About Thunderbolt ports and displays

Learn about the Thunderbolt ports on Apple computers and displays, and what they bring to your Mac.

About Thunderbolt 3

Thunderbolt 3 is an I/O technology that connects devices to your computer at speeds up to 40 Gbps. Thunderbolt 3 combines data transfer, video output, and charging capabilities in a single, compact connector. It offers faster speeds than Thunderbolt 2—up to 40Gbps with a Thunderbolt 3-compatible cable. Thunderbolt 3 also supports USB 3.1 Gen 2 connectivity at up to 10 Gbps.

Thunderbolt 3 uses USB-C connectors at each end of the cable. They look like this:

The following Mac models are equipped with Thunderbolt 3:

  • MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)

About Thunderbolt 2

Thunderbolt 2 is the second generation of the port technology. Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 port connectors look the same, but Thunderbolt 2 provides more speed—up to 20 Gbps.

Thunderbolt 2 is backwards-compatible, so you can use Thunderbolt 2 devices with an older Thunderbolt port (unless otherwise documented by the device's manufacturer). And you can use an older Thunderbolt device with a Thunderbolt 2 port. All Thunderbolt cables work with Thunderbolt 2 and older ports and devices.

The following Mac models are equipped with Thunderbolt 2:

  • MacBook Air (13-inch, Early 2015)
  • iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014)
  • Mac mini (Late 2014)
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013) and later
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013) and later
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

About Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt is an input/output (I/O) technology that supports high-resolution displays and high-performance data devices. It does this through a single, compact port. Thunderbolt I/O technology gives you two channels on the same connector, each with 10 Gbps of throughput in both directions.

The Thunderbolt port or connector end looks like this:

The port on your computer looks like a Mini DisplayPort. To confirm that you have a Thunderbolt port, check for this symbol next to or above the port:

The following Mac models are equipped with Thunderbolt:

  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2012) and later
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2012) and later
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Early 2011) and later
  • MacBook Pro (15-inch, Early 2011) and later
  • MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2011) and later
  • MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2011) and later
  • Mac mini (Mid 2011) and later
  • iMac (Mid 2011) and later
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

Optimize Thunderbolt performance

To get the best performance from your Thunderbolt devices, remember these tips:

  • Install any available software updates on your Mac.
  • If you need to reinstall macOS, first disconnect any Thunderbolt devices. The only exception: If you’ve connected an Apple Thunderbolt Display to a Mac mini, leave it connected.
  • If a device operates on AC or battery power, its Thunderbolt port can supply power. For the best performance, connect your Thunderbolt devices to their own power supplies, if available. Battery-powered computers drain faster if your Thunderbolt device gets its power only from the port.
  • If you're connecting multiple devices to one Thunderbolt port via daisy-chain, connect higher-performance devices first in the chain (directly to the computer port).

About Thunderbolt adapters and cables

These Thunderbolt adapters and cables are available to connect your devices:

  • The Apple Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable lets you connect devices and peripherals. You can also connect some Thunderbolt-equipped iMac models in Target Display Mode. And you can connect other Thunderbolt Apple computers in Target Disk Mode.
    When you connect a Mac in Target Disk Mode or Target Display Mode, devices you connect to that Mac become peripherals. They don’t become active on your main computer.
  • The Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter lets you connect Gigabit Ethernet devices to your Mac.
  • The Apple Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter lets you use the Thunderbolt port on your Mac to connect FireWire devices.

The above adapters require a Thunderbolt port to function. They don't work when connected via Mini DisplayPort.

Thunderbolt 3

For Mac models with Thunderbolt 3, you can use a use a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter to connect to Thunderbolt devices like displays and external disks.

Note that although it uses a Mini DisplayPort connector, the Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter doesn't support connections to Mini DisplayPort displays. Also, this adapter supports only one powered Thunderbolt 2 device on a USB-C equipped Mac.

You can also use a USB-C to USB-C cable to connect your Mac to other USB-C devices. To get Thunderbolt speeds, use a cable like the Belkin 3.1 USB-C to USB-C Cable (20 Gbps) or the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Cable (40 Gbps).

These adapters are also available for Mac models with Thunderbolt 3:

  • The Apple USB-C to USB Adapter connects devices like digital cameras and thumb drives.
  • The Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter lets you connect to an HDMI display. In addition to HDMI, this adapter lets you connect a standard USB device and a USB-C charging cable to charge your MacBook Pro. 
  • The Apple USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter lets you connect to a VGA display or projector. In addition to VGA, this adapter lets you connect a standard USB device and a USB-C charging cable to charge your MacBook Pro. 
  • The Apple USB-C to Lightning Cable lets you charge and sync your iOS device.

Note that USB 2 devices will only work with Thunderbolt 3-equipped Mac models if the device is connected directly to the Mac via adapter. When connecting multiple devices in a daisy chain to a Thunderbolt 3 port, make sure that any USB 2 devices are connected to the Mac before any Thunderbolt 3 devices.

Use the Apple Thunderbolt Display

If your Mac has Thunderbolt ports, you can use a Thunderbolt display in macOS or Boot Camp.

