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Can I Use a Thunderbolt 3 Device With a Thunderbolt 2 Mac?

2012 MacBook Pro Showing Thunderbolt 2 ports on the side
2012 MacBook Pro With Thunderbolt 2 Ports

We’ve all been there. Haven’t we? When your perfectly fine Mac becomes an oversized paperweight because everything has been updated and your computers no longer play nicely with hard drives, apps, or other peripheral devices. So, unless you’re willing to shell out a small fortune, you’re left languishing in the “dark ages.” All your friends and colleagues are editing video at Thunderbolt 3 and 4 speeds of 40Gb/s (on a Mac) while you’re still on Thunderbolt 2.

Well, I have good news and bad news. First, the good news.


Good news! There’s an adapter for that.

OWC prides itself in helping customers extend the life and usability of their Macs. Whether if it’s in the products they create or the tips and knowledge they provide. So, if you’ve been salivating for one of those sleek new Thunderbolt 3 docks but are “burdened” with only a Thunderbolt 2 connection, you’ll be excited to learn that there’s a Thunderbolt 3/USB-C to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. A few important things to keep in mind:

Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter
Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter
  • You need macOS Sierra or later to connect your Thunderbolt 2 Mac to a Thunderbolt 3 (or higher) device.
  • It goes both ways:
    •  If you have a Thunderbolt 2 device with only a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C)/Thunderbolt 4 port, you can use the adapter to connect them, and
    • You can connect Thunderbolt-enabled displays to the Thunderbolt 3 ports on your Mac (if used with a display, a power source is needed because power is not transferred through the device from the display.
  • It does not support DisplayPort displays like the Apple LED Cinema Display or third-party DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort displays.
  • When used to connect Thunderbolt 3 devices to a Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 Mac, it must be a self-powered device. Bus-powered devices connected directly to that Apple adapter are not supported.
OWC Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock
The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock is a good choice for any Thunderbolt 2 equipped Mac.

The (not so) bad news

First and foremost, keep in mind that this adapter does not give you Thunderbolt 3 speeds. When connecting a Thunderbolt 2 Mac to Thunderbolt 3 devices, you will still only get Thunderbolt 2 speeds of approximately 20Gb/s (if you have just plain old Thunderbolt, you’re stuck with speeds of about 10Gb/s).

Second, the adapter is only made by Apple. So you’d have to purchase one directly from their site, MacSales.com, or you may be able to find one on Amazon.



Ron Dawson
the authorRon Dawson
For nearly 20 years, Ron Dawson has been a professional video producer, content marketer, and influencer in the visual arts industry. Most recently he was managing editor of the Frame.io blog and currently is managing editor of the Film Riot and Rocket Yard blogs.
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29 Comments

  • Wow. I wish I had read the comments two days ago.

    I have just spent over $300 on adapters, cables, and docks and it looks like it’s all for naught. I made this decision based upon the above article and things don’t look good.

    Late 2014 mini/OSX 11.6-Big Sur–>Apple Thunderbolt Cable (2m)–>Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter–>Seagate SSD: NO JOY–according to the above article, this is normal. But, it’s a physically tiny drive so I am really surprised that nothing happened.

    Late 2014 mini/OSX 11.6-Big Sur–>Apple Thunderbolt Cable (2m)–>Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter–>OWC Mercury Elite Pro Mini externally powered enclosure with OWC 1TB SSD drive: NO JOY

    Arriving in 2 days is a closeout OWC 14 port Thunderbolt dock I ordered on the recommendation of this article. I am going to be mighty disappointed if they don’t take it back.

    This article appears to be a significant disservice to the Mac community and should cause many people to think twice about dealing with OWC if, in fact, the information is wrong.

    I will report back after I contact OWC and test the dock.

    • David. I’m sorry for your experience. OWC’s customer support is top notch. Contact them if it does not work out for you and they’ll take care of you. In the meantime, I’ll have someone in support double-check the info again.

      • Ron,

        Thanks for your response.

        I would like to update my response.

        Today I received the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock, 14 ports (OWCTB3DK14PSLO). My impression from the site and my paperwork is that this item will soon become NLA.

        However, I am very happy to report that it works as I had hoped.

