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30″ LCD Showdown: Apple vs. Dell

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In my quest to upgrade an aging dual-monitor setup (a 20” main screen with a 17” screen off to the side to house application palettes, iTunes, etc.), the only real decision to make was choosing between an Apple (s aapl) 30” Cinema Display and a Dell (s dell) 30” UltraSharp Widescreen.

I decided to go large with a 30” LCD to give me as much screen real estate as possible, cut out the extra set of cables that litter the floor behind my desk with a dual-monitor setup, and banish forever the annoying gap between the two displays. After reading numerous reviews on tech sites, soliciting advice from fellow designers, and seeing both in action, I ended up choosing the Dell 3007WFP-HC over the Apple 30″ Cinema Display. The Dell simply offered enough bang-for-the-buck to satisfy me.

Rather than give a run-down of tech specs you can get on your own, I decided to give you a comparison from a user’s perspective. Keep in mind that I’m a designer by trade, and my use and requirements of an LCD monitor may be different than yours, so what I consider an “issue,” you may not. Below are my comparisons of a few key areas and my results of using both monitors after a month of owning the Dell as well as using the Cinema Display fairly regularly.

On the Desk

apple_30-cinemaBelieve it or not, a single 30” LCD actually takes up much less space than my previous 20”/17” dual setup.

The Apple Cinema Display uses a single curved stand to support the display, offering a hole in the stand to manage cables. The bezel around the screen is thin, but due to the brushed-metal finish, it is “in your face” at all times. You definitely know you’re using a Cinema Display. The only adjustments available to you is tilting the monitor slightly forward and back.

The Dell Ultrasharp uses a more standard single arm stand with two legs that jet out to the sides for added support. The stand is sufficiently heavy enough to support the large screen, and just felt more substantial (read: safe) than Apple’s display. The black bezel around the screen is thinner than Apple’s, and simply disappears into the background because it’s black — I don’t even notice it’s there. Where the Dell shines in comparison is the available adjustments. Not only does it match Apple with tilt, but you can swivel the monitor from side to side, and adjust the height of the screen as well. Making any of these three adjustments requires two fingers and a small amount of force. At no time does the base move on the desk.

Winner: Dell Dell 3007WFP-HC, no contest.

Getting Connected

I have a Mac Pro tower; I do no gaming; and I don’t hook up my TV to my Mac, so my requirements for connections were fairly simple. While many people criticize the Dell for its lack of VGA, HDMI and other connection methods, it simply wasn’t an issue for me. Both LCDs require a dual-link DVI graphics card capable of supporting the resolution of the display (2560×1600 in both cases).

The Apple Cinema Display uses DVI to connect to the Mac, and offers two Firewire 400 ports, and two USB 2.0 ports. This is more than adequate for most users. The ports are placed rather inconveniently on the lower back of the display, but that’s fairly typical. The main cable is hard-wired to the display, something I don’t like at all. If something goes wrong with the cable, you’re returning the entire monitor for repairs.

dell_3007wfp-connectionsThe Dell Ultrasharp also uses a single DVI connection, but the cable is not hard-wired to the display. A 9-in-2 media card reader is available on the side of the monitor, as are two USB 2.0 ports. I really like the placement of these. Having them on the side of the display means I can just swivel the monitor to use them. On the back of the UltraSharp are two more USB 2.0 downstream ports, and a single USB upstream port. No FireWire ports are available on the Dell 3007WFP-HC. The ports on the back of the display are rather difficult to get to because they face downward. However, these are really made for connections of a more permanent nature, so it’s not that big of a deal.

Winner: Dell 3007WFP-HC. The card-reader and two USB ports placed on the side of the display make it infinitely more useful in this respect. The extra 2 USB ports put it over the top.

Looks Are Everything

Both companies are known for offering displays that have a great picture, and my use confirms that. But there are differences. If you’re concerned about color accuracy, you really should have a hardware calibration device. Both monitors offer a 178-degree viewing angle for smooth and accurate picture from any reasonable sitting position.

The Apple Cinema Display is about as color accurate out of the box as you can get for a consumer monitor. And, of course, OS X ships with color profiles for the Cinema Display to make calibration as simple as possible. If I have any complaint about Apple’s 30” LCD, it’s that it’s not bright enough.

