Thunderbolt (interface)

Last updated

Production history
Manufacturer Various
Produced Since 24 February 2011;12 years ago (2011-02-24) [1]
General specifications
Width 7.4 mm plug (8.3 mm receptacle)
Height 4.5 mm plug (5.4 mm receptacle)
Hot pluggable Yes
Daisy chain
  • Up to 6 devices [2]
  • Thunderbolt 4: Hub support [3] [4]
External Yes
Audio signal Via DisplayPort protocol or USB-based external audio cards. Supports audio through HDMI converters.
Video signal Via DisplayPort protocol
  • Thunderbolt 1 and 2: 20
  • Thunderbolt 3, 4 and 5: 24
Max. voltage 18  V (bus power)
Max. current 550  mA (9.9  W max.)
Data signal Yes
  • Thunderbolt 1: 2 channels, 10 Gbit/s each (20 Gbit/s in total) [5]
  • Thunderbolt 2: 20 Gbit/s in total
  • Thunderbolt 3 and 4: 40 Gbit/s bidirectional
  • Thunderbolt 5: 80 Gbit/s bidirectional
Pin 1 GND Ground
Pin 2 HPD Hot plug detect
Pin 3 HS0TX(P) HighSpeed transmit 0 (positive)
Pin 4 HS0RX(P) HighSpeed receive 0 (positive)
Pin 5 HS0TX(N) HighSpeed transmit 0 (negative)
Pin 6 HS0RX(N) HighSpeed receive 0 (negative)
Pin 7 GND Ground
Pin 8 GND Ground
Pin 9 LSR2P TX LowSpeed transmit
Pin 10 GND Ground (reserved)
Pin 11 LSP2R RX LowSpeed receive
Pin 12 GND Ground (reserved)
Pin 13 GND Ground
Pin 14 GND Ground
Pin 15 HS1TX(P) HighSpeed transmit 1 (positive)
Pin 16 HS1RX(P) HighSpeed receive 1 (positive)
Pin 17 HS1TX(N) HighSpeed transmit 1 (negative)
Pin 18 HS1RX(N) HighSpeed receive 1 (negative)
Pin 19 GND Ground
Pin 20 DPPWR Power
This is the pinout for both sides of the connector, source side and sink side. The cable is actually a crossover cable. It swaps all receive and transmit lanes; e.g. HS1TX(P) of the source is connected to HS1RX(P) of the sink.

Thunderbolt is the brand name of a hardware interface for the connection of external peripherals to a computer. It was developed by Intel, in collaboration with Apple. [7] [8] It was initially marketed under the name Light Peak, and first sold as part of an end-user product on 24 February 2011. [1]


Thunderbolt combines PCI Express (PCIe) and DisplayPort (DP) into two serial signals, [9] [10] and additionally provides DC power, all in one cable. Up to six peripherals may be supported by one connector through various topologies. Thunderbolt 1 and 2 use the same connector as Mini DisplayPort (MDP), whereas Thunderbolt 3, 4, and 5 use the same USB-C connector as USB does.


Symbol used on Thunderbolt ports Thunderbolt Symbol.svg
Symbol used on Thunderbolt ports
Thunderbolt 1 or 2, connector Thunderbolt-Connector.jpg
Thunderbolt 1 or 2, connector
Thunderbolt 1 or 2, port Apple MacBook Pro, model A1278-8118.jpg
Thunderbolt 1 or 2, port
Thunderbolt link connections
Intel provides two types of Thunderbolt controllers, a two-port and a one-port type. Both peripherals and computers require a controller. Thunderbolt Technology model 1 E.png
Thunderbolt link connections
Intel provides two types of Thunderbolt controllers, a two-port and a one-port type. Both peripherals and computers require a controller.
Thunderbolt 2 port on MacBook Pro with Retina display Thunderbolt-interface-MacBook.png
Thunderbolt 2 port on MacBook Pro with Retina display

Thunderbolt controllers multiplex one or more individual data lanes from connected PCIe and DisplayPort devices for transmission via two duplex Thunderbolt lanes, then de-multiplex them for use by PCIe and DisplayPort devices on the other end. [2] A single Thunderbolt port supports up to six Thunderbolt devices via hubs or daisy chains; as many of these as the host has DP sources may be Thunderbolt monitors. [11]

A single Mini DisplayPort monitor or other device of any kind may be connected directly or at the very end of the chain. Thunderbolt is interoperable with DP-1.1a compatible devices. When connected to a DP-compatible device, the Thunderbolt port can provide a native DisplayPort signal with four lanes of output data at no more than 5.4 Gbit/s per Thunderbolt lane. When connected to a Thunderbolt device, the per-lane data rate becomes 10 Gbit/s and the four Thunderbolt lanes are configured as two duplex lanes, each 10 Gbit/s comprising one lane of input and one lane of output. [2]

Thunderbolt can be implemented on PCIe graphics cards, which have access to DisplayPort data and PCIe connectivity, or on the motherboard of new computers with onboard video, such as the MacBook Air. [11] [12] [13]

The interface was originally intended to run exclusively on an optical physical layer using components and flexible optical fiber cabling developed by Intel partners and at Intel's Silicon Photonics lab. It was initially marketed under the name Light Peak, [14] and after 2011 as Silicon Photonics Link. [15] However, it was discovered that conventional copper wiring could furnish the desired 10 Gbit/s per channel at lower cost.

