Thunderbolt: what it is and what are the differences between generations

Users of newer Macs know that Apple includes a port called thunderbolt between those offered on their notebooks and desktop computers (such as the iMac and Mac Studio).

Through it, you can not only connect external monitors or other peripherals, but also recharge some of the latest notebook models.

MacBook Pro Thunderbolt 3 ports

In this article, we will show you the different generations of this versatile door, its characteristics and the origins of its creation. Here we go?! 👨‍💻

What is the Thunderbolt port?

Thunderbolt technology was created by a partnership between Intel and Apple. It allows a large amount of data to be transferred between devices — which is precisely why, being so powerful, it allows connection to high resolution monitors, for example.

The different generations of the Thunderbolt port

Since 2011, the Thunderbolt port has gone through four iterations — each with different characteristics.

Thunderbolt 1 and 2 connections used the Mini DisplayPort port format, while the third and fourth generations use the same USB-C port format.

Next, check out the main differences between them!

Thunderbolt (original)

Thunderbolt cable

First introduced on an Apple device in 2011 on the MacBook Pro, it featured two bi-directional channels with transfer speeds of up to 10Gbps each, in addition to supporting FireWire, USB and Gigabit Ethernet devices via adapters.

As it uses the same type of connector, it is still compatible with Mini DisplayPort 1.0 and 1.1A formats.

Thunderbolt 2

The first Mac to feature second generation Thunderbolt ports was the MacBook Pro with Retina display, released in 2013. Despite being virtually identical to the first generation, it now offers up to 20Gbps of bandwidth for each connected external device.

Despite continuing to use the DisplayPort port format, Thunderbolt 2 now follows the DisplayPort 1.2 standard.

Thunderbolt 3

Remember when Apple made the audacious presentation of the 2016 MacBooks Pro? For those who don’t know, it was from this moment that she removed all other port offerings from her notebooks, focusing only on Thunderbolt 3.

MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3

It was in this generation that we first saw this connection on a Mac. Using the same standard USB-C connectors (ie reversible), it now has some good benefits.

Among them, integrating data transfer, charging and video output in a single connector, offering up to 40Gbps of transfer rate and twice the bandwidth compared to Thunderbolt 2. With this, it was possible to connect even two external 5K displays simultaneously.

Thunderbolt 4

The Thunderbolt 4 port is identical to the 3 and is available on newer Macs — such as the 14″ and 16″ MacBook Pros released in 2021.

3 meter Thunderbolt 4 cable

According to Intel, this generation still offers the same 40Gbps throughput. However, the minimum PCIe data requirements have increased from 16Gbps to 32Gbps. In practice, this allows high-speed PCIe-type devices to be even faster.

Other benefits include protection in VT-d, which provides more security and checks for proper permissions for external devices, as well as allowing computers to wake up from hibernation through peripherals connected to a dock.

On MacBook Pros equipped with the M1 Pro chip, up to two Pro Display XDR monitors can be connected; on the M1 Max, you can connect up to three XDR Pro Displays, plus a 4K TV.

Did you already know that this door was so versatile? 😊

via Intel, Net Control

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