We’ve seen Thunderbolt ports on enthusiast computers for a while now, but these days Thunderbolt is becoming the port everyone wants on a new laptop, regardless of size, form-factor or budget.
The Thunderbolt port has reached its 3rd generation and it’s actually a significant step-up from the previous versions. We’ll get in depth towards the end of this post, but in very few words, Thunderbolt 3 is the one port that could replace all the others. Physically, it’s an USB 3.1 connector, thus compact and reversible. Technically, it can provide transfer speeds of up to 40 Gbps, it allows to connect up to two 4K displays, outputting video and audio signal at the same time, it supports DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 2.0 and 10 GbE fast networking.
In other words, Thunderbolt 3 is the compact and versatile connector you can use to charge your laptop, transfer files at fast speeds, connect external monitors and other peripherals, including PCIe compatible graphics units (like the Razer Core, which we reviewed here). This last aspect is particularly interesting, as it allows OEMs to design ultra-portable laptops that could actually handle some serious gaming once they are hooked up to these external graphics solutions. The versatility and compact size of the Thunderbolt 3 connector also makes it ideal for slim and ultra-compact computers, which wouldn’t otherwise have the space around their sides for regular-sized ports.
We’re going to talk more about Thunderbolt 3 and its capabilities towards the end of the post. For now, let’s turn our attention on a complete list of all the available laptops and ultra-portables that offer at least one Thunderbolt 3 port at the time of this article, and since there are already quite a few available out there, we’ll split them in three different groups: compact laptops (with 13-inch screens or smaller), large screen portable laptops (15 to 17-inch screens), and full-size notebooks (15-inch screens or larger).
Only the latest versions of each laptop is mentioned here, previous generations might also support Thunderbolt 3.
13-inch (and smaller) ultraportables with Thunderbolt 3 connectors
|Acer Aspire Switch 12S||2-in-1||12.5″ touch||Core Y w/ Intel HD 515||1||$1199|
|Acer Aspire R13||2-in-1||13.3″ touch||Core U w/ Intel HD 520||1||$899|
|Asus Transformer 3 Pro||Tablet||12.6″ touch||Core U w/ Intel HD 520||1||$999|
|Asus Transformer 3||Tablet||12.6″ touch||Core Y||1||$799|
|Alienware 13||Gaming||13.3″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 1060||1||$1199|
|Apple MacBook Pro 13||Ultraportable||13.3″||Core U w/ Intel HD 540||2/4||$1499|
|Dell Latitude 12 7000||Ultraportable||12.0″||Core U w/ Intel HD 520||2||$1079|
|Dell Latitude 12 7000 2-in-1||2-in-1||12.5″ touch||Core Y w/ Intel HD 515||2||$1049|
|Dell Latitude 13 7000||Ultraportable||13.3″||Core Y w/ Intel HD 515||2||$1299|
|Dell XPS 12 9250||Tablet||12.0″ touch||Core Y w/ Intel HD 515||2||$999|
|Dell XPS 13 9350||Ultraportable||13.3″||Core U w/ Intel HD 520 or 540||1*||$999|
|Dell XPS 13 9360||Ultraportable||13.3″||Core U w/ Intel HD 620||1*||$799|
|Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 9365||convertible||13.3″||Core U w/ Intel HD 620||1||$999|
|HP Elite X2||Tablet||12.0″ touch||Core Y w/ Intel HD 515||1||$899|
|HP EliteBook Folio||Ultraportable||12.5″||Core Y w/ Intel HD 515||2||$1099|
|HP Elitebook x360 13||Convertible||13.3″ touch||Core U w/ Intel HD 620||1||$2399|
|HP Spectre||Ultraportable||13.3″||Core U w/ Intel HD 520||2||$1169|
|HP Spectre x360 13||Convertible||13.3″ touch||Core U w/ Intel HD 620||2||$1049|
|Razer Blade Stealth||Ultraportable||12.5″||Core U w/ Intel HD 620||1||$999|
|Toshiba Portégé X20W||Convertible||12.5″ touch||Core U w/ Intel HD 620||1||$1199|
If you’re looking for a larger screen and faster hardware, but still want to stay within portable limits, then these are the options to consider.