This copper-based version of the Light Peak concept was co-developed by Apple and Intel. Apple registered Thunderbolt as a trademark, but later transferred the mark to Intel, which held overriding intellectual-property rights. [16] Thunderbolt was commercially introduced on Apple's 2011 MacBook Pro, using the same Apple-developed connector as Mini DisplayPort. Certain MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini and iMac models downgrade Thunderbolt 4 protocol to Thunderbolt 3 due to not supporting dual 4K displays over Thunderbolt.[ citation needed ]

Sumitomo Electric Industries started selling up to 30 m (100 ft) optical Thunderbolt cables in Japan in January 2013, [17] and Corning, Inc., began selling up to 60 m (200 ft) optical cables in the US in late September 2013. [18]



Intel introduced Light Peak at the 2009 Intel Developer Forum (IDF), using a prototype Mac Pro logic board to run two 1080p video streams plus LAN and storage devices over a single 30-meter optical cable with modified USB ends. [19] The system was driven by a prototype PCI Express card, with two optical buses powering four ports. [20] Jason Ziller, head of Intel's Optical I/O Program Office showed the internal components of the technology under a microscope and the sending of data through an oscilloscope. [21] The technology was described as having an initial speed of 10 Gbit/s over plastic optical cables, and promising a final speed of 100 Gbit/s. [22] At the show, Intel said Light Peak-equipped systems would begin to appear in 2010, and posted a YouTube video showing Light Peak-connected HD cameras, laptops, docking stations, and HD monitors. [23]

On 4 May 2010, in Brussels, Intel demonstrated a laptop with a Light Peak connector, indicating that the technology had shrunk enough to fit inside such a device, and had the laptop send two simultaneous HD video streams down the connection, indicating that at least some fraction of the software/firmware stacks and protocols were functional. At the same demonstration, Intel officials said they expected hardware manufacturing to begin around the end of 2010. [24]

In September 2010, some early commercial prototypes from manufacturers were demonstrated at Intel Developer Forum 2010. [25]

Copper vs. optical

Though Thunderbolt was originally conceived as an optical technology, Intel switched to electrical connections to reduce costs and to supply up to 10 watts of power to connected devices. [26]

In 2009, Intel officials said the company was "working on bundling the optical fiber with copper wire so Light Peak can be used to power devices plugged into the PC." [27] In 2010, Intel said the original intent was "to have one single connector technology" that would let "electrical USB 3.0  ... and piggyback on USB 3.0 or 4.0 DC power." [28] Light Peak aimed to make great strides in consumer-ready optical technology, by then having achieved "[connectors rated] for 7,000 insertions, which matches or exceeds other PC connections ... cables [that were tied] in multiple knots to make sure it didn't break and the loss is acceptable," and, "You can almost get two people pulling on it at once and it won't break the fibre." They predicted that "Light Peak cables will be no more expensive than HDMI." [29]

In January 2011, Intel's David Perlmutter told Computerworld that initial Thunderbolt implementations would be based on copper wires. [28] "The copper came out very good, surprisingly better than what we thought," he said. [30] A major advantage of copper is the ability to carry power. The final Thunderbolt standard specifies 10 W DC on every port. See comparison section below.

Intel and industry partners are still developing optical Thunderbolt hardware and cables. [31] The optical fiber cables would run "tens of meters" but would not supply power, at least not initially. [12] [32] [33] The version from Corning contains four 80/125 μm VSDN (Very Short Distance Network) fibers to transport an infrared signal up to 190 m (600 ft). [34] The conversion of electrical signal to optical is embedded into the cable itself, so the current MDP connector is forward compatible. Eventually, Intel hopes for a purely optical transceiver assembly embedded in the PC. [33]

The first such optical Thunderbolt cable was introduced by Sumitomo Electric Industries in January 2013. [35] It is available in lengths of 10 m (30 ft), 20 m (70 ft), and 30 m (100 ft). However, those cables are retailed almost exclusively in Japan, and the price is 20 to 30 times that of copper Thunderbolt cables.

German company DeLock also released optical Thunderbolt cables in lengths of 10 m (30 ft), 20 m (70 ft), and 30 m (100 ft) in 2013, priced similarly to the Sumitomo ones, and retailed only in Germany. [36]

In September 2013, glass company Corning Inc. released the first range of optical Thunderbolt cables available in the Western marketplace, along with optical USB 3.0 cables, both under the brand name "Optical Cables". [18] Half the diameter and a fifth the mass of comparable copper Thunderbolt cables, they work with the 10 Gbit/s Thunderbolt protocol and the 20 Gbit/s Thunderbolt 2 protocol, and thus are able to work with all self-powered Thunderbolt devices (unlike copper cables, optical cables cannot provide power). [18] The cables extend the current 30 m (100 ft) maximum length offered by copper to a maximum of 60 m (200 ft).

Before 2020, there were no optical Thunderbolt 3 cables on the market. However, optical Thunderbolt 1 and 2 cables could be used at the time with Apple's Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 adapters on each end of the cable. This achieves connections up to the 60 m (200 ft) maximum offered by previous versions of the standard. [37]

In April 2019, Corning showed an optical Thunderbolt 3 cable at the 2019 NAB Show in Las Vegas. [38] Just over a year later, in September 2020, Corning released their optical Thunderbolt 3 cables in lengths of 5 m (20 ft), 10 m (30 ft), 15 m (50 ft), 25 m (80 ft), and 50 m (160 ft). [39] In the meantime, Taiwanese company Areca released optical Thunderbolt 3 cables in April 2020 in lengths of 10 m (30 ft), 20 m (70 ft), and 30 m (100 ft). [40]

In early 2021, copper Thunderbolt 4 cables arrived from many companies at the 0.8 m (2.6 ft) length. Copper versions of Thunderbolt 4 cables offer full 40 Gbit/s speed and support backward compatibility with all versions of USB (up to USB4), DisplayPort Alternate Mode (DP 1.4 HBR3), and Thunderbolt 3. Released in early 2021, they are also all to be available in three specified lengths: 0.2 m (0.66 ft), 0.8 m (2.6 ft), and 2 m (6.6 ft) – with many companies initially offering 0.8 m (2.6 ft) ones. Copper Thunderbolt 4 cables up to 1.0 m (3.3 ft) are passive cables, while longer cables must integrate active signal conditioning circuitry. 2 m (6.6 ft) cables from CalDigit [41] and Cable Matters [42] are active cables. Later on, optical Thunderbolt 4 cables are targeting lengths from ~5 m (20 ft) to 50 m (160 ft) for release at sometime in the future. [43]

Thunderbolt 1

CNET's Brooke Crothers said it was rumored that the early-2011, MacBook Pro update would include some sort of new data port, and he speculated it would be Light Peak (Thunderbolt). [44] At the time, there were no details on the physical implementation, and mock-ups appeared showing a system similar to the earlier Intel demos using a combined USB/Light Peak port. [45] Shortly before the release of the new machines, the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) announced they would not allow such a combination port, and that USB was not open to modification in that way.

