The new MacBook Pro cuts through the clutter: out of all the connection ports, there’s just one Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port , and the classic USB port you’ve come to depend on is now a thing of the past at Apple. Don’t count on it in future upgrades of the rest of the Mac range, we’ll let you know right away.
Does this mean that the whole experience is gathered in one single port? Yes. Does that mean we no longer have to learn speeds, compatibilities and differences between standards? Well, we’ll have to do that more than ever, because the USB-C port hides more capabilities than any other port .
What is Thunderbolt 3 capable of doing?
Apple’s idea with its Thunderbolt 3 is not simply to switch to plugging everything in with a cable, but to bring several communication protocols together in a single connection. But you still have to take into account all those interfaces, even though we now use them all in one cable. Let’s summarize them in a list:
- Charging: The Thunderbolt 3 port is capable of providing 100 watts of power to charge your laptop. The LG UltraFine screens, by the way, offer up to 60.
- Data Transmission: The Thunderbolt 3 protocol offers up to 40 Gbps, and can operate simultaneously in both directions as with past generations of Thunderbolt ports.
- Video: It depends on which MacBook you use, but Thunderbolt 3 allows either two 4K displays or a 5K display on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. On the 15-inch model these numbers are doubled: two 5K displays or four 4K displays.
- Backwards compatibility: due to the shape of the ports, Thunderbolt 3 connections support any previous generation USB-C connection.
The Thousand Faces of USB-C
We already mentioned it in our list of adapters: we have to look carefully at what kind of USB-C connection is used either by the accessories themselves or by the cables and adapters we buy. Otherwise we can create an unwanted bottleneck and not squeeze the maximum out of those speeds.
And here the complications do not end: the own web of the organization USB tells us how the most modern nomenclatures absorb the oldest . Talking about a first generation USB 3.1 connection (Gen 1) is practically talking about a USB 3.0 connection, while the USB 3.1 that some products talked about at the beginning are now the second generation USB 3.1 ports (Gen 2).
Let’s clear the air. These are the protocols to be considered:
- “USB 3.0” or USB 3.1 Gen 1: speeds up to 5 Gbps. The Apple website, for example, mentions it as USB 3.0.
- “USB 3.1” or USB 3.1 Gen 2: speeds of up to 10 Gbps Apple’s website mentions it as USB 3.1.
- Thunderbolt 3: speeds up to 40 Gbps. Not strictly USB-C, but they do share the same connection. The benefit of this is the backward compatibility we discussed earlier.
Therefore, when we buy a hard disk with which we want to transmit data at 40 Gbps, we must pay attention that this disk is Thunderbolt 3 and that the cable we use is also Thunderbolt 3 . Because if it is only USB 3.0, no matter how Thunderbolt 3 is the disk, we will transmit data to a maximum of 5 Gbps.
And one last reminder: You also need to consider the limitations of the hard drives themselves. They may have Thunderbolt 3 connections, but they won’t take full advantage of them if we’re talking about a mechanical hard drive or low-performance SSD. Not as easy as you thought, huh?