Skip to main content

Getting the most out of Thunderbolt 3

Thunderbolt 4
(Image credit: Intel)

Since its introduction a few years ago, Thunderbolt 3 has quickly made its impact on the technology world. Designed to deliver outstanding performance, Thunderbolt 3 continues to expand its adoption and can be found in some of the latest and most advanced laptops, including the MacBook Pro and Air.

Thunderbolt 3 brings Thunderbolt to USB-C at speeds up to 40 Gbps, creating one compact port that does it all – delivering the fastest, most versatile connection to any dock, display, or data device. Providing the most advanced, efficient, and versatile I/O solution available, Thunderbolt 3 helps PC and MacBook users gain the most from their system and get more done with faster multitasking and the ability to create impactful high definition content.

With so many new Thunderbolt 3 products launching, let’s take a deep dive into the technology and discover why it’s time to upgrade!

About the author

Danielle Mayea at StarTech.com

Faster speeds

There’s a reason most high-performance laptops available today feature Thunderbolt 3 (i.e. MacBook Pro, Dell XPS, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon). The speed and capabilities of this technology make it a must have for any professional using resource demanding applications.

With Thunderbolt 3, you can expect the following:

40Gbps data transfer, which is four times the speed of SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps and double the speed of Thunderbolt 2. At those speeds you can transfer three hours of 4K video in less than a minute.

USB 3.1 Gen2 data support (10 Gbps) ensuring your new device is compatible with existing USB devices and cables

10Gbps peer-to-peer connections, which means that when you connect to your co-worker’s device to do a quick local transfer, you can move data faster than most Ethernet port connections.  

If you’re looking for a laptop that can provide the best possible desktop docking experience and quick transfer speeds, you should be shopping for Thunderbolt 3 devices.

More protocols

Having a Thunderbolt 3 port on your laptop means that it can support not only Thunderbolt 3, but also DisplayPort, USB 3.1 Gen 2 data support (10Gbps) and PCI Express.

When speaking on PCI Express specifically, Thunderbolt 3 provides:

Four lanes of PCIe Gen 3, allowing for video cards, faster PCIe NVMe storage or faster Network Interface Cards (10Gbps or 40Gbps) to be connected externally to laptops.

Displays and resolutions

If you’re a graphic designer, videographer, or engineer, multiple high-resolution displays are most likely a top priority for you. Thunderbolt 3 is that all-encompassing technology that can give you the resolution and displays you’re looking for to stay productive. The video output is delivered through the DisplayPort protocol built into Thunderbolt 3 and comes uncompressed from your laptop’s GPU for optimal performance from your computer.

A single Thunderbolt 3 connection provides eight lanes of DisplayPort 1.4 (HBR3 and MST) which enables support for the following:

Two 4K displays at 60Hz each

One 4K display at 120Hz

One 5K display at 60Hz

As an engineer, two 4K displays means that you can access more content in finer detail. Using high resolution monitors can help improve accuracy when working in CAD applications and ensure designs are delivered in the quality expected.

If you’re a graphic designer working with high resolution images, a 4K monitor means that you can view your work with sharper quality and vivid details often at the image’s native resolution. Your edits can be more precise and images more defined.

Lastly, the videographer shooting with the latest 4K cameras will benefit from editing on a 4K or 5K display where the full native resolution of the video is visible. 5K monitors will also allow for a 4K video to be edited at full resolution (unscaled) and still provide room for video editing tools.

Power

With Thunderbolt 3, users can access substantial power delivery from their workstation devices and accessories:

Thunderbolt 3 devices provide power delivery up to 100W (where supported) to keep your laptop charged. This means that you can bypass your charging brick and opt to charge your device through your docking station, reducing clutter on your desk and the number of cables you need to bring in your laptop bag.  

Thunderbolt 3 also provides up to 15W to bus-powered devices such as travel docks, card readers and higher speed NVMe drives.

Daisy Chain your devices

While not everyone may need to daisy chain devices, it is worth noting that Thunderbolt 3 makes it possible.

Daisy Chain up to six devices through a single Thunderbolt 3 port. This means that your laptop can be connected to a series of different devices and accessories all through your Thunderbolt 3 port. Your daisy chain could include a docking station, hard drive, Thunderbolt 3 monitor, a 10Gb Ethernet adapter etc.

How Thunderbolt 3 can help your business

Thunderbolt 3 can prove to be a huge asset for businesses who have users with unique needs and a mix of laptops. The requirement for all Thunderbolt 3 devices and accessories to be certified by Intel helps to ensures that a certain performance standard is continuously met, and universal compatibility is guaranteed amongst devices and accessories (within the same OS family). This means simplified mass rollouts for organizations and easier troubleshooting. To verify if your Thunderbolt 3 accessories are certified, they should be marked with Thunderbolt’s signature “lightning bolt” icon indicating they have passed Intel’s rigorous certification process.

Thunderbolt 3 is a game changer in how we think about connectivity and performance. Through the number of protocols, it supports it reduces all confusion surrounding USB-C and provides a consistent user experience. Put simply, it offers more power, more capabilities, and more productivity.

If you’re a user who requires high-performance technology, resource demanding applications, higher resolutions and speed, Thunderbolt 3 is your answer.

What about Thunderbolt 4?

Intel announced the next generation in Thunderbolt technology, Thunderbolt 4, at CES 2020, proclaiming it will deliver “increased minimum performance requirements, expanded capabilities and USB4 specification compliance”.

It is expected to be the most complete and future proof version of USB-C. In the near future we can expect to see Thunderbolt 4 being incorporated into the latest 11th Gen Tiger Lake processors for laptops and accessory releases. When coupled with the launch of USB4, device performance standards and capabilities are sure to reach new heights in the coming year.

As we approach the release of Thunderbolt 4, we’ll keep you updated on all the benefits it has to offer and how using certified connectivity products can help you make the most of this revolutionary technology.