Other implementations of the technology began in 2012, with desktop boards offering the interconnection now available. [46]

Apple stated in February 2011 that the port was based on Mini DisplayPort, not USB. As the system was described, Intel's solution to the display connection problem became clear: Thunderbolt controllers multiplex data from existing DP systems with data from the PCIe port into a single cable. Older displays that using DP 1.1a or earlier must be located at the end of a Thunderbolt device chain, but native displays can be anywhere along the line. [12] Thunderbolt devices can go anywhere on the chain. In that respect, Thunderbolt shares a relationship with the older ACCESS.bus system, which used the display connector to support a low-speed bus.

Apple states that up to six daisy-chained peripherals are supported per Thunderbolt port, [47] and that the display should come at the end of the chain, if it does not support daisy chaining.

In February 2011, Apple introduced MacBook Pro (13-inch, Early 2011), [48] Macbook Pro (15-inch, Early 2011), [49] and Macbook Pro (17-inch, Early 2011) [50] featuring one Thunderbolt port. In May 2011, Apple introduced iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2011) [51] featuring one Thunderbolt port, and iMac (27-inch, Mid 2011) [52] featuring two Thunderbolt ports. In July 2011, Apple introduced Mac mini (Mid 2011), [53] MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2011), [54] MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2011) [55] and Apple Thunderbolt Display [56] featuring one Thunderbolt port for daisy-chaining, or other devices.

In May 2011, Apple announced a new line of iMacs that include the Thunderbolt interface. [57]

The Thunderbolt port on the new Macs is in the same location relative to other ports and maintains the same physical dimensions and pinout as the prior MDP connector. The main visible difference on Thunderbolt-equipped Macs is a Thunderbolt symbol next to the port. [11]

The DisplayPort standard is partially compatible with Thunderbolt, as the two share Apple's physically compatible MDP connector. The Target Display mode on iMacs requires a Thunderbolt cable to accept a video-in signal from another Thunderbolt-capable computer. [58] A DP monitor must be the last (or only) device in a chain of Thunderbolt devices.

Intel announced they would release a developer kit in the second quarter of 2011, [59] while manufacturers of hardware-development equipment have indicated they will add support for the testing and development of Thunderbolt devices. [60] The developer kit is being provided only on request. [61]

In July 2011, Sony released its Vaio Z21 line of notebook computers that had a "Power Media Dock" that uses optical Thunderbolt (Light Peak) to connect to an external graphics card using a combination port that behaves like USB electrically, but that also includes the optical interconnect required for Thunderbolt.

Thunderbolt 2

In June 2013, Intel announced that the next version of Thunderbolt, based on the controller code-named "Falcon Ridge" (running at 20 Gbit/s), is officially named "Thunderbolt 2" and entered production in 2013. [62] The data-rate of 20 Gbit/s is made possible by joining the two existing 10 Gbit/s-channels, which does not change the maximum bandwidth, but makes using it more flexible.

In June 2013, Apple announced Mac Pro (Late 2013) [63] featuring six Thunderbolt 2 ports. In October 2013, Apple announced MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013), [64] and MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013) [65] featuring two Thunderbolt 2 ports. In October 2014, Apple announced Mac mini (Late 2014), [66] and iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) [67] featuring two Thunderbolt 2 ports. In March 2015, Apple announced MacBook Air (11-inch, Early 2015), [68] and MacBook Air (13-inch, Early 2015) [69] featuring one Thunderbolt 2 port.

At the physical level, the bandwidth of Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 are identical, and Thunderbolt 1 cabling is thus compatible with Thunderbolt 2 interfaces. At the logical level, Thunderbolt 2 enables channel aggregation, whereby the two previously separate 10 Gbit/s channels can be combined into a single logical 20 Gbit/s channel. [70]

Intel says Thunderbolt 2 will be able to transfer a 4K video while simultaneously displaying it on a discrete monitor. [71]

Thunderbolt 2 incorporates DisplayPort 1.2 support, which allows for video streaming to a single 4K video monitor or dual QHD monitors. Thunderbolt 2 is backwards compatible, which means that all Thunderbolt cables and connectors are compatible with Thunderbolt 1.

The first Thunderbolt 2 product for the consumer market was Asus's Z87-Deluxe/Quad motherboard, announced on 19 August 2013, [72] and the first system released with Thunderbolt 2 was Apple's late 2013 Retina MacBook Pro, on 22 October 2013. [73]

Thunderbolt 3

Thunderbolt 3, 4, or 5 ports Thunderbolt 3 interface USB-C ports.jpg
Thunderbolt 3, 4, or 5 ports
USB-C Thunderbolt 3, 4, or 5 connector USB Type-C Plug 03.jpg
USB-C Thunderbolt 3, 4, or 5 connector

Thunderbolt 3 is a hardware interface developed by Intel. [74] It shares USB-C connectors with USB, supports USB 3.1 Gen 2, [75] [76] [77] and can require special "active" cables for maximum performance for cable lengths over 0.5 meters (1.5 feet). Compared to Thunderbolt 2, it doubles the bandwidth to 40 Gbit/s (5 GB/s). It allows up to 4 lanes of PCI Express 3.0 (32.4 Gbit/s) for general-purpose data transfer, and 4 lanes of DisplayPort 1.4 HBR3 (32.40 Gbit/s before 8/10 encoding removal, and 25.92 Gbit/s after) for video, [78] but the maximum combined data rate cannot exceed 40 Gbit/s; video data will be using all needed speed, limiting PCIe data. DP 1.2 support is mandatory, while DP 1.4 is optional. Other overheads are possible on PCIe data (1.5% of 128b/130b is also removed) and Thunderbolt 3 protocol (you either optimise for speed or for latency), the last one gives only 21.6 Gbit/s to 25 Gbit/s. [79] Thunderbolt 3 uses 64b/66b encoding after that, which means the real rate is bigger than 40 Gbit/s, 2 times 20.625 Gbit/s.

