CES 2016, Computers, News, Storage

10 Great Thunderbolt 3 Products for 2016

If you’re a tech enthusiast, you’ll know all about Thunderbolt. It’s a versatile hardware connector that combines high-speed data transfers with audio and video display.

First launched in 2011, with the development name Light Peak, Thunderbolt was invested by a partnership of tech luminaries, including Intel, Apple, LaCie and others. The first iteration of the technology debuted on the 2011 Apple MacBook Pro with other Thunderbolt-equipped models following.

On the PC side, manufacturers were reasonably slow to adopt Thunderbolt (preferring the lower cost USB 3.0) despite heavy championing by Intel.  The Thunderbolt 2 (Falcon Ridge) standard arrived in 2013, doubling data transfer speeds to 20 Gbps and the connector began to pop up on motherboards from ASUS, Gigabyte and ASRock, alongside PCs from Dell, HP, Lenovo and others. According to Intel, at the end of 2015, over 100 million computers are equipped with the Thunderbolt interface, with more than 250 peripherals on the market.

Here we are in early 2016, and Thunderbolt 3 (Apline Ridge) is ready to roll! The latest version of the standard brings a big physical change in the switch the USB-C connector (any USB Type-C cable will work in a Thunderbolt 3 port but you’ll need a Thunderbolt cable to connect to a Thunderbolt 3 device). Speeds are doubled to 40 Gbps, and Intel boasts that you’ll be able to drive dual 4K displays at 60 Hz.

With the switch to USB-C (as an Alternate Mode), Thunderbolt 3 ports are power enabled, offering up to 100W charging power for notebooks and 15W to bus-powered devices. Thunderbolt cables are now more versatile than ever, supporting a range of protocols including Thunderbolt itself, DisplayPort, USB and PCI Express.

With a wide range of Thunderbolt 3 enabled products on show at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, here are ten that we’re most excited about checking out this year.

razer-blade-portability-performance

Razer Blade Stealth & Razer Core

If you’re a gamer, you’ll know all about Razer, Inc. Their newly announced Razer Blade Stealth is a beautiful and powerful 12.5″ ultrabook that can hook up to the external Razer Core enclosure over Thunderbolt 3. That brings you desktop class graphics (you can plug in full-length, double-wide PCIe desktop graphics cards) and a host of additional connections including 4 USB 3.0 ports and Gigabit Ethernet.

Work or play, it’s got the lot.The Razor Blade Stealth starts at $999, pricing for the Razer Core is yet to be announced.

AKiTiO Thunder3 Duo Pro

With super-fast data transfer speeds, expect to see a wide range of Thunderbolt 3 storage solutions coming down the line this year. The $389 Thunder3 Duo Pro from AKiTiO is one of the first, boasting transfer speeds up to 770 MB/s while simultaneously providing two 4K video streams to connected displays. That’s 8x faster than USB 3.1 Gen 1 and 4x faster than USB 3.1 Gen 2.

Akitio-Thunder3-Duo-Pro

It’s a dual-bay RAID enclosure, offering RAID 0 striping, RAID 1 mirroring, SPAN, and Non-RAID. Connectivity is strong, with two Thunderbolt 3 Ports, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 (Type-B) port, and a DisplayPort video output for 4K 60HZ displays. The second Thunderbolt 3 port on the Thunder3 Duo Pro supports Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1 (10Gb/s), and DisplayPort devices.

It’s coming in the first quarter of the year.

Dell Thunderbolt Dock

PC manufacturers are waking up to the fact that the concept of “mobile” and “fixed” workers is outdated. Nowadays, many of us working in a hybrid style. We may be travelling, but when we touch down to get some work done, many of us need the same capabilities and connectivity as we’d expect at our own desk.

dell-dock_550x439

Devices like the Dell Thunderbolt Dock seek to address that need. Plug into your notebook and you get benefit from a single data and power source that can drive can drive up to three 1080p displays or two 4K displays at 60 Hz. Add twin USB 2.0 ports and three USB 3.0, VGA, mini DisplayPort, and HDMI sockets, plus DisplayPort and a Thunderbolt 3 port in addition. Best of all, as it adheres to industry standards, it’s not just for Dell notebooks – everyone’s invited.

dell_dock_tb15

The Dell Thunderbolt Dock ships this month for $299.

