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OWC Thunderbolt 4 cable on a space gray MacBook Pro

Thunderbolt 3 vs Thunderbolt 4 and the M1 Max and M1 Pro Macs

The announcement of the new M1Pro and M1Max Apple computers have raised some confusion around the already slightly confusing difference between Thunderbolt 3 vs Thunderbolt 4. So we thought it would be a good idea to clear up some of that confusion.

There are two main issues that have come up.

#1. Why weren’t M1 Macs not designated at Thunderbolt 4 compatible?

While the M1 models are limited to a single external display via Thunderbolt, the new M1Pro and M1Max based models now support two displays over Thunderbolt. As we have talked about, Thunderbolt 4 is more a standards enforcement as opposed to being a change to speeds that we already had with even Thunderbolt 3 Intel Macs since 2016. Since the M1 Apple models could only support one display via their Thunderbolt connections, Apple was not allowed to use the Thunderbolt 4 naming. 

#2. It’s been a year, why don’t we have more Thunderbolt 4 peripherals other than docks and hubs? 

While Thunderbolt 4 enforces requirement standards for the host/computer offering these ports, this is still technically the same 40Gb/s Thunderbolt 3 USB-C capability we’re all familiar with. The only new chipsets to date are those that have enabled us to provide the very first Hubs and Docks that provide extra Thunderbolt ports.

Existing Thunderbolt chipsets (and no need to call them Thunderbolt 3) are the best solution for products like our Thunderblade, Envoy Pro SX, Envoy Pro FX, Thunderbays, etc. In fact, solutions like that can not be built with so-named Thunderbolt 4 chipsets today as that’s not what those chipsets are designed to be used for. 

The only thing a Thunderbolt 4 peripheral can do that wasn’t on prior Thunderbolt 3 named chipsets is add more Thunderbolt 3/4 Type-C ports. Prior chipsets can only provide a daisy-chain port. But otherwise, prior chipsets are designed for the highest performance to storage, PCIe slots, etc. 

One cable to rule them all!

And don’t forget the fantastic Thunderbolt 4 cables! Our Thunderbolt 4 cables—ranging from 0.7 to 2 meters in length—are all 100% universal for all USB-C to C uses, as well as USB4. No matter if connecting a USB-C device or a Thunderbolt device—you always have the maximum of up to 40Gb/s of data possible and certified power up to 100 Watts. (Note: the data rate and power delivery are based on what is connected. If you have a Thunderbolt 3/USC-C drive connected to a USB 2.0 port via an adapter, you will only get USB 2.0 speeds of 480 Mb/s.)

Thunderbolt 4 is one cable that works for everything today and yesterday, period.

Thunderbolt 4 cables

The final word on Thunderbolt 4

Understandably, we get comments about Thunderbolt 4 devices all the time. Just remember that Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 are both the same 40Gb/s standard. The primary difference has been that these speeds only recently came to the PC with Thunderbolt 4 in 2020. Mac users have been sort of spoiled since they’ve had these speeds with Thunderbolt 3 going all the way back to 2016.

Bottomline: if you’re on a Mac, whether you have an M1 (Thunderbolt 3 compliant) or an M1 Pro or Max (Thunderbolt 4 compliant since they now support more than one monitor), speed does not change.

OWC Larry
the authorOWC Larry
OWC Founder & CEO
Larry O'Connor is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Illinois-based Other World Computing (OWC®). Starting as a one-man business in 1988, O'Connor has provided the leadership and vision to establish OWC as the leading provider of technology products and services today.
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41 Comments

  • My problem is, I can’t find Thunderbolt hubs or docks with more than 2 Thunderbolt ports. On top of that, you need to sacrifice one of the TB ports in order to connect with the Mac into its own TB port.

  • Is it possible to use 2x 1440p 144hz monitors with Type c to HDMI or DisplayPort cable plugged to OWC Thunderbolt 4 Dock when the dock connected to MacBook Pro 14 M1 pro with single Thunderbolt 4 cable?

  • Larry, is there any update from OWC on compatibility of OWC T3 docks with the new MacBook Pros?

    I understand that data and display connection should be fine, but my concern is with power / battery health.