Intel's Thunderbolt 3 controller (codenamed Alpine Ridge, or the new Titan Ridge) halves power consumption, and simultaneously drives two external 4K displays at 60 Hz (or a single external 4K display at 120 Hz, or a 5K display at 60 Hz when using Apple's implementation for the late-2016 MacBook Pros) instead of just the single display previous controllers can drive. The new controller supports PCIe 3.0 and other protocols, including DisplayPort 1.2 (allowing for 4K resolutions at 60 Hz). [80] Thunderbolt 3 has up to 15 watts of power delivery on copper cables and no power delivery capability on optical cables. Using USB-C on copper cables, it can incorporate USB power delivery, allowing the ports to source or sink up to 100 watts of power. This eliminates the need for a separate power supply from some devices. Thunderbolt 3 allows backwards compatibility with the first two versions by the use of adapters or transitional cables. [81] [82] [83]

Intel offers three varieties for each of the controllers: [84]

This follows previous practice, where higher-end devices such as the second-generation Mac Pro, iMac, Retina MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini use two-port controllers; while lower-end, lower-power devices such as the MacBook Air use the one-port version.

Support was added to Intel's Skylake architecture chipsets, shipping during late 2015 into early 2016. [81] [82] [83]

Devices with Thunderbolt 3 ports began shipping at the beginning of December 2015, including notebooks running Microsoft Windows (from Acer, Asus, Clevo, HP, Dell, Dell Alienware, Lenovo, MSI, Razer, and Sony), as well as motherboards (from Gigabyte Technology), and a 0.5 m Thunderbolt 3 passive USB-C cable (from Lintes Technology). [85]

In October 2016, Apple announced MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, 2 Thunderbolt 3 Ports) [86] which, as the name indicates, features two Thunderbolt 3 ports, MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, 4 Thunderbolt 3 Ports), [87] and MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2016), [88] which features four Thunderbolt 3 ports. In June 2017, Apple announced iMac (21.5-inch, 2017), [89] iMac (Retina 4K, 21.5-inch, 2017), [90] iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, 2017) [91] which feature two Thunderbolt 3 ports, as well as the iMac Pro, [92] which featured four Thunderbolt 3 ports and was released in December 2017. In October 2018, Apple announced MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018), [93] and Mac mini (2018) [94] both featuring two Thunderbolt 3 ports. In June 2019, Apple unveils Mac Pro (2019) [95] and Mac Pro (Rack, 2019) [96] featuring up to twelve Thunderbolt 3 ports, and Pro Display XDR [97] with features one Thunderbolt 3 port, both released in December 2019. In April 2021, Apple announced iPad Pro 11-inch (3rd generation) [98] and iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th generation) [99] featuring one Thunderbolt 3 port. In March 2022, Apple released Studio Display [100] featuring one Thunderbolt 3 port.

On 8 January 2018, Intel announced a product refresh (codenamed Titan Ridge) with "enhanced robustness" and support for DisplayPort 1.4. Intel offers a single port (JHL7340) and double port (JHL7540) version of this host controller and a peripheral controller supporting two Thunderbolt 3 ports (JHL7440). The new peripheral controller can now act as a USB sink (compatible with regular USB-C ports). [101]

The Apple Pro Display XDR, which macOS allows to connect using two HBR3 connections to a Mac, doesn't support Display Stream Compression (DSC). That would be 51.84 Gbit/s, impossible for Thunderbolt 3, but it works because the two 3008×3384 10bpc 60Hz 648.91MHz signals of the XDR display only require 38.9 Gbit/s total and Thunderbolt does not transmit the DisplayPort stuffing symbols used to fill the HBR3 bandwidth.


The USB4 specification was released on 29 August 2019 by USB Implementers Forum, [102] based on the Thunderbolt 3 protocol specification. [103]

It supports 40 Gbit/s (5 GB/s) throughput, is optionally compatible with Thunderbolt 3, and is backwards compatible with USB 3.2 and USB 2.0. [104] [105] The architecture defines a method to share a single high-speed link with multiple end device types dynamically that best serves the transfer of data by type and application.

USB4 supports DisplayPort 2.0 over its alternative mode. [106] [107]

In November 2020, Apple announced MacBook Air (M1, 2020), [108] MacBook Pro (13-inch, M1, 2020), [109] and Mac mini (M1, 2020) [110] featuring USB4. In April 2021, Apple announced iMac (24-inch, M1, 2021) [111] featuring two USB4 ports.

USB4 PCIe Mode

USB4 makes the PCIe aspects of Thunderbolt "open source" – PCIe USB devices can be released without Thunderbolt certification. But notably, those devices will not be allowed to use Thunderbolt branding. However, Thunderbolt 4 devices use PCIe Mode with added certification labeling, and promoting backwards compatibility. This means multiple rival devices may use different brandings to accomplish the same task. USB4 PCIe devices can be backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 1–3 but this is not required. USB4 PCIe Mode is not an Alternate Mode like DisplayPort Alternate Mode, and Microsoft requires devices with USB4 to include PCIe support currently, in order to be WHQL/Windows certified PCs. [112] [113] [114] [115] [116]

Thunderbolt 4

Thunderbolt 4 was announced at CES 2020 [117] and the final specification was released in July 2020. [118] The key differences between Thunderbolt 4 and Thunderbolt 3 are a minimum bandwidth requirement of 32 Gbit/s for PCIe link, support for dual 4K displays (DisplayPort 1.4), [119] [120] and Intel VT-d-based direct memory access protection to prevent physical DMA attacks.