HP ZBook Dock With Thunderbolt 3

Following a similar theme as the Dell Thunderbolt Dock, in a less chunky (but longer) form factor, the HP ZBook Dock With Thunderbolt 3 also costs $299 and offers a similarly impressive array of connections. Alongside charging capabilities, you can hook up to 10 devices at once through ports that include Thunderbolt 3 (which also supports DisplayPort 1.2 and USB 3.1 Gen 2), four USB 3.0, RJ-45, VGA, combo audio, and two additional DisplayPorts.

HP-ZBook-Dock-with-Thunderbolt-3

ASUS ROG XG Station 2

It’s common for bleeding edge tech to land first on gaming rigs and that’s certainly true for Thunderbolt 3. The ASUS ROG XG Station 2 is an external graphics card docking station and although ASUS says it’s “specifically designed for ASUS laptops and graphics cards”, we’re still waiting to hear whether other brands will be locked out.

Plug in your laptop (using its USB-C port) and the dock will both charge your laptop and supercharge its graphics capabilities. You’ll need to bring your own graphics card to slot into the XG Station 2 and ASUS has yet to reveal compatibility details and pricing.

rog-xg2_side

Acer TravelMate P648 Notebook

If you’re in the hunt for a high-tech travel companion, the 14″ Acer TravelMate P648 Notebook is powered by a 6th generation Intel Core processor with support for super-high speed 802.11ad multi-band wireless connectivity. You’ll need a compatible router though, like the newly announced TP-LINK Talon AD7200, which offers combined speeds up to 7200 Mbps.

4 GB RAM supports the processor, upgradable to a massive 20 GB and there’s ample storage space with up to 1 TB hard drives or 512 GB solid state drives. Graphics are handled by NVIDIA GeForce 840M discrete graphics.

Thunderbolt 3 support offers ultra-fast data transfer and 4K display connectivity while eight hours of battery life should keep you occupied for the day. The Acer TravelMate P648 Notebook starts at $799.99 and ships in April.

AcerTravelMateP648

Plugable Flagship Thunderbolt 3 Dock 

Plugable’s new Flagship Thunderbolt 3 Dock is designed to eliminate the need to continually plug and unplug devices from your notebook or tablet. You can hook up two uncompressed 4K 60Hz (4096 x 2160) displays, three USB 3.0 devices, Gigabit Ethernet, and Stereo audio in/out while keeping your desktop free of clutter. The second Thunderbolt 3 port on the dock operates the same as a Thunderbolt 3 computer port by supporting Thunderbolt 3 (up to 5 daisy chained), USB 3.1 (10Gb/s), and DisplayPort devices. It’ll arrive in Q1 2016.

 

Thunderbolt-3-dock

Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dual-Display Adapter

Meanwhile, the Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dual-Display Adapter offers a quick and convenient way to hook up multiple displays to your PC. Two versions of the adapters are hitting the market this year. A DisplayPort variant supports the connection of two uncompressed 4K 60Hz (4096 x 2160) monitors. A second, HDMI model offers support for two uncompressed 4K 30Hz (3840 x 2160) monitors. Both are coming in Q1 2016.

Plugable-TBT3

 

Startech.com Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DP Adapter

Peripheral and accessory specialist Startech.com is introducing Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DisplayPort Adapter, which they’re calling “the highest resolution and simplest dual DisplayPort adapter ever”. Why? Well, it’s bus powered, does not require additional device drivers, and, for the first time, a dual DisplayPort adapter supports two full uncompressed DisplayPort 1.2 video streams from a single Thunderbolt 3 port (that’s nearly 16 million more pixels than an HDTV, from a single Thunderbolt 3 port). It’s shipping later this quarter.

