Cables and Connectors

As mentioned, Thunderbolt 1 and 2 use a mini DisplayPort (mini DP) connector. In Figure 3, you can see a Thunderbolt 1 port on a motherboard.

Thunderbolt port on a motherboardFigure 3: Thunderbolt 1 port on a motherboard

There are two types of cables for Thunderbolt 1 and 2: electrical or optical. Electrical cables can be anywhere between 4 inches and 9.8 feet (10 cm to 3 m) long, while optical cables can be between 32.8 feet and 65.6 feet (10 m to 20 m) long. The use of one kind of cable or the other will depend on the cable length you want.

One advantage of the Thunderbolt 1 and 2 connections is that both electrical and optical cables use the same connector type, the mini DisplayPort (mini DP). This is an electrical connector, so optical cables have circuitry at both ends to convert electrical signals into optical signals and vice versa. This circuit is available inside the rectangular box where the connector is attached. See Figure 6. Because of that, optical cables will not be inexpensive.

Thunderbolt electrical cableFigure 4: Thunderbolt 1 electrical cable

Thunderbolt optical cableFigure 5: Thunderbolt 1 optical cable

There is an electrical-to-optical converter inside these boxesFigure 6: There is an electrical-to-optical converter inside these boxes

The USB type C connector, used by Thunderbolt 3, can be seen in Figure 7.
USB type CFigure 7: USB type C connector


Gabriel Torres is a Brazilian best-selling ICT expert, with 24 books published. He started his online career in 1996, when he launched Clube do Hardware, which is one of the oldest and largest websites about technology in Brazil. He created Hardware Secrets in 1999 to expand his knowledge outside his home country.