Another major improvement is that Thunderbolt 4 supports Thunderbolt Alternate Mode USB hubs ("Multi-port Accessory Architecture"), and not just daisy chaining. [3] [4] Those hubs are backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 3 devices and can be backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 3 hosts (Titan Ridge only; with Alpine Ridge the additional downstream ports get downgraded to USB 3). [121] [122]

The maximum bandwidth remains at 40 Gbit/s, the same as Thunderbolt 3 and four times as fast as USB 3.2 Gen 2x1. [123] [118] Supporting products began arriving in late 2020 and included Tiger Lake mobile processors for Project Athena notebooks and 8000-series standalone Thunderbolt controllers (codenamed Goshen Ridge for devices and Maple Ridge for hosts). USB4 supports DisplayPort 2.0 over its alternative mode. DisplayPort 2.0 can support higher than 8K resolution at 60 Hz losslessly due to new UHBR 10, 13.5, and 20 signaling standards (DSC 1.2 used in DisplayPort 1.4 for that resolution is not lossless) in 8 bit and 8K 60 Hz with 10 bit color and use up to 80 Gbit/s (effective bandwidth 77.37 Gbit/s), which is double the amount available to USB data, because (just as previously in DisplayPort 1.4) it sends almost all the data in one direction (to the monitor) and can thus use all four data lanes at once. [124] Resolutions up to 16K (15360×8640) 60 Hz display with 10 bit Y'CbCr 4:4:4 or RGB are possible. [125]

In October 2021, Apple announced a 14-inch MacBook Pro [126] and a 16-inch MacBook Pro [127] which each featured three Thunderbolt 4 ports. In March 2022, Apple announced the Mac Studio [128] with up to six Thunderbolt 4 ports.

Thunderbolt 5

On September 12, 2023 Intel previewed Thunderbolt 5 (codenamed Barlow Ridge), aligned to the USB Implementers Forum's (USB-IF) USB4 2.0 specification. It provides symmetric bandwidth of 80 Gbit/s, e.g. for mass-storage devices, double that of Thunderbolt 4, and unidirectional bandwidth of 120 Gbit/s for displays (three times that of Thunderbolt 3 and 4), supporting dual 8K displays at 60Hz.

The full specifications cover:

Intel announced that computers and accessories compatible with Thunderbolt 5 will come out starting in 2024. [129]

Royalty situation

On 24 May 2017, Intel announced that Thunderbolt 3 would become a royalty-free standard to OEMs and chip manufacturers in 2018, as part of an effort to boost the adoption of the protocol. [130] The Thunderbolt 3 specification was later released to the USB-IF on 4 March 2019, making it royalty-free, to be used to form USB4. [103] [131] [132] Intel says it will retain control over certification of all Thunderbolt 3 devices. [133] Intel also states it employs "mandatory certification for all Thunderbolt products". [134]

Before March 2019, there were no AMD chipsets or computers with Thunderbolt support released or announced due to the certification requirements (Intel did not certify non-Intel platforms). However, the YouTuber Wendell Wilson from Level1Techs was able to get Thunderbolt 3 support on an AMD computer with a Threadripper CPU and Titan Ridge add-in card working by modifying the firmware, indicating that the lack of Thunderbolt support on non-Intel systems is not due to any hardware limitations. [135] [136] As of May 2019, it is possible to have Thunderbolt 3 support on AMD using add-in cards without any problems, [137] and motherboards like ASRock X570 Creator already have Thunderbolt 3 ports. [138]

In January 2020 Intel certified [139] ASRock X570 Phantom Gaming ITX/TB3 and now vendors are freely allowed to produce Thunderbolt controller silicon (even though those ASRock motherboards used Intel Titan Ridge). [140]

Asus currently supports Thunderbolt 3 on AMD with the add-in card Thunderboltex 3-TR, being compatible with AMD motherboards and Ryzen 3, 5 (56xx): ROG Strix B550-E Gaming, ROG Strix B550-F Gaming, Prime B550-PLUS, TUF Gaming B550-Plus. [141] The ASUS ProArt B550-Creator has 2 Thunderbolt 4 ports. [142]

Peripheral devices

A multiple hard disk storage device that attaches to a computer through a Thunderbolt connection Promise-Tech-Pegasus2-R6-DAS.jpg
A multiple hard disk storage device that attaches to a computer through a Thunderbolt connection

The first Thunderbolt peripheral devices appeared in retail stores only in late 2011, following Apple's release of its first Thunderbolt-equipped computer in early 2011 with MacBook Pro, with the relatively expensive Pegasus R4 (4-drive) and Pegasus R6 (6-drive) RAID enclosures by Promise Technology aimed at the prosumer and professional market, initially offering up to 12 TB of storage, later increased to 18 TB. Sales of these units were hurt by the 2011 floods in Thailand (who manufacture much of the world's supply of hard-drives) resulting in a cut to worldwide hard-drive production and a subsequent driving-up of storage costs, hence the retail price of these Promise units increased in response, contributing to a slower take-up of the devices.

It also took some time for other storage manufacturers to release products: most were smaller devices aimed at the professional market, and focused on speed rather than high capacity. Many storage devices were under 1  TB in size, with some featuring SSDs for faster external-data access rather than standard hard-drives.

Other companies have offered interface products that can route multiple older, usually slower, connections through a single Thunderbolt port. In July 2011, Apple released its Apple Thunderbolt Display, whose gigabit Ethernet and other older connector types made it the first hub of its type. Later, companies such as Belkin, CalDigit, Other World Computing, Matrox, StarTech, and Elgato have all released Thunderbolt docks.

As of late 2012, few other storage devices offering double-digit TB capacity had appeared. Exceptions included Sonnet Technologies' highly priced professional units, and Drobo's 4- and 5-drive enclosures, the latter featuring their own BeyondRAID proprietary data-handling system.

Backwards compatibility with non-Thunderbolt-equipped computers was a problem, as most storage devices featured only two Thunderbolt ports, for daisy-chaining up to six devices from each one. In mid-2012, LaCie, Drobo, and other device makers started to swap out one of the two Thunderbolt ports for a USB 3.0 connection on some of their low-to-mid end products. Later models had the USB 3.0 added in addition to the two Thunderbolt ports, including those from LaCie on their 2big range.

Apple devices

Apple released its first Thunderbolt-equipped computer in early 2011 with MacBook Pro, and have continued to immediately update their devices with newer generations of Thunderbolt as soon as available.