        The setup is:
        Mac mini (Late 2014/OS 11.6) Thunderbolt (2) port–>Apple Thunderbolt (2) Cable (2m)–>Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter–>OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock.
        I can confirm that 11 of the 13 ports transfer data as advertised. I could not easily test the Micro SD port, S/PDIF port, and DisplayPort but will report back if any of these fail to work. I also did not test the charging capabilities of the two high power USB ports.
        I can only guess that the Late 2014 mini/OSX 11.6-Big Sur–>Apple Thunderbolt Cable (2m)–>Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter–>OWC Mercury Elite Pro Mini externally powered enclosure with OWC 1TB SSD drive did not work because not enough power was available to the enclosure. Perhaps OWC should look into this.

        Therefore, my “recommendation” to anyone trying to use a Thunderbolt 3 device with a Thunderbolt 2 Macintosh is, “More Power!”

        So, please accept my apologies if I offended you in any way.

  • Just tried connecting my MacBook Pro 2015 15″ like so :

    Apple Thunderbolt 2M cable to Apple Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 adapter to Anker PowerExpand 5 in 1 Thunderbolt 4 mini dock.

    No dice. The mac does not detect anything being connected to the Thunderbolt controller :(

    The Anker mini dock shows a blue light but nothing is detected on the Mac side. This is on Monterey beta 6.

  • Bought the supposed “bi-direction” Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter to be able to use Thunderbolt 3 drives on my 2014 MacBook Pro. What a waste of money. Doesn’t work. Reboots, nope. But hey I can always drop down to the old USB speed, because that cable works just fine. Multiple Thunderbolt 2 cables and two different Macs and no success in getting the “bi-directional” adapter to work. It should never be advertised as such.

  • Markus H ~ It probably sounds funny, but we recently “moved up” from an early-2011 MBP 17 (with AMD GPU issues) to a mid-2015 MBP 15, so it would seem that we have something in common. At this point, I’m searching for an NAS device, but, due to the lack of ports on the MBP 15, I’m also thinking about going with a docking device. In the past, we used a Seagate Thunderbolt 1 (TB1) “adapter” to plug in a 2TB SSD for cloning purposes, but that’s my only experience with Thunderbolt ports. As the MBP 15 has (2) TB2 ports and only (2) USB 3.0 ports on it, I’m wondering about the best way to go with our ultimate goal of using our MBP 15 and an NAS device on an internal LAN setup (without an internet connection). Considering that we’ll be needing an ethernet connection to use all of this stuff on our LAN, I’m hoping to get your thoughts on what I’ve written here. Thanks for anything you may be willing to share with us.

  • This says it’s bidirectional, but it’s not. If your computer port is old thunderbolt and the device you’re trying to connect is thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), then you need an adapter with a male side to fit into the computer’s old thunderbolt port. This adapter has a male (USB-C) to female thunderbolt 2; two female thunderbolt ports – the one on the computer and the one on the adapter can’t connect. I’ve looked high and low and unless you buy a lot of additional cables and hubs, there’s no way to connect an older computer’s thunderbolt port to a newer devices thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) plug.

      • The issue still is that the TB2 Port on a Mac can only connect to the TB2 male end of a cable. The solution advertised by the OP is really no solution at all.

        • Agree! This article is junk – the product featured doesn’t do the job; it needs to have a male TB2, but the male on this product is TB3/USB-C

          • But, if you connect a normal TB2 cable (male to male) between the adapter and the TB2 port on the computer, it’s works. That is what they should have included in the article.

  • I didn’t even know this was possible so thank you!!! I have a question about connecting displays. I have a couple of 24-inch Dell monitors with both DisplayPort and DVI connections. Will the displays work over DisplayPort or DVI if I connect them through the dock (which is connected to a 2015 MacBook Pro with the Thunderbolt adapter)?

  • I have a macbook pro mid 2015 with two thunderbolt-2 ports.

    Test-Setup:
    – Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter
    – Apple Thunderbolt 2 cable – 2m
    – OWC Thunderbolt 4 HUB with power supply
    – Akitio/OWC 10G Ethernet Thunderbolt 3 Adapter

    It takes a reboot but now I have 750 MB/s send, 650 MB/s receive. Tests done with iperf3. Connection is called “Thunderbolt-Ethernet-Steckplatz 2” and is up with 10 GBit/s and Full-Duplex.

  • I have a MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2015) with two thunderbolt-2 ports.

