Thunderbolt ports and displays: Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Learn about the Thunderbolt ports on Apple computers and displays, their uses with OS X and Boot Camp, and system requirements for Thunderbolt usage.

About Thunderbolt:

  1. What is Thunderbolt?
  2. What is Thunderbolt 2?
  3. Is my computer, display, or cable Thunderbolt capable?
  4. Which Macs have Thunderbolt ports?
  5. Which Macs have Thunderbolt 2 ports?
  6. How do I get the best performance from Thunderbolt?
  7. Does the Thunderbolt port supply power to connected devices?

About Thunderbolt Adapters and Cables:

  1. What does the Apple Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable do?
  2. When I have a Mac connected via the Apple Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable via Target Disk Mode or Target Display Mode, do devices connected to that Mac become active on my computer?
  3. What does the Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter do?
  4. What does the Apple Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter do?
  5. Will the Apple Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable or Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter work when plugged in to the Apple Mini DisplayPort on my Mac?
  6. Where can I learn more about these adapters and cables?
  7. Can I use Thunderbolt 2 devices with an older Thunderbolt port or a Thunderbolt 2 port for older devices?
  8. Can I mix Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 cables and devices?

Using the Apple Thunderbolt Display:

  1. What are the system requirements for using my Apple Thunderbolt Display in OS X?
  2. What are the system requirements for using my Apple Thunderbolt Display in Boot Camp?
  3. How many Apple Thunderbolt Displays can I use with my Mac in OS X?
  4. How many Apple Thunderbolt Displays can I use with Mac in Windows 7 or 8 with Boot Camp?
  5. Can I connect a Mini DisplayPort display to my Apple Thunderbolt Display for computers that support using more than one display?
  6. Can I use an Apple Thunderbolt Display and an iMac in Target Display Mode to act as two additional displays for my Thunderbolt-equipped Mac?

Using Mini DisplayPort displays or displays connecting with Mini DisplayPort adapters on Macs with Thunderbolt Ports:

  1. Can I connect a Mini DisplayPort Monitor or Monitor using a mini DisplayPort adapter to a Thunderbolt port on my Thunderbolt-equipped Mac?
  2. How do I connect my Mini DisplayPort Monitor or Monitor using a Mini DisplayPort adapter to my Thunderbolt-equipped Mac when I have other Thunderbolt devices connected?
  3. Can I connect my Mini DisplayPort monitor or monitor using a Mini DisplayPort adapter to my Apple Thunderbolt Display?
  4. Can I connect to my 4K Ultra HD TV or 4K display via Thunderbolt?

Using Thunderbolt with Boot Camp and Windows 7:

  1. Are Thunderbolt devices “hot pluggable” using Windows with Boot Camp?
  2. My Macintosh running Windows 7 or 8 does not sleep when a Thunderbolt device is plugged in. Is this normal?
  3. Can I use Target Display Mode or Target Disk Mode with Boot Camp and Windows 7 or 8 using a Thunderbolt-capable iMac?
  4. If I eject a Thunderbolt device using the Taskbar tool or disconnect the Thunderbolt cable, can I reconnect it again without restarting?
  5. Do Thunderbolt devices stay connected if my Mac hibernates?
  6. Why doesn't the ExpressCard I insert into my MacBook Pro ExpressCard slot seem to be recognized while I'm using Windows with Boot Camp?

About Thunderbolt:

   

1. What is Thunderbolt?

Thunderbolt is a revolutionary I/O technology that supports high-resolution displays and high-performance data devices through a single, compact port. It sets new standards for speed, flexibility, and simplicity. Thunderbolt I/O technology gives you two channels on the same connector each with 10 Gbps of throughput in both directions. That makes Thunderbolt ultra fast and ultra flexible. Click here for more detailed information on Thunderbolt.

2. What is Thunderbolt 2?

Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 have an identical port connector. However, Thunderbolt 2 gives you more speed (up to 20 Gbps).

