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What You Need to Know About Thunderbolt 1&2 vs Mini DisplayPort

Blog-TB2DOCK4KDHC-Lifestyle-750 (5)

If Thunderbolt 1 & 2 is Mini DisplayPort, Mini DisplayPort must also be Thunderbolt? Right? Wrong! There is a lot of confusion around Thunderbolt, Mini DisplayPort and connectivity. This is because both Thunderbolt and Mini DisplayPort use an identical connector, and the only difference is that the Thunderbolt connector can carry (in addition to the Mini DisplayPort), a Thunderbolt signal, which is a PCI-Express. Thunderbolt is fully compatible with Mini DisplayPort peripherals, and the new port is backward compatible, therefore it can still be used to connect to DisplayPort devices, BUT, only the new port can be used to connect to Thunderbolt devices.

What works, what doesn’t?

The image below shows which combinations of Thunderbolt (TB Cable) and Mini DisplayPort (DP Cable) will (green) and will not (red) work together.

TB_vs_MDP
*
This diagram refers to Thunderbolt 1 & 2 only

Clearly, there are some cases where the two technologies will work well together, but there are nearly two times as many combinations that will not. Computers with a Thunderbolt connector (usually designated with the Thunderbolt Logo – a lightning bolt shaped arrow), will function when connected to either Thunderbolt or Mini DisplayPort display, provided you are using a cable matching the technology of the display. However, a Mini DisplayPort enabled device will not function when connected to a Thunderbolt display or docking station.

The case for Thunderbolt: more connections

While Mini DisplayPort only allows for connections from your computer to a display, Thunderbolt goes well beyond that, allowing you to connect other Thunderbolt enabled devices such as docking stations, hard drive enclosures and RAID enclosures. When it comes to transferring data from a computer to an external hard drive or RAID enclosure, Thunderbolt offers far greater performance than USB 2.0 & 3.0, and even FireWire 400 & 800 and ExpressCard/PCIe. This is because Thunderbolt operates with two dedicated channels (one upstream and one downstream) each capable of speeds of 10 Gb/s or 20 Gb/s with Thunderbolt 2.

The comparison chart below illustrates just how efficient Thunderbolt is with handling media files :

TB2DOCK4KDHC_Performance_500

Also, remember that Thunderbolt cables are required to connect two Thunderbolt devices together.

Next Steps

Check out our full range of Thunderbolt and DisplayPort accessories.

Talk to a StarTech Advisor about your Thunderbolt needs.

*This articles applies to Thunderbolt 1 & 2 technology only, Thunderbolt 3.

27 Comments

  1. Wiggles 3 years ago

    The DisplayPort PC -> DisplayPort LCD using a TB cable works; I am using a Thunderbolt cable in this way, and it works fine (which makes sense, since Thunderbolt cables are apparently just Mini-DP cables with more optional features.

  2. WMO 3 years ago

    Thanks Wiggles, I have been worrying about whether DP PC -> DP LCD using a TB cable works, since I have ‘mistakenly’ ordered a TB cable.

    • SC 3 years ago

      Based on Wiggles’ comment:
      1) TB PC -> DP monitor via TB cable should also work
      2) There is no combination where a TB cable doesn’t work but DP does (therefore, TB cable is always equal or better)
      3) There are more combinations that will work (5) vs. not work (3)
      4) The only 3 combinations that will not work involve TB monitors (to my knowledge, only Apple produces one)

      • ptim 1 year ago

        I arrived here trying to figure out whether the following convoluted setup should work… spoiler: it doesn’t (in my case), either because I have a dud cable (unlikely), or it wasn’t designed to work this way 🙁

        DisplayPort-monitor to Apple-DisplayPort->-MiniDisplayPort-adapter to Apple-Thunderbolt->-USB-C to 2017 MacbookPro

        @SC’s comment gave me hope (makes sense to me!) but no dice here, so far… bummer if I have to buy a new monitor due to adapter fail 🙁

      • ptim 1 year ago

        oops! correction… my monitor is DVI out! no wonder it doesn’t work!

