Two iMacs vs iMac & Thunderbolt Display

Lastmboy

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jan 16, 2012
126
0
Here's an unusual one for you. Likely a dumb idea, but I'm curious.

I want to get a 27" iMac, but I want dual display, even though they're 27" (yes, I'm greedy). The problem with using the Thunderbolt display along with the iMac, is that they don't look the same and aren't the same height. That's not the end of the world, as you can sit it on a stand or whatever.

However, here's an idea that crossed my brain. I can get an older refurbished 27" iMac for around $100 - $200 more than a new Thunderbolt display. What do you think of linking two iMacs together? I watched a Youtube video (below) where a guy was using a second iMac, and he could use it as a standalone or as a secondary (extended) display for the first iMac.

How to Connect Two 27" iMacs for a Dual Display Setup! - YouTube

I was curious about this, because the height problem would go away, and I could potentially use the second one as a bootcamp machine or whatever, leaving the primary one free from "tampering".

Here were my initial thoughts:

PROS:
second display that looks identical to primary
could be used for bootcamp without having to screw with primary
could be used as an independent workstation (multi tasking)
could be used for integrated processing (e.g. video editing)
additional hard drive space
spare keyboard and mouse
minimal extra cost (not much more than new display)

CONS:
more things to go wrong (whole iMac vs just a monitor)
wasted processor if you just use it as a secondary display
need adapter/mini display port connector
can you hook a thunderbolt iMac to one without thunderbolt?
do you lose all benefit by not connecting them via thunderbolt?

I'm not sure about the whole thunderbolt situation. In the video, I'm assuming he's using two older (mini display port) iMacs. I'm not sure of the issues if you try to mix them. Would there be any added benefit/features/capabilities by connecting two thunderbolt iMacs? That's not quite as feasible, as they cost a lot more, and not many refurb ones, but I'm still curious.

Anyone have any theories or even want to just comment on how stupid this sounds?
 

musty345

macrumors regular
Feb 28, 2010
239
2
United Kingdom
That's a brilliant idea! For roughly the same price, you get two computers, and they'll look better together. I've always thought that the thunderbolt displays are a waste of money...

If you ever get bored of the setup, you can always move one of the iMacs to a different room as well. If you have the money, do it!
 
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Fynd

macrumors 6502
Aug 11, 2010
426
223
This would be a great idea, and I've considered it before myself. The second "dummy" iMac could be used as a great file server, media server, whatever.
 
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B.A.T

macrumors 6502a
Oct 16, 2009
660
407
Idaho
What do you plan to do with this set up? If it's nothing too intensive on the cpu then just pick up a couple of 2010 models and ignore Thunderbolt.
 
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tardman91

macrumors 65816
Oct 21, 2009
1,031
171
Tampa Area, FL
I'd do this if I needed two displays. I think the Thunderbolt Displays are a total waste of money anyway. Why pay $1000 for a monitor when for a couple hundred more you could get a whole other computer. I'd run Windows on it and use it as a file/media server. Put a SSD in the primary machine to run the OS and such and keep your files on the other. And I too would be bothered that they didn't match if you got the Thunderbolt Display.
 
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jji7skyline

macrumors 6502
Aug 10, 2011
302
0
Great idea! You might even manage to cluster them to form an even more powerful computer :)
 
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BlazednSleepy

macrumors 6502a
Apr 15, 2012
693
193
I remember reading that apple made the 2011 models not be able to accept video from another device. Not sure if this excludes another iMac but keep that in mind.

I know you can hook up a game console to the 2010 iMac. But you can't with the 2011.
 
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kitsunestudios

macrumors regular
Apr 10, 2012
226
0
An actual cluster is probably not going to be effective for most apps. 3d and video rendering, however, can take advantage of that second computer pretty easily.
 
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Lastmboy

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jan 16, 2012
126
0
What do you plan to do with this set up? If it's nothing too intensive on the cpu then just pick up a couple of 2010 models and ignore Thunderbolt.
I use it primarily for programming and website design, so I don't need crazy performance. This option would work, too.
 
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SPNarwhal

macrumors 65816
Apr 22, 2009
1,234
153
illinois
I would do it. The extra computer would probably be nice to have, even if it's just for storage or such. Also I'm sure it will retain a better resale value. And last but not least, you will have spare parts / spare computer if anything was to ever happen.
 