3. Is my computer, display, or cable Thunderbolt capable?

The Thunderbolt port or connector end looks like this:

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

 

4. Which Macs have Thunderbolt Ports?

The following models are Thunderbolt capable:

  • MacBook Pro with Retina display (Mid 2012 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (Early 2011 and later)
  • MacBook Air (Mid 2011 and later)
  • Mac mini (Mid 2011 and later)
  • iMac (Mid 2011 and later)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

To find out which model Mac you have follow these steps:

  1. In OS X Lion and later, choose About this Mac from the Apple () menu.
  2. Click More Info.
  3. Your model information should appear next to your computer's icon.

Note: If you have Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard or earlier, use the following resources on how to identify your MacBook AirMacBook ProMac mini, or iMac to identify your Apple computer. 

5. Which Macs have Thunderbolt 2 ports?

The following models are Thunderbolt 2 capable:

  • MacBook Pro (Retina, Late 2013 and later)
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013) 
  • iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014)
  • Mac mini (Late 2014)

6. How do I get the best performance from Thunderbolt?

To help you get the best performance from your Thunderbolt devices, make sure your Thunderbolt-capable Mac is running Mac OS X v10.6.8 or later and has the latest software and firmware updates installed:

  1. Choose Software Update from the Apple () menu. A list of available updates for your computer will appear.
  2. After installing the updates and restarting your Mac, run Software Update again to see if more updates appear. Thunderbolt specific updates include:

Important: If you reinstall OS X, be sure to disconnect any Thunderbolt devices before starting the installation. (The only exception to this is a Thunderbolt display connected to a Mac mini—leave these connected.) After the installation, run Software Update immediately and apply all available OS X updates before reconnecting any Thunderbolt devices.

7. Does the Thunderbolt port supply power to connected devices?

Yes. A Thunderbolt port supplies power if that Thunderbolt port is part of a device that is connected to an AC power outlet or is operating on battery power. If your Thunderbolt devices have their own power supplies, you should connect the power supplies to them for optimal functionality. If you are using Thunderbolt devices that get their power only from the Thunderbolt bus, computers running on battery power will experience battery drain more quickly.

About Thunderbolt Adapters and Cables:

   

1. What does the Apple Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable do?

This cable allows you to connect Thunderbolt devices, Thunderbolt-equipped iMac's in Target Display Mode, and other Thunderbolt Apple computers in Target Disk Mode.

2. When I have a Mac connected via the Apple Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable via Target Disk Mode or Target Display Mode, do devices connected to that Mac become active on my computer?

No. The additional devices will become peripherals for the Mac in Target Disk Mode or Target Display Mode. The additional devices do not "chain" through the Mac and its other Thunderbolt port.

3. What does the Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter do?

The Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter lets you connect Gigabit Ethernet devices to your Mac using the Thunderbolt port.

4. What does the Apple Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter do?

The Apple Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter lets you connect FireWire devices to your Mac using its Thunderbolt port.

5. Will Apple's Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable, Apple Thunderbolt to Firewire Adapter, or Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter work when plugged into the Apple Mini DisplayPort on my Mac?

No, the Apple Thunderbolt cable, FireWire Adapter, and Gigabit Ethernet Adapter require a Thunderbolt port to function. They may still fit in a Mini-DisplayPort connector but will not be recognized or otherwise function.

6. Where can I learn more about these adapters and cables?

For more information on Apple Thunderbolt cables and adapters refer to:

7. Can I use Thunderbolt 2 devices with an older Thunderbolt port or a Thunderbolt 2 port for older devices?

Thunderbolt 2 Macs and peripherals are backwards compatible with Thunderbolt devices unless otherwise documented by the device manufacturer.

8. Can I mix Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 cables and devices?

Yes. All Thunderbolt cables work with Thunderbolt 2 and older Thunderbolt ports and devices.

Using the Apple Thunderbolt Display:

   

1. What are the system requirements for using my Apple Thunderbolt Display in OS X?

  • A Thunderbolt-capable Mac (listed in question 3).
  • The latest software and firmware updates for Thunderbolt-capable computers listed in question 4.
  • Mac OS X v10.6.8 Snow Leopard or later.

2. What are the system requirements for using my Apple Thunderbolt Display in Boot Camp?

  • A Thunderbolt-capable Mac (listed in question 3).
  • The latest software and firmware updates for Thunderbolt-capable computers (listed in question 4).
  • For OS X Lion: Boot Camp 4.0 (included with Lion).
  • For Mac OS X v10.6.8 Snow Leopard: Boot Camp updated to version 3.3.

