Thunderbolt connectivity can be found in many high-end devices. In addition to docking stations, external storage devices, and other peripherals; professional monitors also take advantage of this advanced interface to provide high-resolution images and high-speed data transfers. Thunderbolt 3 shares the same connector as USB-C, however that’s where the similarities end between these two cables.
If you are in the market for Thunderbolt monitor for your professional work make sure to read more about its advantages over the less costly USB-C alternatives. Let us take a look at the things you should keep in mind when shopping for professional Thunderbolt monitors for Mac devices.
Sometimes it’s hard to grasp why two things that look the same can be priced so differently. It’s not a secret that Thunderbolt devices command a premium when compared to (already very speedy) USB 3.1 alternatives. However, these two are nothing alike. The whole difference can be simply explained in terms of bandwidth. Thunderbolt 3 offers 40 Gbps bandwidth over a single cable. To put things in perspective, USB 3.1 Gen 1 offers only 5 Gbps while USB 3.1 Gen 2 brings that up to 10 Gbps over a single cable as well. Did we mention Thunderbolt 3’s 40Gbps are bi-directional?
If we dig deeper into the technical differences, the reason for this abysmal bandwidth difference becomes evident. Thunderbolt chips inside a computer take data from different sources and combine it together, send it out via a Thunderbolt cable, and then another chip at the receiving end separates this data into distinct protocols again. Thunderbolt is capable of taking 4 whole PCI express lanes and DisplayPort and combine all that data together up to that 40Gbps limit. In practical terms, this gives you a small, reversible cable that taps directly on to your computers fastest and most direct input and output channel. Nothing like USB-C connectivity.
*Monitors with Thunderbolt 3 also work seamlessly with Mac devices that feature Thunderbolt 4.
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When transmitting video signals over USB-C, the DisplayPort alt mode is used. This takes either only 2 or all 4 lanes available in the USB-C cable to transfer video signals depending on the resolution, refresh rate, and color depth required. For example, if you transmit 4K at 30Hz, 2 lanes will be enough, leaving the other 2 lanes available for USB 3.1 Gen 2 data transfer up to 10 Gbps. However, if you want to transmit 4K video at 60Hz most USB-C video devices will rely on all 4 data lanes and reduce the available data transfer speeds to the ancient USB 2.0 standard, which always has a dedicated low-speed lane.
Thunderbolt 3 approach is different as explained above. Driving a 4K monitor at 10-bit color 60Hz will require around 15Gbps of bandwidth, which means that once this signal is processed by the Thunderbolt 3 chip, 25 Gbps will remain available to send data to other devices. And because Thunderbolt 3 bandwidth bi-directional, the full 40Gbps remain available to receive data from devices to the computer. Additionally, thanks to daisy chain technology, after driving such 4K monitor up to 5 additional Thunderbolt devices can be plugged-in in series to take advantage of the remaining bandwidth. All these 6 devices would only be occupying 1 single Thunderbolt 3 port on your computer or laptop.
Such simplicity and capacity have opened the door to amazing technologies that were not nearly possible a few years ago. Professional users have reaped the benefits of Thunderbolt 3 more than any other market segment. For example, external GPUs (eGPU) can provide additional graphics power to laptops where installing a full GPU card would be impossible by simply channeling the PCI express data from an external GPU enclosure, via Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, to the laptop’s motherboard. The number of applications keeps expanding, such as external SSD’s, professional audio devices, video capture devices, to mention a few.
With professionals in mind BenQ has produced Thunderbolt monitors that fit right into any Thunderbolt workflow. With multiple Thunderbolt 3 ports on our monitors, you can connect it in at any point of the daisy chain and still maintain high-speed connectivity downstream. Such monitors allow you to have dual 4K monitors at 60 Hz in chain, and external storage from a single Thunderbolt 3 port while maintaining full performance, for example.
These setups are particularly useful for people that need the flexibility of working from a laptop but require a powerful workstation in their studio to perform 4K video editing, 3D graphics rendering, and other heavy-duty tasks. When you arrive at your desk, an eGPU, dual monitors, and even external storage can be easily connected to a laptop, whilst also providing power via Power Delivery with just a single cable.
Thunderbolt 3 is an amazingly powerful technology that can provide four times the speed and twice the video bandwidth of USB 3.1 Gen 2, while also supplying power via the Power Delivery standard. It delivers the most versatile connection to any dock, display, or data device with incomparable speed and simplicity, while relying on the standard USB-C connection. It truly is one compact port that does it all.
If you are a professional videographer, photographer, 3D artist, or perform any other demanding computer task, taking advantage of Thunderbolt connectivity makes clear sense. A Thunderbolt professional monitor fits right at the center of any Thunderbolt workflow, as a docking station for additional Thunderbolt devices or as the best 4K and 5K video solution.