The Dell UltraSharp does not ship with any calibration profiles, and out of the box it’s not as color-accurate as Apple’s display. Colors appear much more saturated on the Dell, but even running a simple calibration in OS X’s Display Preferences can quickly bring it up to par. The display is much brighter than Apple’s as it ships, perhaps even too bright. Again, you can adjust this to your liking.

Winner: Apple Cinema Display. This was a close one. For my needs, I have to calibrate both displays anyway, so it was a wash. But the Dell requires adjustment even for the average consumer.

Purchase Options

Price isn’t always the main consideration, but it’s certainly a big one. I wanted a little more than a bargain on price.

The Apple Cinema Display costs $1,799 no matter where you buy it. The return policy is simple: You own it once you take it out of the box, and Apple doesn’t have much of a policy on dead pixels — you’ve got to have a cluster of dead pixels in one small area in order to get a replacement. The Cinema Displays do, of course, come with the standard one-year warranty, but that’s about all you get with it.

dell_3007wfp-hcThe Dell Ultrasharp currently sells for $1,049 direct from Dell, but you can get a better deal (see below). Dell offers a zero-dead-pixel guarantee, with a three-year advanced replacement warranty.

I didn’t want the hassle of dealing with a possible return, so I purchased the Dell from Costco (s cost), where you can get it for $999 (at time of publication), and have the comfort of knowing you can drive it to any Costco store and return it with no questions asked. Nice!

Winner: Dell UltraSharp. I’m willing to pay a little more for quality, but not nearly twice as much. The Dell offers a better warranty, more adjustments, and an $800 savings.


Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the Dell UltraSharp. Once I got past the idea of buying a Dell product over Apple, it was easy. The display has performed superbly the last month or so, and I’m so glad I didn’t needlessly spend the extra money just to have an Apple logo on the front.

If you’re in the market for a 30” LCD, you can’t go wrong with the Dell Ultrasharp 3007WFP-HC. It offers a great picture, plenty of nice features, sturdy construction, and a price that simply can’t be beat.

35 Responses to “30″ LCD Showdown: Apple vs. Dell”

  1. (You’re an Apple fan who writes on an apple blog. Why do you try to do a neutral test ? You arent’t able to do that !)

    You say it’s easier to have one cable instead of different ones. Ever thought about faults on the lines when the cables are that close to each other ?

    You say it’s nice the apple display has just one single curved stand. What about people who want to adjust the monitor ? Not possible. With Dell it is.

    You talk about brightness of displays “out of the box”. If you want to use a 1000$-30″-LCD out of the boy you’re a noob ! These displays are made for professionals not for dull consumers !
    You must confiure displays to get good results. That’s not possible with the Apple display…

    Besides the Dell display has a much better contrast (3000:1 > 700:1) and
    a quicker response time (11ms < 16ms).

    And it costs less.

    (don't worry. it's common in the apple community…)

  2. annoyed_at_silly_replies

    @ Lindon and other folks claiming that there is a monitor that is hands-down better than all the rest.

    Silly, silly, silly. Sure, the Gateway is a good monitor. And the Dell chosen by the poster is, too, especially given all the parameters discussed. And so is the $5k Eizo (which, by the way, really does trounce the Gateway and the Dell without even working up a sweat, until of course you consider price).

    Thanks to the poster for giving us an honest review for his particular circumstances. That’s all we can ask for as readers. For people who post one-liner replies without substance, you’re just wasting our time. :(

  3. I found this article while searching for information on replacing the cable of a 30″ Apple Cinema Display. The cable, as noted in the article, is hardwired to the display. This does indeed mean you have to return it to Apple should anything happen to it. The quote from my closest Apple repair center is a minimum of $800 to send it back to Apple to repair the cable. You should keep that in mind when purchasing one of these.

  4. Has anyone had a problem with their Dell not holding the set angle? It seems the up/down pivot is too weak for the monitor. I set it angled upwards and a day or too later, it is facing more down.

  5. It is a shame neither one has a new model for 2009 yet. I would have hoped both would be shipping LED backlit ones. I would expect to see a 30″ led cinema and a 3009wfp on the market by now.