3. How many Apple Thunderbolt Displays can I use with my Mac in OS X?

The table below indicates how many Thunderbolt displays can be connected to Thunderbolt-capable Mac computers in OS X.

Computer Maximum connected displays
Thunderbolt-capable Macs with Intel HD Graphics 3000 integrated graphics can support one connected Apple Thunderbolt Display (27-inch).
  • MacBook Air (Mid 2011)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Early 2011) and (13-inch, Late 2011)1
  • Mac mini (Mid 2011), 2.3 GHz
  • Mac mini with Lion Server (Mid 2011)
One Thunderbolt display
Thunderbolt-capable Macs that can support up to two connected Apple Thunderbolt Displays.
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2012) and later4
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, Mid 2012) and later 4
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2012)
  • MacBook Pro (15-inch and 17-inch, Early 2011) and later
  • MacBook Air (Mid 2012) and later
  • iMac (Late 2012) 2
  • iMac (Mid 2011) 2
  • iMac (Late 2013) 2
  • iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2014) 2
  • Mac Mini (Late 2012) 4 
  • iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) 2, 5
  • Mac mini (Late 2014) 4
  • Mac Mini (Mid 2011), 2.5 GHz 3
Two Thunderbolt displays
Thunderbolt-capable Macs that can support up to six connected Apple Thunderbolt Displays.
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)
Six Thunderbolt displays

Note: The F8 key does not work when using Windows with a USB keyboard connected to an Apple Thunderbolt Display (27-inch).

1 You can connect a second Apple Thunderbolt Display (27-inch) to a MacBook Pro (13-inch, Early 2011) and (13-inch, Late 2011), but the built-in display on the MacBook Pro will go dark. This is expected behavior.

iMacs listed above with two Thunderbolt ports supports a total of two Thunderbolt displays regardless of which Thunderbolt port each display is connected to.

Mac mini with AMD graphics can support an HDMI compatible device on its HDMI port when using two Thunderbolt displays.

MacBook Pro (Retina, Mid 2012), MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2012), and Mac Mini (Late 2012 and later) computers can use an HDMI-compatible device on it's HDMI port while using one Thunderbolt display, or they can use two Thunderbolt displays.

If you connect a 60Hz multi-stream transport (MST) 4K display to an iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) computer, only one additional Thunderbolt display is supported.

4. How many Apple Thunderbolt Displays can I use with a Mac in Windows 7 or 8 with Boot Camp?

Most Mac computers can support one Thunderbolt display using Windows. The iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) and Mac mini (Late 2014) can support two, and the Mac Pro (Late 2013) can support up to six.

5. Can I connect a Mini DisplayPort display to my Apple Thunderbolt Display for computers that support using more than one display?

Mini DisplayPort displays will not function if connected to the Thunderbolt port of an Apple Thunderbolt Display. Displays connected via Mini DisplayPort video adapter or cable to the Thunderbolt port of an Apple Thunderbolt Display will not work.

6. Can I use an Apple Thunderbolt Display and an iMac in Target Display Mode to act as two additional displays for my Thunderbolt-equipped Mac?

Yes. If your Thunderbolt-equipped Mac supports two Thunderbolt displays this is possible. Your Thunderbolt-equipped Mac will need to be connected to your Apple Thunderbolt display and the iMac will need to be connected to the Thunderbolt port of the Apple Thunderbolt display. Not all iMacs support Target Display Mode. See Target Display Mode: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for more information. Once connected, place the iMac into Target Display Mode to enable it as the second external display.

Notes:

  • Make sure the Thunderbolt Display is connected to your Thunderbolt-equipped Mac and is being recognized and used by the Thunderbolt-equipped Mac before connecting the iMac to the Thunderbolt display.
  • If the iMac is placed in the Thunderbolt chain before the Apple Thunderbolt Display, the Thunderbolt display will work as an external display for the iMac and it will stay active as an external display for the iMac, but it will not function with the main Thunderbolt-equipped Mac using the iMac's display.
  • To use an iMac in Target Display Mode when connected to an Apple Thunderbolt Display, the iMac must be Thunderbolt-enabled, and a Thunderbolt cable must be used (not a mini-DP cable).

