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What Is Thunderbolt 3?

Jed Smith Profile image

Written By:

Updated June 27, 2022

Key Takeaways:

  • Thunderbolt 3 uses the same port as USB-C but is a different connection type
  • Thunderbolt 3 is becoming one of the most common connectivity options used in computing
  • Thunderbolt 3 is more versatile than many modern connection types

Thunderbolt 3 is quickly becoming one of the most commonly used physical data streaming and display connections and port types on modern computers, along with DisplayPort. Its high data streaming speeds, reliability, versatility are all huge advantages both to media professionals who need high transfer speeds for large files and consumers who demand easy connectivity for high-definition gaming, movies, and other media.

Below, we’ll explain all you need to know about Thunderbolt-3, including how it compares to other cutting-edge connectivity options, how it differs from Thunderbolt 1 and 2, and all the important stats you need about it.

What is Thunderbolt 3?

Thunderbolt is the original brand name of the connection type developed by Intel in collaboration with Apple in 2011 as a next-generation high-speed data transfer technology, offering far higher transfer speeds and reliability than Firewire. Thunderbolt 1 and 2 supported transfer speeds of 20Gbps and was initially macOS-only.

Thunderbolt 3, introduced in 2015, is compatible with both macOS and Windows and is standard on newer Macs and increasingly common on PCs. It boasts a data transfer speed of 40Gbps and can use cable lengths of up to 100 feet, and uses the same connection type as the also-popular USB-C, but offers more speed and versatility.

But is it more popular than HDMI vs DVI for computer monitors? That’s the question on our minds.

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Additionally, Thunderbolt 3 can be daisy-chained, so that multiple devices can be connected to a Thunderbolt 3 hub, which can then be connected to a single Thunderbolt 3 port on supported devices without speed loss, adding greatly to its versatility.

Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C

One aspect of Thunderbolt 3 that can confuse some users is the fact that it uses the same connection type as USB-C. While this is true, they’re not the same in terms of speed and capability.

Among the main differences are while Thunderbolt 3 transfers data at 40Gbps, USB-C generally uses the USB 3.1 standard of only 10Gbps, and while all Thunderbolt 3 cables offer bus-powered functionality, not all USB-C cables do.

Furthermore, Thunderbolt 3 supports high-resolution monitors and displays, and its daisy-chain capabilities allow for the easy setup of digital media and entertainment systems without a mess of cables.


Thunderbolt 3 transfers data at 40Gbps and is the fastest consumer connectivity option on the market

Thunderbolt 3 uses the same port type as USB-C


Thunderbolt 3 can transfer a standard-length 4k movie in less than 30 seconds,signal%20at%20the%20same%20time.



What Is Thunderbolt 3? FAQ

Do all USB-C ports support Thunderbolt 3?

Thunderbolt 3 was introduced later than USB-C, and while most modern computers with USB-C-type ports also support Thunderbolt 3, not all do. If you're unsure, the best thing to do is to look at the documentation for your device to verify that Thunderbolt 3 is supported on its USB-C port(s), though generally, Thunderbolt 3-capable ports will feature the Thunderbolt symbol above them in plain view.

What's the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4?

When Thunderbolt 3 was first introduced, not all Windows laptops that featured the connection type were capable of its full 40Gbps bandwidth. More recently, full support for Thunderbolt 3's transfer speeds has become standardized in Windows machines, so Thunderbolt 4 was coined in order to designate that the device in question fully supports Thunderbolt 3's capabilities.

Can I connect USB devices to a Thunderbolt 3 port?

Yes, Thunderbolt 3 ports are compatible with all USB devices, though if they don't use the USB-C style connection, an adapter- which is generally very inexpensive and easy to find- may be necessary.

Can I connect DisplayPort devices to a Thunderbolt 3 port?

Yes, all Thunderbolt 3 ports are completely compatible with DisplayPort via an inexpensive and widely available adapter.
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