        Traded the thunderbolt adapter and am now successfully doing:

        DVI monitor out > HDMI female adapter > HDMI cable > generic USB-C dongle > Macbook

  3. Robert Libow 2 years ago

    I have purchased a Dell p2715Q and the display will not work from mini on the dell to the t
    TB port on my mac mini late 2014 2.6 g or on my macbook late 2014 2.6 g changed tb cables and display. Help please

    • Susan Mutterback 2 years ago

      Hi Robert,
      The diagram in the post will be able to help you a bit. By the sounds of it, you will need DP cable, not a TB cable. If you need more help, let us know what StarTech.com product you are using and we can get more assistance.
      Thanks!

    • Ted Schultz 2 years ago

      Robert: Did you ever resolve this problem? I am having the same problem with a Dell P2415Q and a Mac Mini late 2014 connected with the mini-Display-port to Display Port connector that came with the display. The display works and the computer recognizes it, but fonts in Microsoft products and in Acrobat look blurred, while other fonts look sharp, for example in the Desktop. I’d like to know if this is a cable problem or something deeper.

  4. Kim Nuyen 2 years ago

    I just bought a DisplayPort 1.2 monitor that fails to run off my laptop’s Thunderbolt 1 port. Am I right in guessing this is because Thunderbolt 1 is only DisplayPort 1.1a capable? The monitor has no way to change DisplayPort versions for me to check. Funny thing is, the monitor runs off my desktop graphics card’s mini DisplayPort with no problem. Now this mini DisplayPort must be version 1.1, as it is an old card (Radeon HD 5970) that was released one month before DisplayPort 1.2 became available. Any insights?

    • Susan Mutterback 2 years ago

      Hi Kim,

      DisplayPort 1.2 is backwards compatible, so the issue should not be due to different DisplayPort revisions. When you use a Thunderbolt 1 computer with a DisplayPort monitor, you do need to use a Mini DisplayPort cable, not a Thunderbolt 1 or 2 cable. If you are using a Mini DisplayPort cable, we recommend you narrow down the issue further. If possible, also test the Thunderbolt 1 port with another monitor. If you are troubleshooting a StarTech.com product, please contact our technical support team. You can contact us in a number of ways, listed on our support page: https://www.startech.com/Support
      Thanks!

  5. Martins Rozentals 2 years ago

    Hello!

    While my main PC are on warranty service I got an idea to connect my main monitor ASUS PG278q with display port to my MacBook Air with thunderbolt, but my MacBook didn’t recognise monitor. Im using display port cable and thunderbolt port is working on Mac (Im using it with other monitor). Any idea why?

    • Susan Mutterback 2 years ago

      Hi Martins,

      Your question sounds like it requires some investigating, it would be best to contact our Support Team: https://www.startech.com/Support

  6. Dave 2 years ago

    I want to use a 40″ 4K TV as a computer monitor. It will also be used to watch BluRay movies and occasionally even some over-the-air television shows. Computer applications include browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, photo editing, and some video editing, but no gaming.

    Sony’s 43-Inch 4K Ultra HD TV (XBR43X830C; 2015 Model) looks ideal because of its size and the review it gets.

    I want to drive the TV with Lenovo’s ThinkPad P40 Yoga PC (Intel Core i7-6500U; 16GB; 1TB SSD; 14-inch Full HD) because of its size, flexibility, weight, keyboard, etc. It contains the NVIDIA Quadro M500M 2GB graphics chip.

    The issue is that the TV has only HDMI inputs, and the computer’s 4K support is limited to its miniDisplayPort according to this review.

    I see the Sabrent Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter that claims 4K support which would seem to close the gap. Sabrent says that it connects via Thunderbolt 2.

    As a neophyte, I’m sure there are caveats and gotchas that I don’t foresee. Can you please let me know if my plan looks workable? Do you seen any pitfalls?

    Thank you!