List of Apple devices featuring Thunderbolt ports include: [143]

The late 2013 Retina MacBook Pro was the first product to have Thunderbolt 2 ports, following which manufacturers started to update their model offerings to those featuring the newer, faster, 20 Gbit/s connection throughout 2014. [144] Again, among the first was Promise Technology, who released updated Pegasus 2 versions of their R4 and R6 models along with an even larger R8 (8-drive) RAID unit, offering up to 32 TBs of storage. Later, other brands similarly introduced high capacity models with the newer connection type, including SanDisk Professional (with their G-RAID Studio models offering up to 24 TB) and LaCie (with their 5big, and rack mounted 8big models, offering up to 48 TB). LaCie also offering updated designed versions of their 2big mainstream consumer models, up to 12 TB, using new 6 TB hard-drives.

List of Apple devices featuring Thunderbolt 2 ports include: [143]

Thunderbolt 3 was introduced in late 2015, with several motherboard manufacturers and OEM laptop manufacturers including Thunderbolt 3 with their products. Gigabyte and MSI, large computer component manufacturers, entered the market for the first time with Thunderbolt 3 compatible components. [145] [146]

Dell was the first to include Thunderbolt 3 ports in laptops with their XPS Series and their Dell Alienware range. [147]

Apple first included Thunderbolt 3 on Mac in 2016.

Although Thunderbolt has initially had poor hardware support outside of Apple devices, and has been relegated to a niche gadget port, with the adoption of Thunderbolt 3 that uses the USB-C connector standard, meant that a much wider array of hardware was accepting of the market acceptance of the standard, especially when it later became part of USB4 standard.

List of Apple devices featuring Thunderbolt 3 ports include: [143]

Apple started to include Thunderbolt 4 on some of their devices, starting in 2021 with MacBook Pro.

List of Apple devices featuring Thunderbolt 4 ports include: [143]

Security vulnerabilities

Vulnerability to DMA attacks

Thunderbolt 3 – like many high-speed expansion buses, including PCI Express, PC Card, ExpressCard, FireWire, PCI, and PCI-X — is potentially vulnerable to a direct memory access (DMA) attack. If users extend the PCI Express bus (the most common high-speed expansion bus in systems as of 2018) with Thunderbolt, it allows very low-level access to the computer. An attacker could physically attach a malicious device, which, through its direct and unimpeded access to system memory and other devices, would be able to bypass almost all security measures of the operating system, allowing the attacker to read and write system memory, potentially exposing encryption keys or installing malware. [148] Such attacks have been demonstrated, modifying inexpensive commodity Thunderbolt hardware. [149] [150] The IOMMU virtualization, if present, and configured by the BIOS and the operating system, can close a computer's vulnerability to DMA attacks, [149] but only if a malicious device can't alter the code that configures the IOMMU before the code is executed. As of 2019, the major OS vendors had not taken into account the variety of ways in which a malicious device could take advantage of complex interactions between multiple emulated peripherals, exposing subtle bugs and vulnerabilities. [151] Some UEFI implementations offer Kernel DMA Protection. Intel® VT-d-based direct memory access (DMA) protection is a requirement for Thunderbolt 4 Certification. [152]

This vulnerability is not present when Thunderbolt is used as a system interconnection (IPoTB supported on OS X Mavericks), because the IP implementation runs on the underlying Thunderbolt low-latency packet-switching fabric, and the PCI Express protocol is not present on the cable. That means that if IPoTB networking is used between a group of computers, there is no threat of such DMA attack between them. [148] [149] [153] [154]

Vulnerability to Option ROM attacks

When a system with Thunderbolt boots, it loads and executes Option ROMs from attached devices. A malicious Option ROM can allow malware to execute before an operating system is started. It can then invade the kernel, log keystrokes, or steal encryption keys. [155] The ease of connecting Thunderbolt devices to portable computers makes them ideal for evil-maid attacks. [156]

Some systems load Option ROMs during firmware updates, allowing the malware in a Thunderbolt device's Option ROM to potentially overwrite the SPI flash ROM containing the system's boot firmware. [157] [158] In February 2015, Apple issued a Security Update to Mac OS X to eliminate the vulnerability of loading Option ROMs during firmware updates, although the system is still vulnerable to Option ROM attacks during normal boots. [159]

Firmware-enforced boot security measures, such as UEFI Secure Boot (which specifies the enforcement of signatures or hash allowlists of Option ROMs) are designed to mitigate this kind of attack.

Vulnerability to data exposure attacks (Thunderspy)

In May 2020, seven major security flaws were discovered in the Thunderbolt protocol, collectively named Thunderspy. They allow a malicious party to access all data stored in a computer, even if the device is locked, password-protected, and has an encrypted hard drive. These vulnerabilities affect all Thunderbolt 1, 2 and 3 ports. [150] The attack requries the computer to be in sleep mode and have a Thunderbolt controller with a writable fireware chip. An well-trained attacker with physical access to the computer ("evil maid") can perform the required steps in 5 minutes. With a malicious firmware, the attacker can covertly disable Thunderbolt security, clone device identities, and proceed to use DMA to extract data. [160] Thunderspy vulnerabilities can largely be mitigated using Kernel DMA Protection, along with traditional anti-intrusion hardware features. [161] [162]


Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter Thunderbolt-Ethernet-Adapter by Apple-7286.jpg
Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter

In June 2011, Apple introduced the first Thunderbolt cable, a 2 m (6.6 ft), 10  Gbit/s , full-duplex, active cable costing US$49. [163]

In June 2012, Apple began selling a Thunderbolt-to-gigabit Ethernet adapter for US$29. [164] In the third quarter of 2012, other manufacturers started shipping Thunderbolt cables, including cables reaching the 3 metres (9.8 feet) length limit, while some storage-enclosure builders began bundling Thunderbolt cables with their devices, rather than making customers buy them separately, as had been standard practice.