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cosmicjoke

macrumors 6502
Oct 3, 2011
484
1
Portland, OR
maybe consider your electric bill if you're powering yet another computer and only using it for the display, other than that sounds good to me...
 
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theSeb

macrumors 604
Aug 10, 2010
6,963
91
Poole, England
I remember reading that apple made the 2011 models not be able to accept video from another device. Not sure if this excludes another iMac but keep that in mind.

I know you can hook up a game console to the 2010 iMac. But you can't with the 2011.
2011 iMacs accept input ONLY from thunderbolt devices (in other words, only 2011 Macs)
 
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Lastmboy

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jan 16, 2012
126
0
2011 iMacs accept input ONLY from thunderbolt devices (in other words, only 2011 Macs)
That's what I was afraid of. Do you know if two thunderbolt iMacs will work together? i.e. an iMac will accept video input from another thunderbolt iMac?
 
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theSeb

macrumors 604
Aug 10, 2010
6,963
91
Poole, England
That's what I was afraid of. Do you know if two thunderbolt iMacs will work together? i.e. an iMac will accept video input from another thunderbolt iMac?
Yes, that will work.

http://support.apple.com/kb/PH4469

Apple Support said:
If you have an iMac with Thunderbolt, any other Mac with Thunderbolt can use it as a display. The iMac will play both the video and audio from the other Mac.

If you have a 27-inch iMac with a Mini DisplayPort, any other Mac with a Mini DisplayPort or Thunderbolt port can use it as a display. Make sure you have a Mini DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort cable.
So you can use it like this

A - 2011 iMac
B - 2nd 2011 iMac
C - pre 2011 iMac with Displayport

C can be used as a display for A with a mini display port cable
A cannot be used as a display for C

A can be used as a display for B with a Thunderbolt cable
B can be used as a display for A with a Thunderbolt cable

I hope that makes sense.
 
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AlfaLavala

macrumors regular
Jun 9, 2009
121
0
Aberdeen, UK
This is interesting...

Can you use target mode whilst booted into Windows on the "2nd display" iMac?

edit: also could you use one thunderbolt cable but switch which imac is acting as target?
 
Last edited:
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theSeb

macrumors 604
Aug 10, 2010
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Poole, England
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newagemac

macrumors 68020
Mar 31, 2010
2,090
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I thought about doing something like this before but my question is can the second iMac be turned on and used as a server while simultaneously being used as a display for the other computer?
 
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Lastmboy

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jan 16, 2012
126
0
So you can use it like this

A - 2011 iMac
B - 2nd 2011 iMac
C - pre 2011 iMac with Displayport

C can be used as a display for A with a mini display port cable
A cannot be used as a display for C

A can be used as a display for B with a Thunderbolt cable
B can be used as a display for A with a Thunderbolt cable
Excellent!! Exactly the answer I wanted to hear. Thanks so much.

This should be obvious, but nowhere in the article did it mention use of the second iMac as an "extended" display. I'm kind of assuming this, as it would be somewhat useless to connect an iMac to an iMac, otherwise. It just kind of concerns me that it talks about getting the same sound and video as the primary, making it sound like it's a duplicate display. Is my assumption that you could use it to extend the desktop of the primary (not mirror it) correct?
 
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theSeb

macrumors 604
Aug 10, 2010
6,963
91
Poole, England
Excellent!! Exactly the answer I wanted to hear. Thanks so much.

This should be obvious, but nowhere in the article did it mention use of the second iMac as an "extended" display. I'm kind of assuming this, as it would be somewhat useless to connect an iMac to an iMac, otherwise. It just kind of concerns me that it talks about getting the same sound and video as the primary, making it sound like it's a duplicate display. Is my assumption that you could use it to extend the desktop of the primary (not mirror it) correct?
You can mirror or extend your desktop, just like you would if you were connecting to another "normal" monitor.
 
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Lastmboy

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jan 16, 2012
126
0
You can mirror or extend your desktop, just like you would if you were connecting to another "normal" monitor.
OK. Thanks. Like I said, I assumed that, but sometimes assumptions can get you in trouble.

So is there any great disadvantage to using a 2nd iMac instead of a thunderbolt display?
 
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astrorider

macrumors 6502a
Sep 25, 2008
519
40
I thought about doing something like this before but my question is can the second iMac be turned on and used as a server while simultaneously being used as a display for the other computer?
I'd like to know this too.
 
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