    • Susan Mutterback 2 years ago

      Hi Dave,

      This looks a like a question for our Technical Support team. They can be reached via our online chat tool, which you can find here: https://www.startech.com/Chat. You can find additional ways to contact us here: https://www.startech.com/Support (and are available 24×5, Sunday 9pm to Friday 9pm (ET)).

      Thanks!

  7. Duy D. 2 years ago

    I just got a Dell UP3017, and having problem getting signals from my Mac Mini late 2012. The monitor claims that it does have signals from the displayports. I have tried both a thunderbolt cable, and a mini-displayport to displayport cable that came with the monitor.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Susan Mutterback 2 years ago

      Hi Duy, Our Support Team will be able to help you figure out the issue with your StarTech.com Thunderbolt cable and getting it connected to your monitor. Please reach out to the team via our online chat tool, which you can find here: https://www.startech.com/Chat. You can find additional ways to contact us here: https://www.startech.com/Support (and are available 24×5, Sunday 9pm to Friday 9pm (ET)).

      Thanks!

  8. Kevin 2 years ago

    So, the only way to get dual screen capability out of the StarTech docking station (as pictured above) is to have a real Thunderbolt display? There’s no way to trick an HDMI or DVI display into acting like a TB display? I didn’t read the fine print before buying one of these docking stations and now I can’t get my two displays working (since neither is a TB display). Thanks for your help.

    • Susan Mutterback 2 years ago

      Hi Kevin,
      I would definitely suggest chatting with our Technical Support team if you have questions about one of our docking stations. They will be able to help you out getting dual displays or offer some solutions/shortcuts. We are actually working on an update for this post right now, to incorporate more technologies and situations. Stay tuned for new post! https://www.startech.com/support
      Thanks

  9. Mark1004 2 years ago

    I am wanting to go Thunderbolt on Mac to a DVI display, so a DVI port, not a mini DP port on the display.

    Can I use either a mini DP or a Thunderbolt on the computer side as long as it is DVI on the display side? This article doesn’t say anything about DVI. I’m wondering if I have to use one or the other for DVI.

  10. Keven 8 months ago

    Hi,

    I’m very green to all of this but I have a macbook pro with at mini port and purchased a Apple Thunderbolt Display but am having trouble connecting. Is it because I’m going from mini port to thunder port? Any ways around this?

    Thank you

    • Andrea McDonald 7 months ago

      Hi Keven, thanks for contacting us. In order to provide appropriate support with this, please talk to one of our Technical Advisors at http://www.startech.com/chat or call us directly at 1-800-265-1844. Thank you!

  11. Harrison 8 months ago

    I am trying to connect to monitors to my MacBook Air. One monitor has an HDMi/VGA Port and the other has a VGA/DVI port. I connected the HDMI with the thunderbolt and is working fine. The other VGA to a USB port is not working. What adaptor would work for the VGA and DVI port? Can a 3-1 thunderbolt port support two monitors?

    • Andrea McDonald 7 months ago

      Hey Harrison, we will need a little bit more information to help you with this. Please contact our Support Team via Live Chat @ http://www.startech.com/chat or phone @ 1 800 265 1844. Thank you!

  12. Dan Q 5 months ago

    Anyone know how I could connect a windows PC to my apple thunderbolt display?

    I got an HDMI input to displayport output converter, and plugged in the thunderbolt cable from the display in to the converter (via a diaplayport to MiniDP cable) and it didn’t work

    Any ideas?

  13. Karen 1 month ago

    I’d like to use my iMac (late 2009, 21.5″) as a second monitor sometimes with my newer MacBook Pro. I purchased the DP to DP cable but Cmd+F2 does nothing and I don’t see it as a setting option in System Preferences. Is Target Display Mode simply not an option with my iMac? Thanks!

    • Danielle 1 month ago

      Hi Karen! Great question. According to Apple, the 21.5” version of the 2009 iMac does not allow target display mode. Please read here for more information: https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT204592

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  1. […] confuse Thunderbolt for a Mini DisplayPort so to identify one from the other, know more about these identical connectors. Either way, having one or both probably means that you had to connect a number of Apple devices […]

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