Is there a difference between Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 cables?

Thunderbolt cable

Since I am currently using a Thunderbolt monitor from LG (LG 29UC97-S - as an alternative to the Thunderbolt monitor from Apple) that supports Thunderbolt 2, the question arose whether you can use an older (approx. 2-3 years old) Thunderbolt cable or whether you can use it to set the speed to Thunderbolt 1 limited, as the cable does not yet support Thunderbolt 2 (20 GBps).

Thunderbolt cable

The 6th generation with Thunderbolt 3 is now on the rise. (Photo: thunderbolttechnology.net)

I have some forums for this (e.g. the Apple support forum) and came across the following information:

  • In terms of speed, it doesn't matter whether you have an older cable or a newer one. Every Thunderbolt cable basically also works with Thunderbolt 2 and does not slow down data transmission.
  • There is a difference in power consumptionas the electronics in the newer cables use less power. This is relevant if, for example, you work with the laptop on battery power or if you operate devices such as external hard drives via Thunderbolt on the Mac, which get their power via the Thunderbolt port. If the cable consumes less power, more remains for the external device.
  • The difference between Thunderbolt 1 and 2 ONLY does the interface controller. The cable is not specified for a particular Thunderbolt generation.

Thunderbolt cables at Amazon: unfortunately there is no cheap ...

There are both Apple and DeLock TB cables on Amazon. I couldn't find any other manufacturers in the offer. And the cables from DeLock and Apple do not have a large price difference (currently approx. 6 to 7 EUR with a total price of around 40 EUR). This is partly because there is electronics in every TB cable and partly because other manufacturers have to pay Apple license fees if they have to bring Thunderbolt cables to market.

Nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, here are the links to the two offers:

Thunderbolt 3 - the better USB-C?

I also did a little research on the website thunderbolttechnology.net read. Thunderbolt 3 (the 6th generation) is already being presented there, which is going into the ring as an alternative to Apple's USB-C. With 40 GBps, the transmission speed of Thunderbolt 2 is doubled again. However, I cannot say how it behaves with the cables in Tunderbolt 3.

It could be that the electronics that are in the cable will be revised here as well. The old cables seem to be fundamentally compatible, because the plug still looks the same.

Thunderbolt 3 ways

The Thunderbolt 3 interface offers these possibilities (graphic: thunderbolttechnology.net).

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6 comments

  1. Eric Freiberg says:

    I think Thunderbolt 3 is definitely a good thing. One can only hope that Apple won't drop Thunderbolt 3 as quickly as Thunderbolt 2, which only took a good 2 years. Thunderbolt 2 and 3 are compatible with each other, but the Thunderbolt 3 basically uses the USB-C bus and not an electrically controlled mini-DisplayPort, which is of course a problem ... An adapter to connect Thunderbolt 3 devices to the Thunderbolt 2 bus there is therefore no need to connect. Just one adapter to use Thunderbolt 2 equipment with Thunderbolt 3.

    • Sir Apfelot says:

      Hello Eric! Well, I don't think you will change anything about the connector for many years. The fact that even the iPad Pro is now equipped with USB-C already shows that they want to implement this system on all devices in the long term. And if Thunderbolt 4 should come, it will certainly also have a USB-C connector ... so I would have little concern. But you're right: Thunderbolt 2 was hardly noticed, it was overtaken so quickly. : D

  2. chris says:

    Thank you for the interesting article.
    I'm thinking about connecting my old iMac 2011 to my new LG 34WN80C monitor. However, I cannot find any first generation Thunderbolt cables. Which Thunderbolt to USB-C cable do I need to do this?

    • Jens Kleinholz says:

      Hello Chris! If you want to connect an external monitor to your iMac, you don't need a Thunderbolt. A simple mini display port to USB-C cable is sufficient here, such as this one from Cable Matters. My article is actually about a different case: someone wants to use their old iMac as an external display. But it's not the case with you, hence my cable recommendation.

  3. Wolfgang says:

    Hallo,
    I have an iMac 27 ″ Mid 2013.
    The days I get a new iMac 27 ″ from 2020. I would like to connect the two computers with a TB cable and use the migration assistant to transfer the data from the old to the new one.
    Which cable do I need there? I'm a little unsure whether the plugs are identical in size.

    Alternatively, I could set up the new one via TM Backup

    • Jens Kleinholz says:

      Hello Wolfgang! In principle, you need a Thunderbolt 1/2 to Thunderbolt 3 adapter and a Thunderbolt 2 cable. For example this 2m cable from Apple and this adapter from Apple should fit. However, I find it to be quite an expensive solution just to set up the Mac from scratch. The whole thing is also possible via WLAN or an Ethernet cable. The ethernet cable should also work quickly and you have one at home or get one (with this link) for about 8 euros. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us again.

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