In January 2013, Apple reduced the price of their 2 m (6.6 ft) length cable to US$39 and added a half-meter cable for US$29. [165]

In Thunderbolt 3’s introduction, Intel announced passive USB-C cables would connect Thunderbolt devices at speeds greater than USB 3.1 (though less than active Thunderbolt cables), thereby eliminating the adoption barrier of Thunderbolt active cable costs. [166]

In mid-2016, copper Thunderbolt 3 cables became available at lengths up to 2 m (6.6 ft). However, 40  Gbit/s on copper required either active cables, or short (initially 0.5 m (1.6 ft), later 0.8 m (3 ft)) passive cables. Passive copper cables exceeding 0.8 m (3 ft) are limited to 20  Gbit/s . Despite that limit, passive cables provide USB 3 (20  Gbit/s ) backward compatibility, while active cables support only USB 2.0 (480  Mbit/s ). In April 2020, optical Thunderbolt 3 cables debuted (see Copper vs. optical).

Copper versions of Thunderbolt 4 cables offer full 40  Gbit/s speed and backward compatibility with all versions of USB (up to USB4), DisplayPort Alternate Mode (DP 1.4 HBR3), and Thunderbolt 3. Released in early 2021, they are also all to be available in three specified lengths: 0.2 m (0.66 ft), 0.8 m (2.6 ft), and 2 m (6.6 ft) – with many companies initially offering 0.8 m (2.6 ft) lengths. Copper Thunderbolt 4 cables up to 1.0 m (3.3 ft) are passive cables, while longer cables must integrate active signal conditioning circuitry. At some unspecified time in the future, optical Thunderbolt 4 cables are targeting lengths from ~5 m (16 ft) to 50 m (160 ft). [43]


Intel Thunderbolt controllers
182523EF415 × 153.8Light RidgeQ4 2010
DSL25102?Eagle RidgeQ1 2011
DSL23108 × 91.85SFF
DSL221015 × 60.7Port RidgeQ4 2011Device only
DSL3510H412 × 123.4Cactus RidgeCancelled
DSL3510L2.8Q2 2012
DSL331022.1Host only
DSL45104?Redwood Ridge2013
DSL4410210 × 10?Host only
2DSL55204??Falcon RidgeQ3 2013Thunderbolt 2, 20 Gbit/s speed+DP 1.2
3DSL6540 [167] 10.7 × 10.72.2Alpine Ridge [168] Q4 201540 Gbit/s speed, PCIe 3.0, HDMI 2.0 LSPCon (DP Protocol Converter),
DP 1.2, USB 3.1, 100 W power delivery (compatible with USB Power Delivery). [169] [170]
DSL6340 [171] 11.7Q1 201540 Gbit/s speed, DP 1.2
JHL6240 [172] 1.2Q2 201640 Gbit/s speed, DP 1.2, lead-free
JHL6340 [173] 1.7
JHL6540 [174] 22.2
JHL7340 [175] 11.9Titan RidgeQ1 201840 Gbit/s speed, DP 1.4
JHL7540 [176] 22.4
JHL7440 [177] 2.4Q1 201840 Gbit/s speed, DP 1.4, optional USB-C port compatibility,
backwards compatibility when a Thunderbolt 3 docking station is connected to a non-Thunderbolt 3 computer
4JHL8340 [178] 1??Maple Ridge2H 202040 Gbit/s speed, USB4 compliant
JHL8540 [179] 210.7 × 10.7?Q4 2020
JHL8440 [180] *410.7 × 10.7?Goshen RidgeQ3 202040 Gbit/s speed, USB4 compliant (peripheral only), with 4x Thunderbolt 4 ports for branching hub topology. Tunnelling of DP1.4, USB 3 (10 Gbit/s), PCIe (32 Gbit/s). Has PCIe 3.0 x1 and USB 3 (10 Gbit/s) native interfaces.
Devices controller aimed at: † computers, * accessories
Sources: [181]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">USB</span> Standard for computer data connections

Universal Serial Bus (USB) is an industry standard that allows data exchange and delivery of power between many various types of electronics. It specifies its architecture, in particular its physical interface, and communication protocols for data transfer and power delivery to and from hosts, such as personal computers, to and from peripheral devices, e.g. displays, keyboards, and mass storage devices, and to and from intermediate hubs, which multiply the number of a host's ports. USB was originally designed to standardize the connection of peripherals to computers, replacing various interfaces such as serial ports, parallel ports, game ports, and ADB ports, and prior versions of USB became commonplace on a wide range of devices, such as keyboards, mice, cameras, printers, scanners, flash drives, smartphones, game consoles, and power banks. It has evolved into a standard to replace virtually all common ports on computers, mobile devices, peripherals, power supplies, and manifold other small electronics. In the current standard the USB-C connector replaces the many various connectors for power, displays, and many other uses, as well as all previous USB connectors.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">PCI Express</span> Computer expansion bus standard

PCI Express, officially abbreviated as PCIe or PCI-e, is a high-speed serial computer expansion bus standard, designed to replace the older PCI, PCI-X and AGP bus standards. It is the common motherboard interface for personal computers' graphics cards, sound cards, hard disk drive host adapters, SSDs, Wi-Fi and Ethernet hardware connections. PCIe has numerous improvements over the older standards, including higher maximum system bus throughput, lower I/O pin count and smaller physical footprint, better performance scaling for bus devices, a more detailed error detection and reporting mechanism, and native hot-swap functionality. More recent revisions of the PCIe standard provide hardware support for I/O virtualization.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">SATA</span> Computer bus interface for storage devices

SATA is a computer bus interface that connects host bus adapters to mass storage devices such as hard disk drives, optical drives, and solid-state drives. Serial ATA succeeded the earlier Parallel ATA (PATA) standard to become the predominant interface for storage devices.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">DisplayPort</span> Digital display interface

DisplayPort (DP) is a digital display interface developed by a consortium of PC and chip manufacturers and standardized by the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA). It is primarily used to connect a video source to a display device such as a computer monitor. It can also carry audio, USB, and other forms of data.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">MacBook Pro</span> Line of notebook computer

The MacBook Pro is a line of Mac laptops made by Apple Inc. Introduced in January 2006, it is the higher-end lineup in the MacBook family, sitting above the consumer-focused MacBook Air. It is currently sold with 14-inch and 16-inch screens, all using Apple silicon M-series chips.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mac Pro</span> Series of computers by Apple Inc.