    I bought the new 16” which has a 140W MagSafe adapter. I already have (and love) the OWC 14-port T3 dock. That doc delivers 85W of power to the computer.

    It seems that the dock wouldn’t deliver enough power to the computer, so MagSafe would be necessary. Yet, connecting both would be too much(?) power.

    I’m afraid of the potential for damaging or shortening the life of the MacBook’s battery.

    Curious what you think, and if you guys have tested this yet.

    Thanks!

    • There is 100% compatibility with all of our Thunderbolt and USB-C solutions with the new MacBook Pro M1 MAX and M1 Pro models.

      Zero issues once so ever including with Power Delivery. There is no potential, no risk for any of our solutions, Docks with power delivery, or PD pass through to cause harm or shorten life of these new models or any of Apple’s systems.

      • Hi Macbook pro M1 I have a .Interface But I can not use the Interface because of my old USB adapter on my old Macbook pro .I have to put on a .new adapter on my new Macbook
        pro M1 don’t want to buy the wrong adapter I need .for Laptop Macbook pro M1.Thanks

      • I think it would also be helpful to note that the 140W charger is only needed to support the 16″ M1 Max MacBook Pro’s fast-charging feature. The computer itself does not — and as far as I can tell, cannot possibly — require 140 Watts of power if it’s not fast-charging. The highest power draw I have ever seen on my 16″ M1 Max has never topped 80 Watts, and it takes an absurd load to reach that.

  • Hi Larry,

    Could you please clarify something very interesting I found on Intel’s Thunderbolt website (https://thunderbolttechnology.net/tech/faq) regarding Thunderbolt 4 backwards compatibility.

    Quote:
    “Are Thunderbolt™ 4 PCs backwards compatible with Thunderbolt™, Thunderbolt™ 2, or Thunderbolt 3 based accessories?

    Accessories built to Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 specifications are not supported by Thunderbolt 4 PCs.
    Accessories built to the Thunderbolt 3 specification are fully supported by Thunderbolt 4 PCs.

    Are Thunderbolt™ 3 PCs backwards compatible with Thunderbolt™ and Thunderbolt™ 2 accessories?

    Yes, solutions and products built to Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 specifications will work with most Thunderbolt 3 PCs via an adapter, except Intel platforms launched in 2020 and later such as 10th gen Intel® Core™ vPro® platforms, 10th gen Intel® Core™ desktop and mobile processors. See the following link for information on specific launch dates for specific CPU skus.
    The Apple Thunderbolt display was certified for Mac only and may not work properly when connected to Windows based PCs.”

    So I’ve got a new 14″ MBP on order/on it’s way and I already have one of your OWC Thunderbolt 2 Docks and also have one of the Apple Thunderbolt 3 USB-C to Thunderbolt 1/2 adapters (https://www.apple.com/au/shop/product/MMEL2AM/A/thunderbolt-3-usb-c-to-thunderbolt-2-adapter).
    I’m concerned they won’t work together since seeing this Intel page.
    Apple’s compatibility list says their adapter works with the new MBPs and before seeing this Intel page, I just assumed backwards compatibility would work fine so long as I had that adapter but now I’m here to ask that exact question lol

    • From all our testing, we are not seeing any issue with any of our Thunderbolt devices via the Apple Adapter. PCs are a different beast and Windows support of all Thunderbolt versions in general has historically been at the level that Apple has always maintained.

      Long and short – our Dock is A-OK and good to go on the new MBPs with M1 Pro and M1 Max – as well as our other solutions.

      Apple and OWC have a commitment to Thunderbolt that really makes a difference here.

  • QUOTE: While the M1 models are limited to a single external display via Thunderbolt, the new M1Pro and M1Max based models now support two displays over Thunderbolt.

    FACT: Don’t forget that it is also possible to screencast to a TV as a monitor via an Apple TV! I have an external monitor and a 65” 4K TV connected to my M1 MacBook Air through an Apple TV and am very happy with how they work together as independent screens.

      • Not much of a guide vs. affiliate link harvest with buy links… That having been said.

