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Is there a way to achieve 4k@60 from a 13" rMBP '13?

cappo3

macrumors regular
Original poster
Dec 3, 2014
171
58
Hi guys!
Back in 2013, just as it came out, I bought a 13" rMBP Late 2013. I kitted it out as I thought was best (i7 2.8, 16GB, 512GB).
I am very happy with its performance even today, since I do not really tax the system that much (usual Office stuff, some VLC/mpv, nothing intense). I had the battery replaced at an Apple store last summer, since I got to 1500 cycles and I was afraid they were going to discontinue support by making it a legacy model. In short, it performs flawlessly for what my needs are.
Let's cut to the chase: I need to power a 4k 32" external monitor. The rMBP easily does that, at 30hz. Unfortunately I noticed I get awful headaches from it. It takes about 10 minutes of usage for me to get nauseated... which lasts until I go to bed. No question asked, this is not ideal. Just as a test, I tried running the monitor at 720p@60hz (retina 2x), the highest resolution the rMBP has to offer at this higher refresh frequency. Everything got HUGE on the screen, but my headaches seem to be gone.
Now to the question: Is there a way to achieve 4k@60hz on an external monitor, or do I really have to get rid of a perfectly functioning laptop because of this?
The alternative would be taking over a mid-2017 13" MBP from a friend, unfortunately a pretty basic spec (2 TB, no touch bar, i5, 8GB, 256GB). It feels like a step back from my 7-year-old machine.
Thank you so much for chiming in!
 

throAU

macrumors 604
Feb 13, 2012
6,863
4,530
Perth, Western Australia
Pretty sure no (well, see below), as the version of DisplayPort and the GPU in it do not support 4k60

It's not a software thing, the GPU and port in the machine are from a time when intel's integrated GPU hardware did not support 4k60.

This is one of the hazards of expecting a machine to last purely because you maxed the spec at time of purchase. Time and standards for display/ports/connectivity/etc. move on and you can't upgrade those at time of purchase, or later.


One EXPENSIVE thing you could maybe do is get an external GPU box and run the gauntlet of making eGPU work over thunderbolt, but I don't think apple officially support it and its likely to break unless using thunderbolt 3 over USB-C.

That way you could add a newer external discrete GPU that supports the standards required.
 
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brianmowrey

macrumors 6502
Oct 5, 2020
343
102
Apple specs say your external 60hz ceiling is 1080p. Where does it say the limit is 720? I wonder if a later OS update capped it

edit: I doubled back to research 32"+1080p display compatibility, and realized I'm a bit out of my depth atm. My impression is, different 32" displays will offer different degrees of 1080p friendliness...
 
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cappo3

macrumors regular
Original poster
Dec 3, 2014
171
58
Pretty sure no (well, see below), as the version of DisplayPort and the GPU in it do not support 4k60

It's not a software thing, the GPU and port in the machine are from a time when intel's integrated GPU hardware did not support 4k60.

This is one of the hazards of expecting a machine to last purely because you maxed the spec at time of purchase. Time and standards for display/ports/connectivity/etc. move on and you can't upgrade those at time of purchase, or later.


One EXPENSIVE thing you could maybe do is get an external GPU box and run the gauntlet of making eGPU work over thunderbolt, but I don't think apple officially support it and its likely to break unless using thunderbolt 3 over USB-C.

That way you could add a newer external discrete GPU that supports the standards required.
Thank you for your suggestion!
As you hinted, the addition of a discrete GPU to the system would probably defeat the purpose of keeping this mac in the ring. As I configured this machine, the purpose was never really future-proofing. I actually never expected it to last this long anyway! And I love the USB-A ports... :p

Apple specs say your external 60hz ceiling is 1080p. Where does it say the limit is 720? I wonder if a later OS update capped it

edit: I doubled back to research 32"+1080p display compatibility, and realized I'm a bit out of my depth atm. My impression is, different 32" displays will offer different degrees of 1080p friendliness...
I meant 720p retina 2x. I can accordingly get 2560x1440@60hz, but it's not retina-optimized and looks awful. I end up getting headaches from it because of how blurry it is, instead of the lower refresh rate!
 
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biffuz

macrumors regular
Feb 23, 2016
123
83
eGPU boxes are so expensive, it's cheaper to buy a 32" 1440p monitor... and that's not including the GPU itself.
Also, TB2 enclosures are becoming rare.
 
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cappo3

macrumors regular
Original poster
Dec 3, 2014
171
58
It would definitely be easier to exchange the monitor, rather than swapping the mac. Nevertheless, what's the opinion of the forum about the MBP 13" 2017? A machine to avoid?
 
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Fishrrman

macrumors Core
Feb 20, 2009
20,478
7,266
"what's the opinion of the forum about the MBP 13" 2017? A machine to avoid?"

NO !!! DON'T BUY !!!
It has the butterfly keyboard, highly-prone to failure.

DO NOT BUY:
- MBP 13" 2016, 17, 18, 19
- MPB 15" 2016, 17, 18, 19
ALL have the butterfly keyboards.