Mac Pro is a series of workstations and servers for professionals made by Apple Inc. since 2006. The Mac Pro, by some performance benchmarks, is the most powerful computer that Apple offers. It is one of four desktop computers in the current Mac lineup, sitting above the Mac Mini, iMac and Mac Studio.

iMac (Intel-based) Line of all-in-one desktop computers by Apple Inc.

The Intel-based iMac is a discontinued series of Macintosh all-in-one desktop computers designed, manufactured, and sold by Apple Inc. from 2006 to 2022. While sold, it was one of three desktop computers in the Macintosh lineup, serving as an all-in-one alternative to the Mac Mini, and sat below the performance range Mac Pro. It was sold alongside the Xeon-based iMac Pro from 2017 to 2021.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">MacBook Air</span> Line of ultraportable notebook computers by Apple

The MacBook Air is a line of laptop computers developed and manufactured by Apple since 2008. It features a thin, light structure in a machined aluminum case and currently either a 13-inch or 15-inch screen. The Macbook Air's lower prices relative to the larger, higher performance MacBook Pro have made it Apple's entry-level notebook since the discontinuation of the original MacBook line in 2011.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mini DisplayPort</span> Miniaturized version of the DisplayPort connector

The Mini DisplayPort is a miniaturized version of the DisplayPort audio-visual digital interface.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Apple Thunderbolt Display</span> Flat panel computer monitor sold by Apple Inc.

The Apple Thunderbolt Display is a 27-inch flat panel computer monitor developed and sold by Apple Inc. from July 2011 to June 2016. Originally priced at $999, it replaced the 27-inch Apple LED Cinema Display. New to the Thunderbolt Display was the switch from Mini DisplayPort and USB to a single Thunderbolt connector for data and DisplayPort. The Thunderbolt Display also added a Gigabit Ethernet port and FireWire 800 port. The monitor is not compatible with computers without Thunderbolt, including but not limited to, desktop PCs without a Thunderbolt port, Macs released before 2011, the 2012 Mac Pro and the single USB-C Retina MacBook. Devices with Thunderbolt 3 can use the display with an adapter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">USB-C</span> 24-pin USB connector system

USB-C, or USB Type-C, is a connector that supersedes previous USB connectors and can carry audio and/or video data, e.g. to drive multiple displays, or transfer data, e.g. to store a backup to an external drive, and providing/receiving power, such as to power a laptop or a mobile phone. It is applied not only by USB technology, but also by other protocols, including Thunderbolt, PCIe, HDMI, DisplayPort, and others. It is extensible to support future standards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">12-inch MacBook</span> Discontinued line of Apple notebook computers

The 12-inch MacBook is a discontinued Mac laptop made by Apple Inc., which sat between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro in Apple's laptop lineup.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">USB4</span> Fourth major version of the Universal Serial Bus standard

USB4, sometimes referred to as USB 4.0, is a technical specification that the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) released on 29 August 2019. USB4 is based[marketing claim?] on the Thunderbolt 3 protocol specification, which Intel had contributed to the USB-IF, but is aligned with the Thunderbolt 4 specification.. The USB4 architecture can share a single, high-speed link with multiple hardware endpoints dynamically, best serving each transfer by data type and application.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Apple M1</span> Series of systems-on-a-chip designed by Apple Inc.

Apple M1 is a series of ARM-based systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) designed by Apple Inc. as a central processing unit (CPU) and graphics processing unit (GPU) for its Mac desktops and notebooks, and the iPad Pro and iPad Air tablets. The M1 chip initiated Apple's third change to the instruction set architecture used by Macintosh computers, switching from Intel to Apple silicon 14 years after they were switched from PowerPC to Intel, and 26 years after the transition from the original Motorola 68000 series to PowerPC. At the time of introduction in 2020, Apple said that the M1 had the world's fastest CPU core "in low power silicon" and the world's best CPU performance per watt. Its successor, Apple M2, was announced on June 6, 2022, at WWDC.

The MacBook Air is a line of Mac laptops made by Apple Inc. In 2020, Apple stopped using Intel processors in the Air and switched to using their own Apple silicon M-series chips. In the current product line, the MacBook Air is Apple's entry-level laptop, situated below the performance range MacBook Pro, and is currently sold with 13-inch and 15-inch screens.

iMac (Apple silicon) All-in-one desktop computer designed and built by Apple Inc.

The iMac with Apple silicon is a line of all-in-one desktop Macs made by Apple Inc. The first iMac with Apple silicon, with a 24-inch screen and an Apple M1 chip, was released on May 21, 2021, replacing the 21-inch and 27-inch Intel iMacs.

iPad Pro (5th generation) 2021 Apple tablet computer

The fifth-generation iPad Pro, colloquially known as the M1iPad Pro, is a line of iPad tablet computers developed and marketed by Apple Inc. Announced on April 20, 2021, it was available with the same screen size options as its predecessor: 11-inch (28 cm) and 12.9-inch (33 cm). Preorders began on April 30, 2021, and the product was released worldwide on May 21, 2021. It comes in two colors: Silver and Space Gray.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">MacBook Air (Intel-based)</span> Line of ultraportable notebook computers by Apple

The Intel-based MacBook Air is a discontinued line of notebook computers developed and manufactured by Apple Inc. from 2008 to 2020. The Air was originally positioned above the previous MacBook line as a premium ultraportable. Since then, the original MacBook's discontinuation in 2011, and lowered prices on subsequent iterations, made the Air Apple's entry-level notebook.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">MacBook Pro (Intel-based)</span> Line of notebook computers

The Intel-based MacBook Pro is a discontinued line of Macintosh notebook computers sold by Apple Inc. from 2006 to 2021. It was the higher-end model of the MacBook family, sitting above the consumer-focused MacBook Air, and was sold with 13-inch to 17-inch screens.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Apple Studio Display</span> Computer monitor manufactured by Apple Inc.

The Apple Studio Display is a 27-inch flat panel computer monitor developed and sold by Apple Inc. It was announced on March 8, 2022, alongside the Mac Studio desktop, and was released on March 18, 2022. It is Apple's consumer display, sitting below the Pro Display XDR.


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Further reading