14 to 17-inch portable laptops with Thunderbolt 3 connectors
|Acer Aspire V15 Nitro||Multimedia||15.6″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 960M / 1060||1||$999|
|Acer Aspire V15 Nitro||Multimedia||17.3″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 960M / 1060||1||$999|
|Asus ROG GL702VM||Gaming||17.3″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 1060||1||$1399|
|Apple MacBook Pro 15||Ultraportable||15.6″||Core HQ w/ Radeon 450||4||$2299|
|Asus Zenbook 3 Deluxe UX490UA||Ultraportable||14.0″||Core U w/ Intel HD 620||2||$1699|
|Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW||Multimedia||15.6″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 960M||1||$1499|
|Asus ROG G501VW||Gaming||15.6″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 960M||1||$1099|
|Dell Precision 15 5000 Series||Workstation||15.6″||Core HQ or Xeon w/ Nvidia Quadro||1||$1399|
|HP Spectre x360 15||Convertible||15.6″ touch||Core U w/ Nvidia 940MX||1||$1299|
|MSI GS40 Phantom||Gaming||14.0″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 965M or 970M||1||$1399|
|MSI GS43VR Phantom Pro||Gaming||14.0″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 1060M||1||$1499|
|MSI GS60 Ghost Pro||Gaming||15.6″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 965M or 970M||1||$1499|
|MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro||Gaming||15.6″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 1060M||1||$1799|
|MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro||Gaming||17.3″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 1060M||1||$1799|
|Razer Blade 14||Gaming||14.0″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 970M / 1060||1||$1799|
Last but not least, if you don’t care about portability at all and simply want a powerful computer with a large screen, capable graphics and a Thunderbolt 3 port, these are the options for you.
15 to 21-inch full-size notebooks with Thunderbolt 3 connectors
|Acer Predator 15||Gaming||15.6″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 970M to 1070||1||$1499|
|Acer Predator 17||Gaming||17.3″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 970M to 1070||1||$1499|
|Alienware 15||Gaming||15.6″||Core HK w/ Nvidia GTX 965M to 1070||1||$1199|
|Alienware 17||Gaming||17.3″||Core HK w/ Nvidia GTX 965M to 1080||1||$1499|
|Asus ROG G752VT / G752VL / G752VY||Gaming||17.3″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 970M or 980M||1||$1299|
|Asus ROG G752VM / G752VS||Gaming||17.3″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 1060 or 1070||1||$1399|
|Asus ROG GX800||Gaming||17.3″||Core HK w/ Nvidia GTX 1080 and SLI 1080||1||$2499|
|Clevo P750 / Sager NP9758||Gaming||15.6″||Core HK w/ Nvidia GTX 970M to 980M||1||$1749|
|Clevo P750DM2 / Sager NP9152||Gaming||15.6″||Core K w/ Nvidia GTX 1060 to 1070||1||$1799|
|Clevo P775DM3 / Sager NP9172 / Schenker XMG U716||Gaming||17.3″||Core K w/ Nvidia GTX 1060 to 1080||1||$1849|
|Clevo P870KM / Sager NP9876||Gaming||17.3″||Core K w/ Nvidia GTX 1080||2||$2899|
|Dell Precision 15 3000 Series||Workstation||15.6″||Core HQ w/ AMD FirePro||1||$999|
|Dell Precision 15 7000 series||Workstation||15.6″||Core HQ or Xeon w/ AMD FirePro or Nvidia Quadro||1||$1199|
|Dell Precision 17 7000 series||Workstation||17.3″||Core HQ or Xeon w/ Nvidia Quadro||1||$2299|
|Dell XPS 15 9550||Multimedia||15.6″ touch||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 960M||1*||$999|
|Dell XPS 15 9560||Multimedia||15.6″ touch||Core HQ w/ Nvidia 1050||1*||$999|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Y900 / Y910||Gaming||17.3″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 980M / 1070||1||$1999|
|Lenovo ThinkPad P50||Workstation||15.6″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia Quadro||1||$1399|
|Lenovo ThinkPad P70||Workstation||17.3″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia Quadro||2||$1899|
|HP ZBook 15||Workstation||15.6″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia Quadro||1||$1499|
|HP ZBook 17||Workstation||17.3″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia Quadro||1||$1999|
|MSI GT73VR Titan||Gaming||17.3″||Core HK w/ Nvidia GTX 1070||1||$2199|
|MSI GT80S Titan||Gaming||18.4″||Core HK w/ Nvidia GTX 980 SLI||1||$3499|
|MSI GT83VR Titan Pro||Gaming||18.4″||Core HK w/ Nvidia GTX SLI 1070 or 1080||1||$3499|
|Razer Blade Pro||Gaming||17.3″||Core HQ w/ Nvidia GTX 1080||1||$3699|
* The Dell XPS laptops only use 2xPCIe lanes, and not all 4.