Apple has a 4-year extended warranty on these for the keyboard, but after that time, you'll have to pay for the repair.
And the repair will cost $700-750... even if it's ONLY ONE KEY.

DO BUY:
- MBP 13" 2020 (has the new scissors keyboard)
- MBP 16" (also has the new keyboard)
 
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brianmowrey

macrumors 6502
Oct 5, 2020
343
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I meant 720p retina 2x. I can accordingly get 2560x1440@60hz, but it's not retina-optimized and looks awful. I end up getting headaches from it because of how blurry it is, instead of the lower refresh rate!
Ah. I should have just stayed out of the thread as I am not of the modern world! bowing out
 
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ght56

macrumors 6502
Aug 31, 2020
491
335
I believe you can use SwitchResX to get 50-52Hz from your current display...that said, I would personally just get a QHD display a bit smaller than 32 inches rather than place that massive of a GPU load on an older system.

I agree with Fishrrman, avoid butterfly keyboards and especially the 2016/2017 models, which are a hot mess of a computer.
 
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biffuz

macrumors regular
Feb 23, 2016
123
83
I totally understand your frustration, I used to own an early '13 15" rMBP and replaced it with a late '13 just to have that sweet 4k@60, losing quite a bit of money, only to be screwed by Apple when they just bailed on nVidia GPUs with High Sierra. I kept Sierra as long as possible but now with Catalina this thing becomes unusable with an external monitor, not to mention all the other problems Catalina has.
Thanks Apple, I don't think my next notebook will be a Mac.
 
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cappo3

macrumors regular
Original poster
Dec 3, 2014
171
58
I believe you can use SwitchResX to get 50-52Hz from your current display...that said, I would personally just get a QHD display a bit smaller than 32 inches rather than place that massive of a GPU load on an older system.

I agree with Fishrrman, avoid butterfly keyboards and especially the 2016/2017 models, which are a hot mess of a computer.
I looked up your suggestion and found an old post about what you meant. I purchased SwitchResX and ordered a mini Displayport to Displayport cable, which should allow me to achieve 52hz. I will try this out as soon as the cable comes, can't wait! Thank you so much for your suggestion!
I thought about putting too much strain on the GPU by powering a 4K@60 monitor. I do not do anything GPU or CPU intensive. My bigger screen will be used for Safari navigation and spreadsheets... I hope it can withstand this kind of office-usage. Should I worry?

I totally understand your frustration, I used to own an early '13 15" rMBP and replaced it with a late '13 just to have that sweet 4k@60, losing quite a bit of money, only to be screwed by Apple when they just bailed on nVidia GPUs with High Sierra. I kept Sierra as long as possible but now with Catalina this thing becomes unusable with an external monitor, not to mention all the other problems Catalina has.
Thanks Apple, I don't think my next notebook will be a Mac.
I feel you, my man. I feel the same about having to leave a laptop I thoroughly enjoy since 2013 for a more recent model I would probably reject within the shortest time. I do not need USB-C (yet), I like the older keyboard (and the Magic external one which also is amazing).
Moreover, the added weight of my old rMBP does not bother me in the slightest.
The cherry on top would be it breaking down (recall programs about the keyboard, thanks @Fishrrman for the insight, and about the screen and the battery as well, found on Apple page about the active recalls)... Especially after Apple will have shut down said programs.
My rMBP got new speakers and a newish battery, it performs flawlessly on Mojave. I did not yet have a reason to update to Catalina. I'd like a more modern Safari experience, but other than that, I'm staying where I am.
 
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ght56

macrumors 6502
Aug 31, 2020
491
335
I looked up your suggestion and found an old post about what you meant. I purchased SwitchResX and ordered a mini Displayport to Displayport cable, which should allow me to achieve 52hz. I will try this out as soon as the cable comes, can't wait! Thank you so much for your suggestion!
I thought about putting too much strain on the GPU by powering a 4K@60 monitor. I do not do anything GPU or CPU intensive. My bigger screen will be used for Safari navigation and spreadsheets... I hope it can withstand this kind of office-usage. Should I worry?

I am probably more paranoid than others having experienced GPU failures on two MacBook Pros (although both were discrete GPUs so it's a little different than your iGPU). When you go to the higher refresh rate, you are going to have higher temperatures, and, as I am sure you are aware, heat is the mortal enemy of our systems. MacBook Pros tend to favor a more compact form factor and, consequently, are not the best at dissipating heat when compared to say slightly larger laptops with much beefier cooling capabilities. One of the reasons I like QHD is because it puts way, way, way less strain on a system than 4K, 5K, or 6K. Fewer pixels have to be pushed, and, in most cases, you can operate at the native, unscaled resolution and get text and icons at a very reasonable size. This is a far lesser burden on the GPU and CPU and means less heat, more thermal headroom for other tasks, potentially a smoother-operating UI, and, in my opinion, potential benefits to longevity. (Some may disagree with my opinion on this.)

So, in sum, I really can't say if you should worry...when you try the 52hz I think it depends on if you observe vastly elevated temperatures and/or if the UI is not operating smoothly. If so, I would probably forgo the 4K display for a QHD one.
 
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