more third-party mini-DisplayPort adapters

miniDP-to-DP cable from Circuit Assembly Corp.Monoprice started selling mini-DisplayPort adapters a few months ago, but now another vendor has joined the game. Circuit Assembly Corp. sells not only the three types of adapters that Monoprice does (albeit at slightly higher prices) but also two it doesn’t.

  • The miniDP(female)-to-DP cable allows owners of laptops/desktops with full-size DisplayPort ports to connect to those crazy miniDP-only displays Apple (and others) sell.

Kudos to Circuit Assembly Corp. for finally providing interoperability between DisplayPort and mini-DisplayPort that had long been expected.

Apple finally updates Mac Mini

back of 2009 MacMiniFor those who have been waiting for a less antiquated MacMini (as I have been for well over a year now) the wait is now over. Apple released new Mini models this morning. The processors are about the same as before—no complaints there—but other components have moved from four-year-old technology to parity with the modern MacBook.

  • Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics (from Intel GMA 950)
  • mini-DVI and mini-DisplayPort with dual-display support (from one full-size DVI port)
  • 4GB RAM ceiling, or perhaps higher when larger-capacity DDR3 DIMMs appear
  • draft 802.11n wireless networking (from 802.11g)
  • FireWire 800 (from FireWire 400) — adapters are available
  • five USB 2.0 ports (from four)
  • the US$600 model can write DVDs (from the US$800 model only) — now SATA
  • Bluetooth 2.1 (from 2.0) — a very minor change
  • 1066 MHz front-side bus (from 667 MHz)
  • the Apple Remote is still supported but no longer included

A miniDVI-to-DVI adapter is included in the box. To connect to an older VGA monitor will require either a miniDVI-to-VGA adapter or a miniDP-to-VGA adapter. (Theoretically Apple could have supported chaining a DVI-to-VGA adapter on the end of the included miniDVI-to-DVI adapter on the Mini, but I presume not. It doesn’t work on other miniDVI-equipped macs.)

All in all it looks pretty good. If you’re in the market for a nice, simple, silent, desktop Mac I recommend you buy one.

As before, the Mini comes with neither keyboard nor mouse. If you plan to buy a keyboard, Apple introduced a smaller wired keyboard today. It’s sort of a combination of the existing slimline wired keyboard (which has a numeric keypad) and the existing Bluetooth wireless one (which doesn’t). All three are new since I last discussed keyboards for Mac Mini two years ago.

In addition to the Mini, Apple updated the iMac, the MacPro, Airport Extreme, and Time Capsule today as well. I am surprised there aren’t new external displays also.

third-party mini-DisplayPort adapters available next week

miniDP-to-DVI and miniDP-to-VGA adapters from MonopriceRespected discount cable house Monoprice has added miniDisplayPort-to-DVI and miniDisplayPort-to-VGA adapters to its catalog with an ETA of January 16, 2009.

Third-party adapters were expected after Apple licensed the mini-DisplayPort spec, but it’s nice to see them actually arrive. Monoprice’s prices are about half of Apple’s, which is also welcome.

I was also expecting to see miniDisplayPort-to-DisplayPort and miniDisplayPort-to-HDMI adapters, and also actual miniDP cables (as opposed to short adapters), but none have appeared yet. Perhaps they are on their way.

[update: The catalog now also lists a miniDisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter.]

Mini-DisplayPort, a month later

Molex Mini-DisplayPortIt’s been more than a month since Apple introduced the Mini-DisplayPort connector on its new line of laptops. Here are some thoughts.

  1. I had presumed that Mini-DisplayPort was signal compatible with standard DisplayPort, with the same 20 pins (but in a different order), but there was no corroboration. Well, my unnamed source (how mysterious!) confirms that this is the case.

    [update: Shortly after I published this entry, further validation came in the form of a mini-DisplayPort licensing page on Apple’s web site. It supplies a PDF download for mini-DisplayPort connector dimensions and pinouts.]

