I'm looking to buy a 27" display for my MacBook Pro (2017 | 15.4-inch 2880 x 1800 | Intel HD Graphics 630 1536 MB graphics)

I am considering a 4K display, but I've read in multiple places that scaling can cause performance issues. (This article explains the issue: https://bjango.com/articles/macexternaldisplays/)

Will this be an issue with my MacBook?

  • Since my answer didn’t get a single up vote (other than mine), perhaps editing this to define what performance means and when that becomes an issue?
    – bmike
    Commented May 21, 2020 at 0:15

3 Answers 3


I am using a Macbook pro 13 2015 with a 4K 27 inch display, and definitely having performance issues when I use it in one of the scaled resolutions (e.g., 2560x1440, 2304x1296, 3008x1692..). When used in "Default for display" mode, which is an equivalent of 1920x1080 UI resolution, performance is great.

According to specs of 2015 Macbook pro 13, the limit is to drive a 4K display at 3840x2160 resolution. When Macbook pro is used in any of the scaled resolutions, internally, GPU renders a canvas which is much bigger than the actual 4K resolution, and then downscales it to 4K. This puts real burden on performance.

The performance hit shows itself as stuttering animations on mission control window animations, with addition of fans spinning on higher RPMs.

However, when I look at specs of 2017 Macbook Pro 15.4 which is listed here, I can see that it can properly drive two 5K resolutions simultaneously. Therefore, if you use 2560x1440 scaling on 27 inch 4K monitor, we could expect that its GPU would easily render the 5K canvas, then downscale it to 4K native resolution without any problems.

This was the elaboration about performance. From sharpness point of view, 2560x1440 scaled resolution would be just a bit softer than the exact pixel doubled 1920x1080 mode, however, if you look at a proper distance (greater than 53 cm according to this site), you won't notice too much difference. 2304x1296 scaled resolution works even greater, because text is a bit bigger.

If you accept to spend more money and if you can find one, the LG Ultrafine 4K or 5K displays from Apple would be the best, because you would be able to use them in exact pixel doubled mode, which gives sharpest image and best performance. However, with much less price, and some acceptable performance penalty, you could as well live with a 27 inch 4K display from other manufacturers. Just be sure to get a model which has less compatibility problems with Mac.

You can also have a look at my answer to a similar question here.

  • What software and GPU load is happening when you find the stuttering? The fans respond to CPU/GPU temperature so of course they track stuck work - not GPU animations. Basically, how sure are you your performance issues have nothing to do with the display other than they become visible to you thusly? I’ll have to poke at scaling - I’ve never seen that be the straw that broke the performance camel’s back - but your detail makes me want to retest to be sure.
    – bmike
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 17:31
  • Are you using your display at default resolution? I expect that default resolution would not have any performance issues. I don't know what scaling options are available on your monitor, but try using a scaled resolution which gives more space, and then try watching a youtube HD video at full screen, and compare the fan RPMs and CPU/GPU temperatures. In my system, when used in default resolution, fans are never audible in this test, however if I use a scaled resolution such as 2560x1440, after a minute, fans start to spin like crazy. Commented May 24, 2020 at 17:40
  • I scale up and down all the time. On my retina and on my 4K. I scale when I’m doing training, zoom / teams / TeamViewer sharing my screens, making training videos, collaborating in real time with other people that may not be able to see the text in 4K. I probably change scaling 4 times a day on average. I’m kind of floored I can broadcast on this rig TBH and I haven’t exhausted the write cycles on the SSD. I push this hardware hard. Also, it HAS NO FANS - so one would expect it to throttle much sooner than a pro that has active cooling. Maybe the secret is a low clocked CPU?
    – bmike
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 18:30

No - just having that display connected won’t cause performance issues. If you have performance issues where your GPU is over driven, any display can make that worse, but the problem isn’t the display in that case IMO.

For perspective, My MacBook from 2015 with a 1.1 GHz Dual Core M CPU and Intel HD Graphics 5300 GPU runs 4K display and the integrated retina screen side by side and scales well. It’s fast, reliable and performant.

About this MacBook One - CPU and GPU

The Mac you have is far more capable than mine, so I can't see any reason why you would run into issues. Given a lower cost MacBook is still efficient and fast 5+ years down the line and MacBook Pro tend to last as long in my experience for almost all use cases.

About this MacBook One - displays and GPU

I do heavy text processing, web development, light Xcode and UI layout, and depend on Pixelmator Pro, xScope app, and all manner of pro work on this one ported wonder. Not everyone would like this, so I get if you need a better GPU / eGPU / Thunderbolt to develop, but I don't think you'll be limited with your Mac and a decent or better 4k display.

  • Can it be different because it's scaling to a 21" display?
    – DavidM
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 14:08
  • 4K is 4K - the pixel size doesn’t affect how the computer sends the signal. Good question @DavidM
    – bmike
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 14:20
  • What about the issues brought up in the article here: bjango.com/articles/macexternaldisplays Is that not a concern?
    – DavidM
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 19:17
  • I can not reproduce any performance issue on my hardware. I conclude the cause is not simply a 4K display. I don’t have concerns about hardware I mentioned here in my answer to you @DavidM
    – bmike
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 21:51

Anecdotally, I believe that using scaling sizes that are not integer values, e.g. 1.5x, may require more work than using the default 2x scaling, or the 'native' 1x.

So a 4K display of 3840x2160 will work well at the default 2x Retina scaling of "looks like 1920 x 1080", but not at "looks like 2560 x 1440".

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