Today Apple released the long awaited OS X 10.9.3 update. The update comes after nine weeks of beta testing, each week with a new release. One of the most interesting things about the update is not in its content but in how Apple opened up their beta seed program to all users when it was traditionally reserved for those who are part of Apple’s developer program.

The most major improvement of the update is the improved 4K (3840x2160) display support on OS X. Prior to 10.9.3 the support for 4K displays on OS X was lacking. Only a small group of monitors from ASUS and Sharp were supported for running at 3840x2160 with a 60Hz refresh rate, and the scaled display options that Apple introduced with the original Macbook Pro with Retina Display were unavailable. This made for poor usability on monitors like the Dell UP2414Q which is only 24” and has extremely small UI elements when running unscaled at its native resolution. In 10.9.3 Apple has greatly expanded the list of compatible 4K displays and has introduced scaling modes for those who prefer sharper UI elements over display real estate.

Anand took a look at the changes to 4K support in the first beta of 10.9.3. Apple now gives the user options for display scaling which includes settings for a workspace that looks like 3200x1800, 2560x1440, 1920x1080, or 1280x720. All of these are handled the same way as on the Macbook Pro with Retina Display where the display is rendered offscreen at twice the selected vertical and horizontal resolution and then scaled down to the panel. In the case of the 3200x1800 setting this means that the display is rendered offscreen at 6400x3600 which may cause performance issues when being driven with the Intel Iris graphics of a Macbook Pro with Retina Display or the entry level 21.5” iMac.

With 10.9.3 Apple has not only broadly increased support for 4K displays, but also enabled 60Hz output to 4K displays on more systems. The Dell UP2414Q, a 24" 3840 x 2160 display, is now properly supported by OS X and Macs that can drive it at its native resolution. Apple appears to have manually added a profile for the UP2414Q as its scaled resolutions are somewhat different from the 30" Sharp/ASUS 4K panels.

Apple OS X 10.9.3 4K Display Handling
Scaled Resolution ASUS/Sharp 30" 4K Dell 24" 4K (UP2414Q)
Best for Display Setting 3840 x 2160 1080p Hi-DPI
Scaled Resolution 1 1504 x 846 (3008 x 1692) 1504 x 846 (3008 x 1692)
Scaled Resolution 2 1920 x 1080 (3840 x 2160) 1920 x 1080 (3840 x 2160)
Scaled Resolution 3 2560 x 1440 (5120 x 2880) 2304 x 1296 (4608 x 2592)
Scaled Resolution 4 3008 x 1692 (6016 x 3384) 2560 x 1440 (5120 x 2880)
Scaled Resolution 5 3840 x 2160 3008 x 1692 (6016 x 3384)

There is no native 3840 x 2160 resolution exposed on the UP2414Q and by default OS X appears to want to run the panel in a 1080p Hi-DPI mode. This is similar to what happens on the rMBPs where text/UI elements appear as they would on a 1080p display, while images, videos and other similar objects appear as they would on a 3840 x 2160 display.

The 24" 4K panel gains a new intermediate scaled mode of 2304 x 1296. The table above shows the frame buffer resolution in paratheses. For example, the screenshot below was taken with the UP2414Q set to its highest scaled resolution (3008 x 1692). The full untouched PNG weighs in at 19.8MB from OS X and is a 6016 x 3384 image. At the highest scaled resolution setting the frame buffer is now over 20 megapixels (excluding the 5MP primary Retina Display), which is just insane. The screenshot open in Preview (screenshot within the screenshot) is a 2880 x 1800 screenshot, open at full size. Note how little space the screenshot occupies. Apple's Hi-DPI scaling and seamless integration across the ecosystem continues to be awesome.

Along with expanded display support, some new Macs also get the ability to drive 4K panels at 60Hz. By some I mean one: the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display from late 2013. This is the Haswell refresh of the rMBP15, and it remains the only portable Mac capable of driving a 4K panel at 60Hz over either of its two miniDP ports (HDMI is limited to 30Hz).

The 13-inch Haswell rMBP unfortunately doesn't support 4K60, although you can use its HDMI port to drive a 4K panel at 30Hz (I noted MST compatibility issues when trying to use the 2013 rMBP13's miniDP out). I suspect this has more to do with performance than a physical hardware limitation, as even running the 13-inch rMBP's primary display at a high frame rate can be a chore with a lot of windows open. The 15-inch 2013 rMBP forces the use of its GeForce GT 750M whenever you connect an external display, which helps ensure a better experience when driving a couple of high res displays. Obviously the new Mac Pro works just fine with these displays as well.

Update: As many of you have pointed out, the base 15-inch 2013 rMBP also lacks a discrete GPU. Apple doesn't specifically exclude the entry level 15-inch rMBP in its release notes. Driving ultra high resolutions (up to nearly 26MP across two displays) is mostly an exercise in memory bandwidth and ROP performance. The 15-inch rMBP benefits from having Intel's Crystalwell eDRAM on-package, which should help tremendously in the memory bandwidth department at least. If anything, the lack of Crystalwell is probably what keeps the 13-inch rMBP from getting access to the higher scaled resolution modes at least.