    I’ve bought:
    – Apple Thunderbolt Cabel (2m)
    – Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2
    – OWC Thunderbolt 4 Hub
    – OWC THUNDERBOLT 3 10G ETHERNET ADAPTER

    No luck to get the 10G Ethernet Adapter Working.

    • Hmm, this makes me wondering. If your solution doesn’t work, then maybe it 10GbE doesn’t work with OWC Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock either?!

  • I’m really interested in using this with my late-2015 iMac. Only have TB2 so will use it with Apples TB2-TB3 adapter. Will I still be able to use the full 10GbE interface even though TB2 is only 20Gb/s, I guess it depends on how its connected internally? Let’s say I use a 10G USB port at the same time as 10GbE, will they throttle up and down respectively to allow for best possible speed within the available bandwidth in the TB2 connection?

  • But what about a Thunderbolt 2 to USB3 adapter? I can’t find one. Or a Thunderbolt2 dock – those are all going for several hundred dollars.

  • It wasn’t clear to me from your article..if my macbook is Thunderbolt 2, and I use the Apple adapter to connect to a powered Thunderbolt 3 dock, can my macbook access a bus-powered device connected to the dock?

  • Are there not compatibility issues with iMac’s before 2017? I just bought an adapter for my Thunderbolt 3 G-Drive so I could use it with my Late 2015 iMac. No dice. The drive would not mount because my iMac was not a 2017 or newer.

    Is this not correct?

    • There shouldn’t be – are you running the latest version of macOS Big Sur and using the Apple adapter?

  • I can verify from personal experience that a Thunderbolt 3 dock connected using Apple’s TB2->TB3 adapter allows the use of 10GB USB-C drives (I’m writing this on a 2015 iMac running off a Sandisk USB-C 10GB SSD external drive, etc.)

    One question I still have is if you can use TB3 PCIe boxes connected to TB2 Macs using the Apple Adapter and if the Mac OS (in my case Catalina) will recognize the cards installed?

  • Am I correct in thinking that my old Apple Cinema Display that uses Display Port connection will not be able to work at all with the new iMac with the M1 chip (when it arrives that is)? From what I read, I don’t think it will be compatible, but it would be nice to have someone confirm that to me.
    I’m saddened, because the Cinema Display has been with me since my very first Mac back in 2007. Now, I use it together with my 2015 iMac for a 2 screen system–something I will never do without again. It still works perfectly and calibrates perfectly when I use my Colormunki calibrator. That speaks volumes for the quality of the Cinema Display, typical of what I’ve found with all my Apple products.
    Needless to say, the Cinema Display owes me nothing now and I guess if I have to move on, I will, and the old display with go to the haven for old computer equipment….the recycle bin at our local waste disposal site.
    Now the challenge is going to be to select a second monitor that will go with my new iMac (M1) when that computer becomes available, which I hope is soon. I will want it to match the quality of my new iMac (at least close), so I’m sure it will cost me quite a few extra pennies. It will definitely not be the new Apple display that goes with the Pro series, so I’ll have to turn to something like the LG models that support Thunderbolt 3 or 4 without adapters. I’ve not had great success with LG appliances, but maybe their monitor will prove to be a better story.

    • The Apple Cinema Display LEDs get so much love! They were great displays for their time, and many people still use them today. If you want to use it on a Mac with Thunderbolt 3, there are a few ways:

      USB-C to DisplayPort adapter with a DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort adapter. It is not the most elegant solution, but if all you want is a display and speakers, it works. The downside here is that you’ll also have to adapt the Display’s USB to USB-C if you want to continue to use the iSight camera and the USB hub on the back of the display.

      A more elegant solution would be our Thunderbolt 3 14-port Dock. You can plug in both the Mini DisplayPort and the USB cable and have the full Cinema Display LED experience.

      • Thanks, Mark. My old Cinema Display is the one before they put camera and speakers into it. It only provides a display. Still, your solution using the OWC box sounds good. I think I’ll donate it to a photographer who doesn’t have much money to spend on computers and let him buy the box from you folks. I’ll move on to one of the 4K monitors by LG that Apple sells. As I said previously, my Cinema Display owes me nothing, but maybe I can make someone else happy with it.

        • We always advocate for reusing and recycling, so it’s great to hear you’d like to pass it along! Plus, I have heard great things about the LG and know many folks using them.