        All Thunderbolt 4 cables of any length are all the full 40Gb/s rated and always universal for all USB-C to USB-C connections up to 40Gb/s and will delivery up to 100 Watts. Coming USB-C power delivery capabilities will allow for higher wattages over USB-C to C, but these cables will still work – but will limit to that 100W max. There is no USB-C host today that accepts over 100 Watts today. Thunderbolt 4 cables are nice as doesn’t matter what the C to C device and host are, they always work and are fully certified for all the data rates and the different power delivery levels. By absolute spec requirement – all Thunderbolt 4 Cables must support up to 40Gb/s data and up to 100W Power delivery. In terms of quality in materials going into the cable – we certainly have control over and make a better cable for the longevity aspect.

        Thunderbolt 3 cables are not too far off of this… All Thunderbolt 3 cables are rated for full 100W of Power delivery, but some variances in bandwidth. 100% of OWC cables up to 0.7 Meters have always been 40Gb/s. When you get to 1.0M and 2.0M, you have passive cables that go 20Gb/s and active cables that go the full 40Gb/s. These cables are so identified and for some apps the 20Gb/s is fine -but connecting a display onto a chain with a 20Gb/s cable really kills the other device performance as an example.

        All passive Thunderbolt 3 cables (which includes the .7M lengths and under we offered) support all models of USB-C to USB-C up to 10Gb/s. Active Thunderbolt 3 cables only support Thunderbolt up to 40Gb/s and up to USB 2 480Mb/s if using to connect a USB-C device.

        USB C cables are all over the place and are the real pain…. Especially the the USB-C to C power cables Apple has included with their laptops (I suspect this hasn’t changed with the new 14″ and 16″ models, but will know very shortly). They are a very high quality cable that Apple includes – but they are for charging only. As such – the data capability of those cables is the minimum required by USB-C spec that is USB 2.0 480Mb/s. Customers trying to use their Apple charging cable to connect a high speed storage device, dock, etc call in all the time and sometimes it takes a little convincing that need to use our cable to solve the issue… it’s hard to accept that that beautiful Apple cable doesn’t do 10Gb/s or even 5Gb/s data, but only USB 2 480Mb/s and that’s why nothing is working fast or entirely right.

        anyway – Thunderbolt 4 cables are a great future forward solution. You never even have to wonder if it’s going to be compatible for what you’re connecting. Without speaking of others… if it’s an OWC Thunderbolt 4 cable – it’s going to support any host and any device that has a USB-C port. What speed and capability (and device compatibility) beyond that is then all to do with the host and the device as the cable itself always supports whatever both host and device are capable of together.

        All our thunderbolt 4 cables 0.8M to 2.0M are here:
        https://eshop.macsales.com/search/?q=Thunderbolt+4+cable

        and I’d note – they would be a bit lower cost if not for the tariff impact. Cabling is not yet practical to manufacture outside of China… but we’re working on that too. Quality is the primary objective without compromise.

        • Any idea why I getting this when trying to post:

          Access Denied

          You don’t have permission to access “http://eshop.macsales.com/blog/wp-comments-post.php” on this server.
          Reference #18.a4b31bb8.1635607333.1b2869ff

  • Thanks for the article Larry.

    A comment and a question:

    Comment: One interesting difference in effective speed between TB3 and TB4 is that TB4 supports DisplayPort Alt Mode 2.0. TB3 and TB4 both have 40 Gbps full duplex bandwidth. But with TB4, you can take that duplex bandwidth, and use it all eight channels for single-direction communication. If you do this, you can output 2 x 40 Gbps = 80 Gbps, which allows one to drive, say, an 8k/10bit monitor at 60 fps without the need for compression.

    Question: As you know, on the M1 Pro/Max, Apple took what would otherwise have a fourth TB4 port and substituted HDMI 2.0 + SD (UHS-II).

    Do you know why Apple chose HDMI 2.0 over 2.1? The bandwidth is there to support 2.1. Was it that Apple couldn’t find an acceptable 2.1 controller?

    Also, I’ve read Sony has cameras that can accept both CFExpress and SD cards in the same port. Any idea why Apple didn’t do that with its SD port, and instead limited it to a relatively slow UHS-II standard?

