted to stick with a 27-inch model.

Asus PB278Q

Another decently priced display that caught my attention was the Asus PB278Q.  ($479 at Amazon.) It has a PLS display and got a great review at AnandTech. It was just about my final candidate until that trip to Microcenter where I also had a chance to handle a demo unit. It was even worse than the Samsung mentioned above: light in weight and a very unstable stand. I could immediately appreciate that the way these manufacturers were delivering displays with good specs and low prices (and therfore good reviews) was to skimp on the stand—something you can't evaluate by looking at it on a web page.

Asus PB278Q. Image credit: Asus

The Old Amazon Trick

There were a few other displays on my list, so I used the Amazon trick of going to the Amazon product page and reading the one and two star reviews. There, I discovered that all the displays remaining on my list were giving fits to the customers in terms of out-of-the-box initial quality, long term reliability, and horrific stories of bad customer service. I was beginning to despair.

Next page: The Final Choice and a mini Review

Page 2 - The Final Choice


Our managing editor, Jeff Gamet, has become very familiar with Hewlett Packard displays via frequent meetings with the HP display team. When I mentioned that I was unhappy with my search progress, Jeff urged me to take a look at the HP displays. Hewlett Packard takes its display technology very seriously and gears their displays to professionals. Right away, I discovered the HP Z27i model D7P92A4 on a promotional sale for $735. ( I bought it from the HP Small and Medium Business store.)

It didn't take long to realize that this was the display I was looking for. Here's a short summary of the specs of interest to me.

  • 27 inches diagonal
  • Native resolution: 2560 x 1440
  • Brightness: 350 cd/m2
  • Display technology: 2nd generation IPS with LED backlighting
  • Response (gray to gray) 8 ms
  • Anti-glare coating (not glossy)
  • Inputs: VGA, DisplayPort with HDCP, DVI-D w/ HDCP, HDMI w/ HDCP
  • 4 user USB 3.0 ports. Two on the left edge
  • Front panel display controls: brightness, contrast, etc.
  • Horizontal or vertical presentation mode
  • Stand: 12 inch (30 cm) wide base. Tilt, swivel and height adjustments.
  • Weight: 16.74 lbs (7.6 kg).

The only significant thing missing is a FaceTime camera, but I have one on the Apple LED Cinema Display, so that's not a problem.

Hewlett Packard Z27i. Image credit: HP

Out of Box Experience

The shipping box is exceptional, as good as one would wish for when there's a delicate display this large. It was oversize and had lots of styrofoam. There was no skimping.

Unboxing. Upper left: 12-inch ruler on top. Bottom right: display unit
clips very securely to base with no tools.

The display section snaps on to the stand with a firm, secure click, and all that's necessary then is to connect the power, USB 3 and DisplayPort cables. Thankfully, there is no annoying power brick.

Included is a large sheet of paper that visually shows how to connect the various cables. VGA, HDMI and the aforementioned DisplayPort cables are included. Also included is a DVD with software (for PCs), the warranty terms (three years), and a PDF User Guide explaining the controls.

From box opening to successful operation only took about 30 minutes.

All set. L: Apple 24-inch LED Cinema. R: HP Z27i

The only compliant I had, if it's even that, is that the DisplayPort cable supplied was a full DisplayPort to DisplayPort, and I needed a miniDisplayPort to DisplayPort. I was told by my HP contact that they'll fix that. Fortunately, I had one of the required cables laying around, so I was up and running out of the box.

My Experiences to Date

I've been using this display since mid-December, 2014, and I am absolutely delighted with it. It was perfect out of the box, connected with no fuss to the Mac Pro (with DisplayPort), and feels solid and stable (with only the slightest wobble). I use the color temperature of 6500K which matches what I use for the Apple LED Cinema display to its left. Every function I expect of it works with the Mac, including sleep on demand, and the absence of a glossy display pleases me greatly.

One of the things I appreciated about this display is the height adjustment. As you can see in the photo above, I was able to match the height of the Z27i to the Apple Cinema display to its left. I liked that a lot.

Another thing I appreciate is the anti-glare display. I spend a lot of time on my Mac, and this display, set at 22 percent brightness, has never come close to straining my eyes. Even though I wear progressive lens (computer) eyeglasses, every part of the display is crisp and pleasing.

About this Mac: Displays

Finally, This display runs very cool. There are no massive bubbles of warm air flowing from the rear vent even after it's been on for weeks. The rated power consumption is 60 watts in typical use and 0.5 watt in standby mode.

To say that I am delighted with this display is no exaggeration.

What's Next?

Going forward, the plan is to look at some of the new displays from HP announced at CES. I'll do that later in the year. Suddenly, after using some so-so, aging displays for years, I am on the modern display bandwagon. (A Mac Pro can do that to you.) It's going to be a great ride.

But for now, it's back to writing.