  6. Lindon

    I would seriously recommend another contender- the Gateway XHD3000. I don’t know if it’s still available, but inside it uses the Silicon Optix Reon scalar; this scalar is the market leader; it’s installed in videophile upscalars which sell for 3K each. It can upsample a Composite signal all the way to 2560×1600 and not have noticeable ‘jaggies’.

    Dunno if it’s still available though, since Acer bought the company. If not, it’s a shame. Been out on the market for over a year, and still nothing even close to it.

  7. J. Patrick

    I have a dell LCD that replaced an old bulky one. The one question I have is, while the display itself works great none of the other features work, ( firewire,USB, built in mic and camera. I just assumed that the software used to power these features were windows based and the dell website seems to back that up. Is there something that I can do to fix this ? If it matters I’m not using the DVI connection.

  8. C. Klink

    Longtime Apple customer. Now using two E-IPS 22″ Dell monitors (2209WA).

    The 3007WFP (Dell) uses an S-IPS panel (LG LM3001WQ1)…same/or close to that used in the Apple.

  9. Sai Kelly

    Man thanks, that was a very useful review, good job. I was looking for user opinions and i found them. I think your review along with constructive comments posted in response, have shed a fairly balanced light on the two screens.

    Like many have said, and you clearly stated in your opening paragraphs, if we wanted the specs, we go to the sites with the specs. Normally with a few strokes of the keys; google search; “specs” would do it!

    Sometimes people just wanna complain when they drop their ice-cream others go find another or move on, im sure you won’t lose any sleep over it!

    For someone working in fulltime Video and Photography would you all recommend the Dell? Your help on the colour has been helpful but im just wondering which one is better for motion? Tommasino above recommended the Dell for Gamers and “i want the best” i see.

  10. jgillroy

    I think it’s funny how there are so many “know-it-alls” who appear to have nothing better to do than criticize other people’s work.

  11. Tommasino

    I think one needs to make clear what kind of user he is. Monitor reccomendation will depend on that. I can think of 4 users off of my head
    1. The spreadsheet user
    2. The color accuracy user
    3. The gamer
    4. The “I want the best” user

    Different monitors target different categories. for #2 (my area) I would go with Eizo, Nec or LaCie. For #3 and #4, Dell. Etc. I don’t think, as far as I can remember, Dell are excellent at color accuracy. But then I may be wrong…

  12. Gazoobee

    I can’t believe you did a whole article on 30″ monitors without talking about the single most important aspect, the panel. What a waste of time to read this.

    I checked the Dell link and nowhere does it say exactly what kind of panel they are using. If what Tony Crockford says above is true then fine, they are equal, but the point is the author writing this article should have found that out and put it in the article so we actually know, and know for sure that we are comparing apples and apples here.

    What resolution it’s capable of, and whether one user or another thinks the colour is good, even whether or not it’s capable of being calibrated, all take a complete backseat to the technology being used. Two monitors of the same resolution and size using different panels are simply not equal.

    What panel type is the single most important thing., and you left it out.

    • Steve

      “I can’t believe you did a whole article on 30″ monitors without talking about the single most important aspect, the panel. What a waste of time to read this.”

      Agreed. It’s pretty frustrating to click on a link expecting to see a real “show down” only to find a brain dead article that’s heavy on opinion and light on facts. (Gee thanks “Gizmo”). While discussions about external connectors are all well and good, how about doing some real comparisons and discussing the color gamut ranges with both monitors? How about discussing the panel and back lighting technologies in both? How about comparing refresh rates? etc., etc.

    • Gazoobee & Steve:
      If you read the opening line of the third paragraph, you’ll see that I leave it up to you to compare full specs of the monitors.

      I didn’t go into what type of panel is used, or anything about the backlighting technologies or refresh rates or any other techno-babble, because to be quite honest, most users wouldn’t even know what we’re talking about had I mentioned it.

      Given that the links to the monitor pages give most of the information you might need in theses areas, I didn’t feel it was worth taking up more space repeating it for the vast majority of users who simply don’t care about such things and just want a good looking large LCD monitor.

      As for the resolution, I DID state the resolutions – last line of the first graph under “Getting Connected” – though again, I didn’t see the point in going into more detail about something you can get from the linked pages.

