While USB-C gets all of the attention, there is another connection type new(er) MacBook Air and Pro owners should be aware of. Thunderbolt 3 is a technology that enables ultra-fast connections between any connected devices. It can charge, output video, consolidate data transfers and so much more. First announced in 2015, it arrived on Apple’s MacBook Pros in 2016. Capable of up to four times more performance than previous connection types, it’s no wonder Apple has ensured compatibility. Let’s take a look at some of the best uses for Thunderbolt 3 on Mac computers.
What Is Thunderbolt 3?
First introduced to the world in 2011 by Intel, Thunderbolt was one of the first connectivity options to compete head-on with USB 3.0. Capable of transferring speeds at nearly 10Gbps, Thunderbolt can also handle nearly any type of data. Fast-forward to Thunderbolt 3, and it no longer uses a different connection type than other devices.
Instead, it uses the same design as USB-C. Today, Thunderbolt 3 can handle connection speeds of almost 40Gbps. It also adds USB speeds of up to 10Gbps. Thunderbolt 3 can connect two 4K displays/monitors simultaneously outputting both audio and video at the same time. Apple’s early embrace of Thunderbolt means it comes as little surprise they continue to support Thunderbolt 3. Making the shift to a USB-C style connection also means Thunderbolt 3 can connect to a wide range of Windows PCs, laptops and other devices.
One of the best uses for Thunderbolt 3 with Mac computers is the ability to connect multiple displays. As noted above, Thunderbolt 3 is capable of connecting two 4K displays at 60fps, one 4K display at 120fps, or a single 5K display at 60fps. That’s pretty impressive and should be more than enough to cover the needs of all but a few Mac users. To actually achieve this, you will need Thunderbolt 3-enabled monitors or a Thunderbolt 3 dock.
Speed Up Transferring Data
Anyone using Thunderbolt 3 to transfer data will immediately be impressed. With speeds capable of up to 40Gbps, it’s a very attractive option for use with storage systems that hold data. That’s good news for anyone who edits video (especially 4K video), works with large libraries of photos, or just large files in general.
So how does this help Mac users? Anyone with external hard drives, bus-powered devices or RAID configurations is going to enjoy incredibly fast speeds. In particular, RAID and SSD devices will see a big benefit from Thunderbolt 3 that can easily eclipse the needs of photo and video editors.
In the event your Mac doesn’t have a powerful graphics card, Thunderbolt 3 can come to the rescue. Mac computers, in general, haven’t been designed for gaming in years but that does not mean they can’t hold their own with a little help. The GPU inside your computer likely uses the PCIe system that is often used to connect a variety of computer components. The same connection that is internal can also be connected via Thunderbolt 3 externally.
External graphics cards are a brilliant way to give your computer all the gaming power it needs without requiring a whole new computer purchase. For laptop users, adding a PCIe expansion chassis that includes a Thunderbolt 3 connection can be a glorious addition to your Mac machine. Aside from gaming, it can also help with 3D modeling and printing as well as video editing.
Have you ever needed to connect two computers to set up a peer-to-peer connection? It’s not likely you have ever needed to do this personally, but it may be something that happens professionally. If this is an instance you ever find yourself in, Thunderbolt 3 can come to the rescue.
The 10Gbps speeds for peer-to-peer connectivity make it incredibly easy to quickly move files between two computers. On a similar note, you can also use this to transfer data from an older computer to a new one. What if you want to set up a workgroup with a small group of people who all share the same external storage hardware? Once again, Thunderbolt 3 is more than up to this task for Mac users.
In the likelihood you are purchasing a 2020 MacBook Air or fairly recent MacBook Pro, there is a good chance Thunderbolt 3 is already available to you. Thanks to the fast data transfers, USB-C compatibility, and Apple’s commitment to accessories, there are plenty of reasons to look to this as a solution for your charging, networking, and monitor needs.