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Thunderbolt 3: The Basics 2.0

Thunderbolt 3 is one compact port that does it all – delivering the fastest and most versatile connection to any dock, display or data device. With hundreds of Thunderbolt 3 certified devices and cables in the market and adoption rates on PCs expected to hit 41% by 2021, we have compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) as it relates to Thunderbolt 3 connectivity and compatibility.

Let’s get started with a quick run down of the tech specs:

  • Thunderbolt 3 supports – Thunderbolt, USB, DisplayPort and Power Delivery on the USB-C connector
  • The Thunderbolt 3 port and cables are small and reversible
  • Up to 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 data transfer speeds – double the speed of Thunderbolt 2
  • Bi-directional, dual protocol (PCI Express and DisplayPort)
  • Four lanes of PCIe Gen 3, allowing for video cards to be connected externally to laptops for additional processing power
  • Eight lanes of DisplayPort 1.2 (HBR2 and MST) – supporting two 4K displays at 60Hz or a single 5K display at 60Hz
  • USB 3.1 Gen2 data support (10 Gbps) – compatible with existing USB devices and cables
  • DisplayPort 1.2 – compatible with existing DisplayPort displays, devices and cables. Users can connect DVI, HDMI and VGA displays via adapters
  • Thunderbolt Networking – built-in 10GbE full duplex (flowing in both directions at the same time) connection between computers
  • Daisy chaining up to six devices to a single Thunderbolt 3 port
  • Bi-directional power delivery of up to 100W system charging, where supported. Without USB Power Delivery, Thunderbolt 3 provides up to 15W to bus-powered devices. This trickle charge can maintain host charge
  • Lowest latency for PCI Express audio

Does Thunderbolt 3 continue to use the Mini DisplayPort connector?

The performance of Thunderbolt 3 is exclusively delivered by the USB-C connector and not the Mini DisplayPort connector like the previous versions of Thunderbolt. Learn more about USB-C features here.

Is Thunderbolt 3 backwards compatible with Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2?

Thunderbolt 3 is backward compatible. Solutions and products built to Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 specifications require the Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt Adapter.

What operating systems is Thunderbolt 3 compatible with?

Unlike its predecessor, Thunderbolt 3 works with both Mac and Windows operating systems. Now, with the help of Thunderbolt 3, Mac and Windows devices can share the same docking station and both experience the unprecedented performance of Thunderbolt 3.

Is there a maximum cable length for Thunderbolt 3 technology?

Thunderbolt 3 passive cables have maximum lengths. We currently have the following passive Thunderbolt 3 copper cables:

The maximum length of the cable refers to the maximum length at which the cables perform optimal speeds while also delivering other enabled features (power or video data).

We also carry active cables, which provide 40Gbps of bandwidth at longer lengths. We offer the following active Thunderbolt 3 cables:

What is the difference between active and passive Thunderbolt 3 cables?

Active Thunderbolt 3 cables support Thunderbolt at 40Gbps data transfer and are available in lengths of 0.5m up to 2m. Passive lower cost cables, on the other hand, are only capable of 20Gbps data transfer at 1m or 2m lengths but can achieve the full 40Gbps at a shorter cable length of 0.5m.

My laptop has a USB-C port, does that mean it also supports Thunderbolt 3?

Thunderbolt 3 ports are marked with a Thunderbolt icon (see above) which means the host or the device has passed the rigorous certification process set by Intel. Certified Thunderbolt 3 cables and accessories will also feature the Thunderbolt “lightning-bolt” icon. It is important to verify if your Thunderbolt accessories are Thunderbolt certified. Intel warns that a “Thunderbolt device may not function properly or at all if attempted to be used with an operating system for which the device has not been certified.”

Thunderbolt 3 supports the highest specification i.e. USB 3.1 Gen 2, DisplayPort 1.2 , PCI Express 3.0 and Power Delivery up to 100W.

How many displays can I run at a time over a single Thunderbolt 3 connection?

A single connection can either support two 4K displays each (4096 x 2160) 30-bit @ 60Hz, one 4K display (4096 x 2160) 30-bit @ 120 Hz or one 5K display (5120 x 2880) 30-bit @ 60 Hz.

Why Thunderbolt 3?

So, what do all these technical details mean for you in your day to day life? In a simple word, productivity. For users who are looking for high-performance technology, use resource-demanding applications, require multiple HD monitors and need fast transfer speeds, Thunderbolt 3 is your answer. Whether it’s transferring a 4K video in under 30 seconds or enhancing your laptop’s graphics with an external GPU, Thunderbolt 3 and its capabilities can provide you with the levels of productivity you depend on.

Further Reading

Now that you know and understand the basics of Thunderbolt 3, register here to be the first to hear about new Thunderbolt 3 products from StarTech.com. Stay tuned for more Thunderbolt 3 & USB-C posts on The Port.

For more information on Thunderbolt 3 visit www.startech.com/thunderbolt-3

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