TB32DP2.main

 

Startech.com Thunderbolt 3 Cables

If you like the look of all these Thundrbolt 3 solutions, you’re going to need some cables to go with them. Startech.com are shipping Thunderbolt 3 cables with USB-C connectors in lengths of 0.5m ($25.99), 1m ($29.99) and 2m ($35.99). Bear in mind, though, that the fastest 40 Gbps connections are only available with the 0.5m cable. Longer lengths result in a speed drop to (a still blistering) 20 Gbps.

TBT3_40_Gbps

The Startech.com Thunderbolt 3 Cables are available to pre-order now, and will ship later this quarter.

While we’ve seen a swathe of new Thunderbolt 3 products unveiled at CES 2016, we can expect to see many more announced through the year. Thunderbolt may have had a slow start, but with compatible notebooks, gaming rigs, storage devices and accessories now streaming into the market, it looks like the versatile Thunderbolt 3 standard will be popping up everywhere this year.

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Terry Walsh is the founder of We Got Served. He started the community in February 2007 with a mission to help families, tech enthusiasts everywhere figure out the technology needed to run the modern home and small business. He's the author of a number of guides to Windows, Windows Server and OS X Server and runs his own successful publishing business. Born and raised in Liverpool, England, Terry has been awarded Microsoft's prestigious Most Valuable Professional Award each year since 2008 for his work on We Got Served.
  • Joe Pleniukas

    I’m curious – has anyone seen an adapter to go from Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2? Some of these docks have display port slots, but it doesn’t seem like you’d be able to use Thunderbolt 2 peripherals on a machine equipped with Thunderbolt 3 in the usb-c form factor unless I’m mistaken.

  • Shawn Lopez

    Is it going to be possible to run a display above 60Hz? I am looking to push a single monitor at 3440x1440p at 100Hz but all I see in these docks, hubs and adapters is 4k @60Hz. 3440x1440p is equivalent of 2.5k and typically when there is a refresh rate limitation it is due to the bandwidth limitation of the interface. According to https://thunderbolttechnology.net/tech/faq

    They say that Thunderbolt 3 is based on the DisplayPort 1.2 specification and can support up to 2 streams (eight lanes) of DisplayPort 1.2 video bandwidth. A single cable now provides four times the data and twice the video bandwidth of any other cable, while also supplying up to 100W of power.

    One 4K display (4096 x 2160) 30-bit @ 120 Hz

    I am looking to buy an 18ft or 30ft Thunderbolt 3 optical cable so I can put my gaming rig in an open closet right outside my room to eliminate the heat build up in my room. I live in South Texas and gaming even with the AC on still causes my room to reach the 90’s.

  • Great article :), hope my asus r9 290 works with my future laptop!

  • rtd99

    Stay away from the Dell Thunderbolt Dock…it does not work very well…Check out all the complaints on the Dell Forum; I bought one, spent hours with Tech service trying to get it working and failed…Will return it…Also Dell’s customer and technical service seems to be deteriorating since taken over by Private Equity…

  • Eugen

    Where are the damn optical cables for TB3? Those are the single greatest reason to buy into thunderbolt 3, for moving your desktop to the closet.

    • What’s the use case for “optical cables”?

      • Eugen

        It puts the pc in the closet/attic in a rack with the storage, ups and dead cats. It runs a long TB3 cable to a dock. It now has no noise and ugly boxes in the room. 🙂

  • actionjh

    “First launched in 2011, with the development name Light Peak, Thunderbolt was invested by a partnership of tech luminaries, including Intel, Apple, LaCie and others.”

    I doubt LaCie ever made an investment on Thunderbolt Chipset. Only Apple and Intel, financially.
    LaCie and others (G-Tech, CalDigit) can be considered first wave developers on the Thunderbolt platform for the device end.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunderbolt_(interface)
    This copper-based version of the Light Peak concept was co-developed by Apple and Intel. Apple registered Thunderbolt as a trademark, but later transferred the mark to Intel, which held overriding intellectual-property rights.[7]

  • Marc Elser

    Stay away from the ZBook Thunderbolt 3 Elite Dock. It’s buggy as hell. Displays blinking, USB ports crashing (freeze), not beeing recognised by the ZBook. And HP is still no able to make it work reliably. I use it daily at work and have to restart my machine about 2-3 times a day because of this.

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