Now, let’s get back to why this Thunderbolt 3 port is such a big deal. Here are a couple of thoughts:
- the USB 3.1 connector is compact and reversible, so compatible cables are not going to take a lot of space. Also, unlike most other connectors like USB 3.0, DisplayPort, HDMI, etc, an USB 3.1 cable not longer has a “right-way” to plug in, which makes it easier to use everyday.
- the Thunderbolt 3 port could replace all the other standard connectors in the near future, that means we’ll have one universal connector and one type of cable for pretty much all basic needs.
- TB3 allows for very fast transfer speeds, which opens up space for a multitude of compatible accessories: fast external storage units, external graphics and processing units, external docking stations, etc.
- TB3 can output video, audio and power at the same time, so is a solution for connecting high-resolution external monitors or TV sets.
- TB3 is also capable of network transfer speeds of up to 40 Gbps, so can be a solution if you want to transfer content fast within your network.
- TB3 can also be used for charging your device, as long as it doesn’t require more than 100 W of power. So good-bye dedicated charging cables.
One compact port can do all of these, so no wonder manufacturers are adding TB3 on the latest laptops.
But what does Thunderbolt 3 mean for ultraportable notebooks? It allows OEMs to design thinner, lighter and smaller devices which wouldn’t have the space around their sides for regular sized ports. Yes, that means you’ll need to buy adapters for your existing cables and devices, but to some extent, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. These smaller computers can be hooked up to peripherals and transformed from the ultraportable travel companions they represent by their own, to business, multimedia and even gaming computers. You can hook up an external monitor for extra screen real-estate, a storage unit, a docking station with extra ports or those graphics units. External graphics units won’t show their true power when hooked up to an ultraportable, as these are usually built on Core M or Core U processors, but thin-and-light 15-inchers with quad-core processors and a solid amount of RAM will be good matches for the graphics capabilities of a full-size desktop card.
There is however a fair-amount of confusion around Thunderbolt 3, mostly because it’s impossible to determine whether a device is TB3 compatible or not simply by looking at the physical connector. And that’s because the TB3 and USB 3.1 ports are identical, but a TB3 and USB 3.1 (also known as USB Type-C) are different in terms of capabilities. The Apple Macbook for instance offers an USB 3.1, but not a Thunderbolt 3. Standard USB 3.1 connectors still support data, video and audio transfers, but are limited to a lower bandwidth, so will perform slower, can’t carry power and aren’t compatible with graphics units, among others. This article does a good job at explaining the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and a standard USB 3.1 port.
As of early 2016 there aren’t many Thunderbolt 3 compatible accessories available in stores, but that’s going to change in the future (and we’ll cover them in a later article). Knowing that, having a Thunderbolt 3 port on your laptop might not sit that high on your list of priorities right now. However, if you plan to keep the laptop you’re buying today for at least 2-3 years, then you should consider something with TB3 for future proofness, especially if you plan to take advantage of the matching peripherals down the line.
With that in mind, we’ll wrap this up here. I’ll continue to update this list of Thunderbolt 3 compatible laptops as often as possible, adding the new entries as they become available, but if you spot something that should be in here and it’s not, make sure to drop a line in the comments section below, where I’ll also wait for your feedback and questions, if any.