      I also believe I made it clear in the third graph that I wasn’t going to go into specs, and that this was an opinion of my experiences with both monitors. I also covered the fact that I thought the color was great on both later on.

      I’m sorry I wasn’t able to answer any and all questions you may have had about these two monitors. You both sound like you know what you’re doing, so I assume you can find that information from a quick Google search if you really wanted to.

  13. I have the Dell, and when I bought it I’d read somewhere that the TFT panel was exactly the same panel as the Apple Cinema display had at the time.

    I’ve had mine now for nearly two years and it’s performed very well.

  14. “If I have any complaint about Apple’s 30” LCD, it’s that it’s not bright enough.”

    I really do hope you’re not running your monitor that brightly. The proper brightness levels for all ACD’s is about 10-20%. Same goes for their laptops. Any brighter than that and everything you print will be lacking in contrast and probably too dark. I do hope you’re not a print designer…

    • Yes, I am a print designer. No, I don’t have the brightness turned up all the way. However, turning the brightness down to around 20% on the Apple or Dell monitor results in a virtually black screen. I get pretty darn accurate color with the factory brightness setting on both after a color calibration.

  15. Champs

    Of course it’s $99 for if you want dual-link DVI to drive one of these monitors using the new MacBooks with mini-DisplayPort, not that they have a good reputation.

    A full-sized DisplayPort adapter would make lots of sense with the newer Dell not reviewed here, but I can’t seem to find any evidence they exist.

  16. David

    Looks are in the eye of the beholder. I like the Dell’s appearance, but not the shiny word “Dell” on the front. Apple knows better than to distract people with words on the bezel, but I’d prefer it to be matte black instead of brushed aluminum.

    • I was concerned about the “shiny” Dell logo too. The screenshots must be enhanced to show it off, because it’s actually a muted brushed metal finish (not shiny at all).

      I actually considered covering it with a piece of black electrical tape – but I don’t even really see it so I didn’t bother.

  17. I have the ACD too and love it. I’ve had it for about a year and haven’t had any problems yet. The two biggest reasons I would consider the Dell for next time are the additional connections and cheaper price. With that said I’m completely happy with my choice.

    It may sound shallow but the ACD just looks good with everything else on my desk. As pk said, since I’m looking at it 8 hours a day (often more), it’s worth the extra money for me.

    The main reason I went with the Apple display was that I had heard a lot of people saying that the color quality was better than on the Dell. It’s interesting to hear your opinion on that. I’ve never been able to compare them side by side so unfortunately I don’t know for myself.

    Good write up.

  18. I have the ACD 30″, it’s about 3 years old and I’ve kind of needed to replace it for the last 2 of those years. I can still use it, but it has a type of ghosting. If you have a white box, like my browser window, on a dark background, and you keep it there for a while, then move it, it leaves a “ghost” behind. The older it gets, the worse it gets. I’ve been trying to hold out for an LED version of this monitor.

    Having a 30″ monitor is essential for a designer, at least in my opinion. It’s the one thing that’s kept me on my mac pro instead of going to a macbook pro with the 24″ monitor and the easy connection. Although, that said, if Apple came out with a non-glossy 24″, I might change my mind.

    Between the Dell and the ACD though, I still think the Dells are incredibly ugly. I don’t say that as an Apple fan boy, I actually think Apple’s hardware quality has been in the toilet lately (both my mac pro and macbook pro essentially had to be rebuilt in their first year), I just say that as someone who not only has to look at this monitor on my desk, but who will be judged by clients on how “pretty” my setup is.

    As far as the stand, I actually think the ACD is a brilliant stand. Maybe because, for me, the height is perfect already. It would be nice though if the cord came apart from the monitor, that’s a very good point.

    Good article though, I know a few other designers using Dell monitors, and the price difference is certainly attractive. Even with the price difference and the quality difference though, I’d still pay more for the Apple aesthetic — I look at my monitor 8+ hours a day and I usually get at least 3 years out of them, I’d pay more to have it look better.

  19. Astrochimp

    Yes, Apple’s oevre is white, because in their marketing line they have to be “different”. In this case, though, “different” means “non-functional”.

  20. There has been a 2008 release of the Dell 30 inch display, which features interesting bits such as HDMI and DisplayPort connectors!

    The 2007 model reviewed is obsolete now.