Beyond the improvements to 4K support Apple has also included various stability and security improvements. 10.9.3 also bundles the Safari 7.0.3 update which brings along its own bundle of security patches. The full changelog for the update is as follows:

  • Improves 4K display support on Mac Pro (Late 2013) and MacBook Pro with 15-inch Retina Display (Late 2013)
  • Adds the ability to sync contacts and calendars between a Mac and iOS device using a USB connection
  • Improves the reliability of VPN connections using IPsec
  • Resolves an issue that prevented Font Book from installing PostScript Type 1 fonts
  • Improves reliability of copying, editing and inspecting permissions of files on an SMB file server
  • Improves reliability of network home directories
  • Improves stability when installing configuration profiles
  • Improves login speed for users in Active Directory groups
  • Includes Safari 7.0.3

OS X 10.9.3 is available now to all Mac users with a computer that supports OS X Mavericks. The changelog for the update is available in the source below and Apple will put up a page detailing the security content of the update on their security page shortly.

Source: Apple

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  • tphinney - Thursday, May 15, 2014 - link

    Unfortunately, after installing the 10.9.3 update, I can now drive only one external monitor instead of two, under 10.9.2. I can either drive the 4K monitor or the 2560x1600 one, but not both any more. (Using a late 2013 MacBook Pro, with the 2GB video card.)
  • repoman27 - Thursday, May 15, 2014 - link

    When you drive a 4K display at 60 Hz, it uses two display output streams, one for each tile. In essence you are already driving two displays when you run a 4K display at 60 Hz, and you can only drive a maximum of 2 displays via mini DisplayPort / Thunderbolt. However, it is likely you could still drive a 2560x1600 display via the HDMI port in addition to a miniDP connected 4K display.
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, May 16, 2014 - link

    Except that Haswell only has 3 display controllers. Which means 2 are tied up for the 4K monitor, the 3rd for the built in display. The only way to drive 3 monitors off of a MBP like that would be to have the 4K monitor run at 30Hz (SST instead of MST).
  • repoman27 - Friday, May 16, 2014 - link

    Except the HDMI port of tphinney's MacBook is connected to a NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M which supports 4 display output streams / CRTCs. If you have a discrete GPU, you can drive a 4th display using the HDMI port on the Late 2013 MacBook Pros despite it not being an Apple supported configuration.
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, May 16, 2014 - link

    Ahh, that's a very good point. Thank you for that.
  • terryghansen - Saturday, May 24, 2014 - link

    I have exactly the same results, under 10.9.3 I can now only drive one external monitor instead of two external. With 10.9.2, I could drive three displays simultaneously: the builtin 15" Retina, an external Thunderbolt Display and an external Dell UP2414Q. All at any combination of resolutions, including the highest res for each. And, while I could only get the Dell to run at 30Hz, I also had the ability to rotate it, very important for me to use it in portrait mode for Aperture work. Sadly, rotation is ALSO missing in action now for the Dell 4K. But I do have step forward, three steps backward.
  • SiliconLunch - Monday, March 30, 2015 - link

    I'm sorry if I've overlooked this, but is there any resolution to your problem yet?

    I'm on 10.9.5 with a Late 2013 Retina 15" MBP with the NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M, and just upgraded to a NEC PA322UHD external 4K display. When the display is connected via Thunderbolt, I'm able to confirm it's running 3840x2160 @ 60Hz. However, I'm unable to get any secondary external display running on the other Thunderbolt port. Prior to the 4K display, I was able to drive 2 external 2560x1600 displays, one per Thunderbolt port. From reading this thread, it seems the hardware should support one 4K display and one non-4K display, each connected via Thunderbolt. Has there been any solution found? I'm also not able to get a stable output via the HDMI port. With HDMI, the display just flicks on and off again repeatedly. The NEC 4K does not support MST as best I can see, so I would be happy to try and run it at 30Hz (SST mode), but the options to change the refresh rates are missing from the Displays pref. I'm also happy to run my non-4K screen via HDMI, but as mentioned can't get HDMI to drive any of the external screens. Any advice would be gratefully received.
  • SiliconLunch - Monday, March 30, 2015 - link

    A solution (of sorts) has been found. I have achieved simultaneous output on 3 displays as follows:
    1) built-in 15" retina LCD at native resolution: 2800x1800
    2) external 4K display: 3840x2160@60Hz, connected via DP/TB port (NEC PA322UHD)
    3) external display: 2560x1600@30Hz, connected via HDMI (NEC PA302W)
    To get the HDMI to drive correctly I needed to use SwitchResX - the native display option only offered 1080p as the highest resolution.

    This configuration also works well in clamshell mode, with just the 2 external displays connected.

    The only issue I've observed so far is the output on the HDMI display is a bit choppy, especially when moving windows around the desktop rapidly. I am guessing this is due to the 30Hz refresh rate. It would be nice if I could drive both external displays at 60Hz, but I haven't found a way to do that yet.
  • repoman27 - Thursday, May 15, 2014 - link

    "Only a small group of monitors from ASUS and Sharp were supported for running at 3840x2160 with a 60Hz refresh rate..."

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but that small group was essentially all she wrote when the OS shipped. As far as I know, there are only 6 currently available 4K, 60 Hz displays that cost less than $15K: the ASUS PQ321Q and PQ321QE, Dell UP2414Q and UP3214Q, and Sharp PN-K321 and PN-K322B. So basically Mavericks shipped without support for the Dell 4K displays (which were released a couple months after Mavericks) or DisplayID 1.3 (which was finalized less than 2 weeks before Mavericks was released).
  • Death666Angel - Friday, May 16, 2014 - link

    I see Samsung and NEC and Philips with 4k options under 2k bucks as well. :)

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