    Given that they are using HDMI 2.0, they should have had the bandwidth to combine that with CFExpress. Specifically, as HDMI 2.0 is 18 Gbps (non-duplex), this leaves at least 40 Gbps – 18 Gbps = 22 Gbps = 2.75 GBs full duxplex, which is more than enough to support CFExpress’s 2 GBs (full duplex) mode. Indeed, if we can split things in a way that accounts for HDMI not being duplex, we actually have:
    (80 Gbps – 18 Gbps)/2 = 31 Gbps = 3.9 Gbps (full duplex), leaving more than enough for CFExpresses’s fastest 3 GBs (full duplex) mode.

    [This assumes that the I/O now being used for the SD + HDMI could have supported a full TB4; in the past Apple has mixed full-speed and half-speed TB ports.]

    • On the first comment – Yes, a requirement for Thunderbolt 4 is support for a full 8K display. This is a difference vs. Thunderbolt 3 and is also dependent on the host/GPU supporting this capability as well.

      As for why Apple chose HDMI 2.0 vs. 2.1 – I can guess at different reasons, but this doesn’t impact the support for display via the Thunderbolt ports. One consideration though is what the Thunderbolt 4 standard REQUIRES be supported via thunderbolt and that is an absolute. So, it is possible that supporting the full mode 8K via Thunderbolt + an HDMI 2.1 display at the same time isn’t possible with available resources. A better user experience and explanation comes from limiting that video out port to what can be supported in addition to full utilization of displays on the Thunderbolt. This is a guess and I could be way off.

      On the CF Express/SD bit – you actually can’t have the best of both there. Today the majority of cards are not PCIe… While it is possible SD7+ and the prior along with CFExpress PCIe in the same port.. and can also support prior non-PCIe SD cards too, the speed that you get with the pre-PCIe SD cards is super slow, like 20MB/s from cards that can read at 300MB/s. That is the tradeoff. With the majority of people still having hardware that uses the earlier card types, it probably isn’t the right time for this media support. It is the future for sure, but – but it’s a sliver of the base today. That is my understanding of the marketplace… and for our own products we’ve had to make the decision for the future as well since while past supported, it’s barely a convenience at that slow data rate for the pre-PCIE SD compatibility. My guess is that Apple did the card reader they did based on the user base that technology choice supports – not to do with what bandwidth is available.

      On the HDMI port in place of a Thunderbolt port.. I haven’t dug into the electrical traces yet on the unit… that HDMI could be sharing a path, although I’d expect it doesn’t… more to be – more people need/want the direct video HDMI port than need a 4th Thunderbolt / TypeC port. That would be my guess on that one and I’d suspect it’s electrically driven independent of the thunderbolt silicon portion.

  • Thanks Larry, but there is still a bit of confusion here… I think I understand the statement, “The only thing a Thunderbolt 4 peripheral can do that wasn’t on prior Thunderbolt 3 named chipsets is add more Thunderbolt 3/4 Type-C ports.” But everything I’ve seen talks about using the new docks and hubs with M1 family machines.

    I have a Mac mini (2018) with I7 processor and four TB3 ports. Will the new (TB4 chipset) docks and hubs provide additional Thunderbolt ports with my specific machine? Or is the Mac mini (2018) I7 limited to daisy-chains from the four built in TB ports?

    • Similar to when TitanRidge came out in 2018 and an Apple OS update to 10.13.x or later was needed to use peripherals with the that chipset….

      To use the Thunderbolt Hubs and Docks that add additional Thunderbolt (type C) ports, MacOS 11 or later is required to support the Goshen Ridge chipset these use. Goshen Ridge is labeled Thunderbolt 4 – and honestly it creates a lot of confusion with respect to what that really means here.

      Bottom line:

      All Apple systems that shipped with Thunderbolt 3 (Type C) capability since 2016, including your Mac mini noted, are able to fully utilize our new Thunderbolt Hub and Docks with the ‘Thunderbolt 4’ chipset, as well as future Thunderbolt 4 solutions. The only requirement is that you do upgrade to MacOS 11 or later – which is where Apple provides the supported needed for the new Thunderbolt Goshen Ridge chipset.

