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Thunderbolt 3 Usability Explained – Do You Really Need It in Your Laptop?

Whenever you need to hook an External GPU to your Laptop, the only option you have is a Thunderbolt 3 port. It can also be used for hooking 4K 60Hz Monitors to your device. But, not all the Laptops have that port & there are some laptops that have the port but, cannot take the full advantage of it. Though, there are also some laptops that are able to take the complete advantage of the port or ports to provide a close-to-maximum bandwidth. So, the question comes forward, “Thunderbolt 3 Usability Explained – Do you really need it in your Laptop ?”. Well, keep on reading…

 

Thunderbolt 3 Usability Explained - Main Cable
Thunderbolt 3 Usability Explained – Main Cable

 

Thunderbolt 3 Usability Explained – Do You Really Need It in Your Laptop?

We are talking about the usability. So, let’s talk about the supported protocols now.  Thunderbolt 3 had introduced for the first time, Thunderbolt via. USB Type-C port. With the USB Type-C Port, the Thunderbolt 3 connection supports a total of three protocols. The list includes USB 3.1 Protocol, PCIe Express Protocol, Displayport Protocol & of-course the Thunderbolt Protocol.

So, basically what it means is that the Thunderbolt 3 port can function as a regular USB 3.1 Port & a Displayport but, it’s now possible with a USB Type-C connector instead of a regular Displayport that the older Thunderbolt 1 & Thunderbolt 2 connections used to work on. Also, Thunderbolt 3 connection is a lot faster compared to its predecessors. Let’s compare the Bandwidth generation by generation with the chart below.

 

Thunderbolt 3 Usability Explained - Bandwidth-Comparison
Thunderbolt 3 Usability Explained – Bandwidth-Comparison

 

So, as you can see in the chart, Thunderbolt bandwidth has been bumped up to double with every generation. With Thunderbolt 1 with we had 10 Gigabits Per Second speeds while Thunderbolt 2 supported up to 20 Gigabits & Thunderbolt 3 now supports up to 40 Gigabits of bandwidth. So, that’s a huge bump up & this brought the possibilities of connecting Two external 4K Monitors & even an External GPU. So, if you want to connect Two external 4K Monitors to your laptop for purposes like content creation you may want to consider dedicated Thunderbolt 3 ports (there can be Maximum 2 of them). But, remember you can also connect a single 4K 60Hz Monitor via. an HDMI 2.0 port.

 

Thunderbolt 3 Connections

 

Thunderbolt 3 Usability Explained - Connections
Thunderbolt 3 Usability Explained – Connections

 

Now, Thunderbolt 3 has another big function & that is allowing external desktop GPUs to connect to a Laptop. I feel this is a reason many people who want to use Ultrabooks and play games,  look for Thunderbolt 3 port when they buy their laptops. If that’s your goal, you can definitely take advantage of the Thunderbolt 3 port. But, there are a few things to keep in mind.

To maintain their thinness, Ultrabooks generally use Processors with around 15W TDP that are not ideal for long-term gaming sessions. Also, some Laptops use only 2 lanes of PCIe instead of 4 on the Thunderbolt 3 Port. So, you’re not getting the Max bandwidth of 40 Gbps through that Thunderbolt 3 Port instead you’re getting (estimated) less than 20 Gbps. So, that puts the performance of the External GPU into a deep bottleneck.

Even, if your Laptop uses all 4-lanes of PCIe, you don’t get the complete bandwidth of 40 Gbps as some of the bandwidth gets occupied by other peripherals. So, even when you’re losing 10-15% of the performance of your External GPU. So, if you plan to game on your laptop with the full power of something like a GTX 1080 Ti, it’s just not gonna perform like it would on a dedicated desktop setup. This also applies even if you buy a Gaming Laptop with a lower end GPU & plan to game on an external desktop one.

 

Thunderbolt 3 Usability Explained - Thunderbolt-3-DYN
Thunderbolt 3 Usability Explained – Thunderbolt-3-DYN

 

Advanced functionalities are always a plus. So, if you can get Thunderbolt 3 support on your Laptop then that’s great. But, make sure you’re not making compromises on your actual needs.

 

Thunderbolt 3 for Gaming Laptops

If Gaming is your main goal then I would not pick an Ultrabook with a Thunderbolt 3 connection for that. 15W i5 or i7 Ultrabooks don’t come cheap & the TDP is not ideal for gaming. So, the extra money that you’ll through at it & an External GPU with Enclosure, isn’t going to give you the performance you want. Even if you’re doing that in a Gaming laptop with a less powerful GPU, remember that you have to deal with the performance reduction. If you’re ok with that, then no problem.

But, for stuff like Content Creation where you might have a good CPU. But, you need 4K Monitors to hook or a more powerful GPU for completing your tasks. This will cost you a lot less compared to a new Laptop. The Thunderbolt 3 support can be a life saver.

Intel has announced that Thunderbolt 3 support will become royalty free from 2018. So, some Laptops that are using Intel’s 7th Gen Kabylake Processors that use the Thunderbolt 3 as one of their main USPs & also has a high price tag right now, will cut their prices a bit. So, you may think that it’s better to go for those laptops instead of getting the new & comparatively more expensive 8th Gen CPUs just because of the Thunderbolt 3 support. But, the performance difference between, Intel’s 7th and 8th gen CPUs are way too much to ignore. So, don’t buy the 7th Gen CPUs just for the Thunderbolt 3 port as you won’t be able to justify. But, if you can use Thunderbolt 3 & justify all your needs, you definitely need it in your Laptop.

 

Also, Read

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