Using Mini DisplayPort displays or displays connecting with Mini DisplayPort adapters on Macs with Thunderbolt Ports:

   

1. Can I connect a Mini DisplayPort monitor or monitor using a Mini DisplayPort adapter to a Thunderbolt port on my Thunderbolt-equipped Mac?

Yes. A Mini DisplayPort display or a display connecting with a Mini DisplayPort to VGA, DVI, or HDMI adapter will work just like it was connecting to a Mini DisplayPort connector when plugging in directly to the Thunderbolt connector on your Apple computer. Click here for more information on Mini DisplayPort connections and adapters.

2. How do I connect my Mini DisplayPort monitor or monitor using a Mini DisplayPort adapter to my Thunderbolt-equipped Mac when I have other Thunderbolt devices connected?

When connecting a Mini DisplayPort display or a display using a Mini DisplayPort adapter to a Thunderbolt peripheral (except as described in question 24), make sure the display is connected at the end of the Thunderbolt chain. You can use only one Mini DisplayPort device in the Thunderbolt chain.

Note: Systems with more than one Thunderbolt port, like an iMac, can have more than one Mini DisplayPort monitor or monitor connected with a Mini DisplayPort adapter connected as each Thunderbolt port can support one Mini DisplayPort display.

3. Can I connect my Mini DisplayPort monitor or monitor using a Mini DisplayPort adapter to my Apple Thunderbolt Display?

Mini DisplayPort Monitors or Monitors connecting with Mini DisplayPort adapters will not function when connected through a Thunderbolt Display. They must be connected directly to the Thunderbolt port on the computer or to a non-display device as indicated above.

4. Can I connect to my 4K Ultra HD TV or 4K display via Thunderbolt?

4K Ultra HD TVs are supported over HDMI or with Thunderbolt to high-speed HDMI adapters. Thunderbolt 2 is required to use a 4K display. All Thunderbolt 2 models support 4K displays at 30Hz in Single Stream Transport mode. Some models support 4K displays at 60 Hz in Multi Stream Transport mode. See HT6008 for more information on using 4K displays. Specific 4K DisplayPort displays are supported on Thunderbolt with a mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable.

Using Thunderbolt with Boot Camp and Windows 7:

   

1. Are Thunderbolt devices “hot pluggable” using Windows with Boot Camp?

The iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) and the Mac mini (Late 2014) support “hot pluggable” Thunderbolt devices using Windows 8 or 8.1 (both as 64-bit only).

For all other Mac computers, Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 scans and activates Thunderbolt devices connected to Thunderbolt ports only during the Windows startup process. If your device was not plugged in at start up, Windows will not detect it without a restart.

2. My Macintosh running Windows 7 or 8 does not sleep when a Thunderbolt device is plugged in. Is this normal?

Yes. Sleep is disabled in Windows 7 or 8 while a Thunderbolt device is plugged in.

3. Can I use Target Display Mode or Target Disk Mode with Boot Camp and Windows 7 or 8 using a Thunderbolt-capable iMac?

No. Target Display Mode and Target Disk mode are not supported using Boot Camp and Windows 7 on a Thunderbolt-capable iMac.

4. If I eject a Thunderbolt device using the Taskbar tool or disconnect the Thunderbolt cable, can I reconnect it again without restarting?

No. A directly-connected Thunderbolt device that is removed with the Taskbar tool or by disconnecting the Thunderbolt cable will not be recognized until you restart the computer.

5. Do Thunderbolt devices stay connected if my Mac hibernates?

If the battery in your portable Mac is depleted enough to cause your portable to hibernate, all Thunderbolt devices will be disconnected. After connecting to power and waking the system, restart your computer to reconnect your Thunderbolt devices.

6. Why doesn't the ExpressCard I insert into my MacBook Pro ExpressCard slot seem to be recognized while I'm using Windows with Boot Camp?

"Plug and Play" with ExpressCard does not work while a Thunderbolt device is connected to your MacBook Pro. Disconnect or eject the Thunderbolt device to use your ExpressCard slot.

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