      As a fun fact… it’s because Apple did it right and fully implemented the max possible Thunderbolt 3 specs at all points on Intel Macs that it is just an OS upgrade. PC/Windows systems with Thunderbolt 3 do not have clear paths – or, in many cases – any path to use the latest chipset/Thunderbolt 4 named peripherals…. other than the Thunderbolt 4 cables, if you count that, as those are universal and agnostic to the hardware and OS in use.

      Right now Goshen Ridge is really only for solutions where more Thunderbolt ports are being added… it’s got less performance capability for something like an external drive due to the bandwidth being needed for the port switching enabling the additional ports). Put another way – Goshenridge is the only Thunderbolt 4 ‘named’ peripheral chipset today and it would provide LOWER performance for many other current products using what still get called ‘Thunderbolt 3’. This is really confusing to say the least. Thunderbolt 5 is still a couple years out… that one should be clear cut. :)

      I keep thinking there should be an easy way to explain this – but there isn’t. It’s very unfortunate that there was a justification to even use Thunderbolt 4 in name yet.

  • Thanks for the information. Do the mew MacBook Pro models based on M1 Pro and M1 Max chip microprocessors support USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20 Gbps) to reach 2,000 MB/s with external disks, like Kingston XS2000 Portable SSD?

    • USB 3.2 gen 2×2 is optional for USB4. macOS doesn’t have drivers for USB 3.2 gen 2×2 PCIe cards so it’s unlikely that Apple will have support for Apple Silicon.

      I have an ASMedia ASM3242 based PCIe card connected to a Mac mini 2018 running macOS Monterey. It supports 10 Gbps devices but 20 Gbps devices do not appear. I can connect the 20 Gbps device to a Thunderbolt port or to a 10 Gbps hub and it will work at 10 Gbps. Probably a simple modification of the XHCI driver could allow the 20 Gbps mode for the ASM3242.

      • Thanks. Macs with M1 do not support USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20 Gbps) to reach 2,000 MB/s with external disks. That is confirmed. But I wonder if the new ones with M1 Pro and M1 Max support it. Could someone test?

        • You are correct with respect to the 20Gb/s USB 3.2 support. Pretty limited support in general for this USB 3.2 mode that is different than the same USB4 20Gb/s mode. We will test when we can – but having done my homework now… have a hunch not going to see this.

      • Not much is simple with MacOS and drivers today. But I agree, don’t expect support for 3.2g2 from Apple. We’ll take a peak at some things all the same.

        • Thanks. Weird enough, searching for 2×2 (or 2x or x2) in this forum finds nothing (yet, it is shown above). It would be useful if fixed.

  • So, do you have a brand new MBP yet? When will you be testing your external TB drives to see if Apple “fixed” the M1’s slow write speed to external SSD devices. That forum has kind of gone to sleep but I’m hoping the M1 Pro/Max have a proper TB connection that doesn’t require an external monitor to use full speed (which didn’t work with your TB3 dock, btw). I was using a TB4 OWC cable and that didn’t help the Envoy Express go any faster than 900MBps write while almost 2000MBps read. I have noticed your speed testing has been done on custom PCs instead of Macs but I’ll still buy products from you.

    • We’re in the early queue and will report the moment we can. There are some strange ‘fixes’ to that issue… There is a lot on the deck right now – but this is something that is known as a bug and should eventually be fixed via OS. We use Macs and PCs for testing and usually publish results for both as well and always for Mac in our data sets. Express will be limited by the drive inside.. .it’s also 2-lane DIY, so it’s slower than our full 40Gb/s Envoy Pro models. All 40Gb/s bus powered must be certified with SSDs tuned to power consumption limits – more speed = more power draw, and there is a limit.

      The M1 has Apple’s first proprietary Thunderbolt implementation and only second in the world to AMD that did their own as well for Epyc. Other than Apple and AMD, all other hosts to this point use Intel provided Thunderbolt Chipsets or Intel system chipsets with Thunderbolt integrated.

      Thunderbolt 4 cable shouldn’t change anything – same 40Gb/s capability. There is no difference for you to use a Thunderbolt 4 Cable vs. an Thunderbolt 3 cable that’s 40Gb/s with your device. Thunderbolt 4 cables do have the benefit of being 100% max power (which ALL TB3 cables are, all TB3 cables support up to 100W) and max bandwidth (be it a USB-C that’s only at USB2 speed, USB3, 10G, 20Gb Thunderbolt, USB4, 40Gb,s Thunderbolt). it’s convenience of absolute universality with non-thunderbolt connections vs. giving you any difference in performance going from 40Gb/s TB3 Cable to a 40Gb/s TB4 cable.

