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Guide to Thunderbolt 3

Summary: Learn about Thunderbolt 3 and its features and find information about frequently asked questions on Thunderbolt 3

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Table of Contents:

  1. What is Thunderbolt technology?
  2. What is Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C?
  3. Key Features of Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C
  4. Frequently Asked Questions

What is Thunderbolt technology?

Thunderbolt (previously called Light Peak) is a hardware interface that combines data, video, audio, and power in a single connection. Thunderbolt combines PCI Express (PCIe) and DisplayPort (DP) into one serial signal, and additionally provides DC power, all in one cable.

Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 use the same connector as miniDP (DisplayPort) to connect to peripherals, while Thunderbolt 3 uses a USB-C connector (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Thunderbolt v/s Thunderbolt 3

SLN296826_en_US__2iC_Number_Caption1_BD_v1 Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 (using a miniDP connector)
SLN296826_en_US__3iC_Number_Caption2_BD_v1 Thunderbolt 3 (using a USB-C connector)

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What is Thunderbolt 3 (Thunderbolt over USB-C)?

Thunderbolt 3 brings Thunderbolt technology 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 like an external hard drive. Thunderbolt 3 uses a USB-C connector/port to connect to supported peripherals.

  • Thunderbolt 3 uses USB-C connector and cables - It is compact and reversible.
  • Thunderbolt 3 supports speed up to 40 Gbps.
  • DisplayPort 1.2 – compatible with existing DisplayPort monitors, devices and cables.
  • USB Power Delivery - Up to 130W on supported computers.

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Key Features of Thunderbolt 3

  • Thunderbolt, USB, DisplayPort and Power Delivery over a single USB-C cable (*features vary between different products)
  • USB-C connector and cables which are compact and reversible
  • Supports Thunderbolt Networking (*varies between different products)
  • Supports up to two 4K displays
  • Up to 40 Gbps speed
    Note: Data transfer speed may vary between different devices.
  • Low latency

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Additional Information

Frequently Asked Questions

What speeds does Thunderbolt support?

Thunderbolt is currently available in Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 2, Thunderbolt 3, and Thunderbolt 4.

Thunderbolt Thunderbolt 2 Thunderbolt 3
Up to 10Gbps Up to 20Gbps Up to 40Gbps

What types of Thunderbolt devices are available?

Different types of Thunderbolt capable devices available are external hard drives, audio/video capture devices, displays and I/O hubs.

What type of physical connection does Thunderbolt use?

Thunderbolt uses a connector that fits the miniDP (DisplayPort) port or connector.

What are the requirements for cables?

Thunderbolt devices require Thunderbolt certified cables for optimal performance. Thunderbolt certified cables come in copper or optical cable variants. Look for the Thunderbolt logo on the connectors and ports.

Although the port's appearance is physically the same as miniDP (DisplayPort), using standard miniDP (DisplayPort) cables cannot be used to connect Thunderbolt devices.

How do i find out if my computer, display or cable is Thunderbolt capable?

The port's appearance is physically the same as miniDP (DisplayPort). To confirm you have a Thunderbolt port on your computer, display, or cable check for the Thunderbolt symbol next to or above the port or connector.

Can I connect USB devices to a Thunderbolt 3 port?

Yes, Thunderbolt 3 uses USB-C port and it is fully compatible with USB devices and cables. However, you may require compatible adapters to connect USB Type-A or other USB connectors.

What is the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C?

Thunderbolt 3 is a superset solution which includes USB 3.1 (10Gbps), and adds 40Gbps Thunderbolt and DisplayPort 1.2 from a single USB-C port.

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Article Properties

Affected Product

Dell Dock WD15, Dell Thunderbolt Dock TB15, Dell Thunderbolt Dock TB16, Dell Precision Dual USB-C Thunderbolt Dock - TB18DC

Last Published Date

03 Jan 2024



Article Type

How To