  2. I mentioned that Apple was continuing to sell its 23″ Cinema Display (with DVI) an addition to its new mini-DisplayPort-only 24″ Cinema Display. However Apple has since discontinued the 23″ model, leaving it without a mid-range display that can be connected to any existing Apple desktop machine. This indicates to me that Apple soon plans to release new versions of the MacPro, iMac, and MacMini that will have Mini-DisplayPort ports. (It still sells 20″ and 30″ displays that support DVI, but for how much longer?)

  3. I thought we’d see third-party miniDisplayPort-to-DisplayPort adapters by now, but I have yet to find one. My unamed source says that Apple has contributed the mini-DisplayPort connector specification to VESA for possible inclusion in version 1.2 of the DisplayPort standard. If so, cheap third-party mini-DP adapters should be around the corner. (Component manufacturing giant Molex has apparently been working on making the connectors available.) This would allow Macs with mini-DisplayPort to drive standard DisplayPort monitors, and laptops and video cards with standard DisplayPort to drive Apple’s LED-backlit Cinema Displays.

  4. It may be possible to create an unwieldy miniDP-to-DP adapter today:

    The idea is to convey the native DisplayPort signals (not DVI signals) through the conductors of the DVI cable. This presumes that the two adapters have compatible pinouts and that they have enough conductors. (The pinout of that DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter shows 17 conductors, omitting only pins 13/14/16. DisplayPort cables are supposed to leave out 13 and 14, but not 16. It might be ok to leave out 16, though, since it would only be used by the auxiliary channel.) A bigger presumption is that the F/F DisplayPort coupler doesn’t cross conductors 1-12, which unfortunately it would have to do if it’s intended to allow two coupled standard DisplayPort cables to behave like a longer standard cable. My guess is that this crazy adapter wouldn’t work, but if anyone actually tries it please let me know the result.

  5. Apple’s $100 Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter has been delayed until late December. I guess they are having trouble with it.

  6. Many have run into DRM problems viewing media through the mini-DisplayPort connector—even standard-definition stuff that shouldn’t be affected by HDCP. This is yet another case of Digital Rights Management causing problems for legitimate users. It’s getting old. Supposedly, a QuickTime 7.5.7 update addresses the issue.

More on Apple’s new laptops, LED Cinema Dispay, mini-DisplayPort

mini-DispayPort (unplugged) and USB (plugged)I saw Apple’s new laptops in person today. I was able to take some pictures of the new mini-DisplayPort connector with my cell phone’s lousy camera. They are blurry, but I think you can get a sense for the size of the connector.

Unlike full-size DisplayPort connectors, they do not latch. In this regard, it seems that mini-DisplayPort is no better than mini-DVI and micro-DVI, which is too bad.

I also got to see the new 24″ LED Cinema Display. (In this case LED refers to the backlighting. It’s still an LCD panel, not something exotic like OLED.) It connects to the laptop via a cable with three connectors: mini-DisplayPort for graphics, USB for the iSight camera and the integrated three-port USB hub, and  MagSafe power connector. The power connector is to provide power to the laptop, not to provide power to the display. Power to the display comes from a separate cable that plugs into a standard outlet, though it is confusingly omitted from almost all of Apple’s product imagespower, ethernet, USB, mini-DisplayPort.

I wonder what it would take to connect the 24″ LED Cinema Display to a PC laptop or video card with DisplayPort. A DisplayPort-to-miniDisplayPort adapter would be needed, of course, though none exist yet. Except for that, I would hope that it would work fine with the MagSafe and USB connectors left unconnected. (I have an Apple DVI 15″ LCD Studio Display connected to a standard PC and it actually requires the USB connection, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if the LED Cinema Display did also. The 1999-era Studio Display doesn’t send any data over USB, but it seems to use USB to detect computer power-on and power-off.)