System requirements to use your Thunderbolt display in macOS:

  • A Thunderbolt-capable Mac
  • The latest software and firmware updates for your Mac
  • OS X v10.6.8 Snow Leopard or later

System requirements to use your Thunderbolt display in Boot Camp:

  • A Thunderbolt-capable Mac
  • The latest software and firmware updates for your Mac
  • OS X Lion: Boot Camp 4.0 is included with Lion
  • OS X v10.6.8 Snow Leopard: Boot Camp that’s updated to version 3.3

Use one or more Thunderbolt Displays with your Mac

Many Mac computers from 2011 and newer support at least one Thunderbolt Display. Below, find your specific model and how many Thunderbolt Displays it supports.

These Thunderbolt-3 capable Mac computers support multiple Thunderbolt displays:

  • MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016) supports up to four Thunderbolt displays using Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapters or daisy-chaining.
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports) and MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports) support up to two Thunderbolt displays using Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapters and daisy-chaining.

These Thunderbolt-capable Mac computers 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)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2011)
  • Mac mini (Mid 2011), 2.3 GHz
  • Mac mini with Lion Server (Mid 2011)

These Thunderbolt-capable Mac computers can support up to two connected Apple Thunderbolt Displays:

  • MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2012) and later
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, Mid 2012) and later
  • 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)
  • iMac (Mid 2011)
  • iMac (Late 2013)
  • iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2014)
  • Mac Mini (Late 2012)
  • iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014)
  • Mac mini (Late 2014)
  • Mac Mini (Mid 2011), 2.5 GHz

Mac Pro (Late 2013) can support up to six Apple Thunderbolt Displays.

Notes:

  • The F8 key does not work when using Windows with a USB keyboard connected to an Apple Thunderbolt Display (27-inch).
  • 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.
  • Most Mac computers can support one Thunderbolt display using Windows 7, 8, or 10 in Boot Camp. 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.
  • Late-2016 MacBook Pro models require a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter to attach a Thunderbolt display. These models also support one "dual cable" 5K display using a USB-C to DP cable or adapter.

Add an iMac in Target Display Mode

If your Thunderbolt-equipped Mac supports two or more Thunderbolt Displays, you can connect a Thunderbolt Display, then connect an iMac in Target Display Mode. These act as two more displays for your Mac. For this to work, your iMac must support Target Display Mode.

Here's how to use a Thunderbolt Display and an iMac as two more displays for your Mac:

  1. Connect your Thunderbolt Display to your Mac, and check that your Mac recognizes it.
  2. Connect your iMac to the Thunderbolt port of the display. Your iMac must be Thunderbolt-enabled, and you must use a Thunderbolt cable.
  3. To switch the iMac to Target Display Mode, press Command-F2 on its keyboard. The iMac should begin to work as the second external display.

Use a Mini DisplayPort display or adapter with your Thunderbolt-equipped Mac

You can connect a Mini DisplayPort display to a Thunderbolt port on your Mac. Or, you can connect a display that uses a Mini DisplayPort to VGA, DVI, or HDMI adapter. They work the same as if you connect them to a Mini DisplayPort.

Connect through a Thunderbolt peripheral

If you're using all of the Thunderbolt ports on your Mac, you can still connect your display. Connect it to a port on a Thunderbolt peripheral that's connected to your Mac.

This should work for all Thunderbolt peripherals except for a Thunderbolt Display. Connect your display only at the end of the Thunderbolt chain. You can use only one Mini DisplayPort device in the Thunderbolt chain.

Connect your 4K Ultra HD TV or 4K display

Your Thunderbolt-equipped Mac lets you connect a 4K Ultra HD TV in two ways. You can make a direct HDMI connection, or use a Thunderbolt to high-speed HDMI adapter.

If you have a Mac with Thunderbolt 2, you can connect 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.

All Thunderbolt 3-enabled Mac computers support 4K Ultra HD with an adapter like the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter.

Use Thunderbolt ports with Boot Camp and Windows 7, 8, or 10

If you use Thunderbolt ports with Windows 7, 8, or 10 in Boot Camp, please note that:

  • Thunderbolt devices are "hot pluggable," or usable without a restart, in some cases. Windows 8 or 8.1 on all 2014 and later Mac computers support hot plug.
  • A Mac that uses Windows 7, 8, or 10 doesn't sleep when you plug in a Thunderbolt device.
  • Windows 7, 8, and 10 don’t support Target Display Mode or Target Disk Mode on a Thunderbolt-capable iMac.
  • If you use the Taskbar tool to eject a Thunderbolt device and then reconnect, your computer won't recognize it. You must first restart your computer. This is also true if you disconnect the Thunderbolt cable.
  • If your Apple notebook computer hibernates because its battery is low, all Thunderbolt devices disconnect. To reconnect your devices, connect to power, wake the system, and restart your computer.
  • If you insert an ExpressCard into your MacBook Pro while a Thunderbolt device is connected, your Mac doesn’t recognize the ExpressCard. To use your ExpressCard slot, disconnect or eject the Thunderbolt device.
  • Using a device in Target Disk Mode with Windows on a USB-C equipped Mac is not supported.

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