      • I also tested with a 4-lane external drive from Fledging, ironically with the same Phison NVMe SSD OWC uses, marketed as the Aura, so maybe that SSD is just slow. I got ~1000MB/s with this drive as well as the Envoy Express. I might buy one of the newer Envoy Pros but would still like to see some benchmarks on the M1 as well as the M1 Pro and Max when you can.

        • Some NVMe just behave badly when connected via Thunderbolt even to an Intel Mac. I haven’t had performance issues with some PCIe gen 4 NVMe devices (2800 MB/s read/write via Thunderbolt 3).

          • The timing in SSD firmware makes a difference for external Thunderbolt use as there is a different latency vs. what these drives otherwise have when physically inside a computer with the direct pcie.

          • Hi joevt, back at it again. Can’t remember if you have an original M1 Mac or not to test your Thunderbolt devices. With the M1 Pro and Max, I believe, having three TB buses, I am hoping there won’t be any weird write restrictions on any external TB device. Please remind me of which TB external controllers and NVMe blades work at full speed on M1-series Macs.

            OWC Larry, I know you test on Macs but I just rechecked the Envoy Pro SX and even though it says “up to 2847 MB/s speed” it has a little disclaimer which is very important to Mac users:

            “Up to 2847MB/s sequential read/write (max) performance was observed based on testing a 1.0TB OWC Aura P12 Pro equipped Envoy Pro SX connected to a Windows 10 PC equipped with a Gigabyte Technology motherboard with an Intel Core i5-6400 2.7GHz processor and 16GB RAM running CrystalDiskMark 6.0.2 (4K-Full resolution, 4GB file size, 16bit RGB codec, single file test). Performance will vary depending on drive and application used.”

            I bought the OWC Aura P12 Pro (Sept 2020) to go into the Envoy Express and it’s a rebranded Phison NVMe SSD. Website says 3000MB/s write speed. I know the Envoy Express is only 2-channel. If you have some time, please test your Envoy products on an M1 MBA/MBP/Mac mini along with the M1 Pro/Max MBPs when you have a chance. Do all Envoy products use the same Aura P12 Pro NVMe blades? Thanks.

      • I updated my M1 MBA to Monterey and ran AJA and Blackmagic speed tests. Same as before so if Apple feels they can fix the slow external write speed with an OS update, it hasn’t happened yet. Seeing the doubling of internal storage speeds on the latest MBPs blows my socks off (and it’s getting cold here). I wish Apple would create a way to add external storage to the M1 Pro/Max SOC’s unified storage. Like the old Apple laptops had with the PC Card slots (I still have a Ti and white iBook that actually run). Of course maybe the new MBPs don’t have this limitation.

  • That’s a very useful post.

    (It doesn’t forgive all the confusion associated with the single connector but multiple protocols/capabilities that USB-C/Thunderbolt brings us…)

    • it’s confusing even trying to clear the confusion on the whole USB-C port (USB-C is a port and not a protocol) use. That the port that does Thunderbolt and USB 3.1 / 3.2 also gets a name with USB in it…. the start of the nightmare. And Thunderbolt 4 does a great job taking that to the next level. The thing is – for those on the PC side of the fence, practically unknown and uncaring to them. Before Thunderbolt 4 there were less PCs with Thunderbolt 3 since the 2016 than Apple ships Macs in a year… and even fewer that even knew they had it… fewer yet that cared to use it on PC.

      Can’t leave out that Apple couldn’t say the M1 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13″, iMac 24″, and Mac mini had to be listed as Thunderbolt / USB4 instead of just Thunderbolt 4 equipped too. They are truly Thunderbolt 4 IMHO… but the marketing requirements to be able to claim Thunderbolt 4 require native GPU support of 2 x 4K displays via Thunderbolt port – which those systems lack the ability to do. The new M1 Pro and Max of course do… and, every Intel Mac with Thunderbolt 3 also does as well. Marketing name. :)