Many have asked how to connect a new LED Cinema Display to an older Mac. The answer, at least for now, is that it can’t be done. There are adapters to connect newer Mac laptops to older displays, but not the other way around. Apple says all their laptops and desktops will eventually support mini-DisplayPort but, until then, the only machines that can drive LED Cinema Displays are the new Mac laptops announced last week. That’s why Apple continues to sell the existing 23″ Cinema Display with DVI. Some day someone like Gefen may sell a DVI-to-DisplayPort converter, but it will be a niche product and it will not be cheap. (On the other hand, I expect both DisplayPort-to-miniDisplayPort and miniDisplayPort-to-DisplayPort adapters will soon become commonplace.)

As for the laptops themselves, I gave the new buttonless trackpads a test-drive and I think I could get used to them. Depressing the entire trackpad to click felt a bit unnatural, but just a bit. Three-finger swipes left and right across the trackpad in Safari for page-back and page-forward did feel natural.

Much has been made about dropping FireWire (IEEE 1394) from the MacBook. The MacBookAir never had FireWire, presumably for size reasons. The new MacBookPro no longer has a FireWire400 port but does have FireWire800, so FireWire400 devices can still be used after buying a new cable or a small adapter.  The new MacBook, though, has neither FireWire400 nor FireWire800 and I wonder why. Is it because the new NVIDIA chipset doesn’t support FireWire as competently as the previous version’s Intel chipset? Could it be to further differentiate the MacBookPro from the MacBook now that the MacBook has more of the Pro’s features (for example, the backlit keyboard on the high-end model)?

I’m not in the market for a new laptop but if I were I would have to weigh the lack of FireWire before buying a MacBook, which is otherwise a very nice machine. I have only a couple of FireWire peripherals (the only one that gets much use is an ancient 3rd-generation iPod) but no FireWire also means no Target Disk Mode and one way fewer to recover data when things go wrong.

What I’m really hoping for is a MacMini updated with most of the new MacBook’s internals. I’d buy one even if it lacked FireWire. The current MacMini is appealing and whisper-quiet, but it’s a generation behind even the older MacBook. It could really use the increased graphics power and higher RAM ceiling (and presumably also mini-DisplayPort) that would come with an update.

Apple’s new laptops employ Mini-DisplayPort

standard USB port next to Mini-DisplayPort

Until today, Apple’s three laptop lines used different display connectors. The MacBook used mini-DVI, the MacBook Air used micro-DVI, and the MacBook Pro used vanilla DVI. I thought Apple might standardize on a single display connector, perhaps micro-DVI.

I was partially correct. Today’s updated versions of the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro do all use the same display connector, but it’s mini-DisplayPort, not micro-DVI.

Apple needed another laptop display connector like a moose needs a hat rack, but mini-DisplayPort does have some advantages. For one, the connector is small—about 60% the size of a standard USB-A connector. (See comparison image, above.) It has a 1 Mbps bi-directional (half-duplex) auxiliary channel that could be used to handle webcam or other peripheral data. It can also drive resolutions above 1920×1200, which dual-link DVI can handle but single-link DVI variants can not. Perhaps the connector will mate with the socket more securely than mini-DVI does, but this is yet to be determined. (Latching is a feature of standard DisplayPort connectors, but so far as I can tell Apple created mini-DisplayPort on its own. It is unclear if mini-DisplayPort connectors latch. [update: They don’t.])

The downside? Mini-DisplayPort is presumably signal-compatible with standard DisplayPort, which “is the future” but hasn’t really caught on yet. This will likely be a win in the long term, but it’s not signal-compatible with DVI or HMDI (nor VGA, for that matter). DisplayPort implementations are permitted to pass DVI-compatible signals through the connector, and presumably this is what Apple has done, at least for single-link DVI.

Apple’s $29 Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter supports single-link DVI. To exceed 1920×1200 requires the Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter, priced at a whopping $99. Presumably the dual-link adapter has circuitry that actually converts the DisplayPort signals, which is why it requires USB power. (There is also a $29 Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter.)