Optical Thunderbolt 3 Cables Begin Rolling Out in Lengths Up to 50 Meters

The Thunderbolt 3 standard has been available for roughly four years now, but cable lengths have so far generally been limited to a couple of meters due to signal degradation over long distances of copper wiring. While the use of copper Thunderbolt 3 cables limits their length, it does allow for additional features like the ability to carry power and fallback use of USB modes at slower speeds.

Areca's 30-meter optical Thunderbolt 3 cable

There is an alternative to copper cables that allows for longer cable lengths, and that's optical fiber cables, which use light to transmit signals over long distances with high fidelity. While there have been optical versions of Thunderbolt 1 and 2 cables, the Thunderbolt 3 standard has been very slow in seeing optical cables come to market.

The market for optical Thunderbolt cables is relatively small given their expense and the fact that the vast majority of users have no need to run cables longer than a couple of meters, but for those who do need long cables, the wait for Thunderbolt 3 cables has been a long one.

That wait finally appears to be coming to an end, however, as we're starting to see signs of the cables coming to market. Taiwanese company Areca has recently launched optical Thunderbolt 3 cables, available in 10-, 20- and 30-meter lengths. The cables are available through B&H, but with pricing coming in at $559, $699, and $799 respectively, these are obviously only for pro-level users who absolutely need the highest performance over long distances. And remember that these cables can only carry Thunderbolt 3 data and don't fall back to USB or provide power to or from connected devices.

B&H currently lists expected availability of 7-10 business days on all three cable lengths, and Areca told me a few weeks ago that supplies were somewhat constrained as its factories were still trying to ramp production back up. Areca tells me that beyond the cables that have shown up at B&H, the company is also planning a special-order 50-meter cable and has also been considering a shorter 5.5- or 6-meter cable, although the minimal price difference between that and the 10-meter version may not make it worthwhile.

Corning's optical Thunderbolt 3 connectors

One of the major optical cable manufacturers users have been looking to for Thunderbolt 3 cables is Corning, and it appears its cables may be close to coming to market as well. One MacRumors reader let us know that Corning's cables have started appearing on websites of some European resellers like MacConsult in lengths ranging from 5.5 meters to 50 meters. Based on these listings, Corning's pricing looks like it will be starting at around the equivalent of $400 in the U.S., a bit less than Areca but still out of the range of the average consumer.

Corning tells me that while samples of its optical Thunderbolt 3 cables have been shown at trade shows over the past couple of years, it's not quite ready to officially launch them and shared the following statement:

Corning’s Thunderbolt 3 cables have not yet been launched publicly, although we have shown preliminary samples at industry events. We look forward to their launch, although a date has not been scheduled.

It seems likely that Corning is still awaiting final certification from Intel and that a distributor may have gotten a bit ahead of itself in pushing out preliminary listings to some resellers, but hopefully we can expect Corning's cables to hit the market fairly soon.

The annual NAB show in April would have been a good opportunity for Corning to launch its cables if final certification from Intel was imminent, but as with nearly every other trade show, NAB 2020 has been canceled, so we'll have to wait and see what Corning's plans are.

Optical Thunderbolt 3 cables are hitting the market just as Intel has started teasing Thunderbolt 4, although it's unclear what the differences between the two versions will be, as they appear to offer the same maximum transfer speeds. USB4 is also coming to market in the relatively near future and will essentially unify Thunderbolt 3 and USB with Thunderbolt 3's theoretical maximum 40 Gb/s speeds.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
16 weeks ago
Ah great. I can finally put my eGPU in the attic so it is silent.
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
16 weeks ago
This isn't to hook up your home theatre system. This is for professionals with a serious need who can budget that price no sweat.

Also, it's funny because Thunderbolt, or LightPeak as it was known at the time, was originally designed around fibre optics.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
16 weeks ago
Just bought *another* corning TB2 cable. Tried to get one of these just to avoid Corning but I my host device is still TB2 (Mac Pro 2013). Here's hoping these are more reliable. The expense and poor reliability is painful.


Can anybody give examples of uses for these cables?

Music studios. I need one so that I can put my Mac Pro outside of my recording booth and still have a full hub with monitors, etc. inside the booth while I record. Fans are the enemy of good sound.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
16 weeks ago


Can anybody give examples of uses for these cables?

Dedicated point to point networking, when you need to copy very large files between systems.


The enemy is voltage drop (and heat) from resistance in the copper wires. If the copper wires were big enough, maybe. But DC (direct current) is especially bad at this with long cable runs.

Would be cool if there was a way to send power over the fiber with photons. They can probably do that on Star Trek.

I think they have these things called solar panels. It might kind of work. It would not be practical.


So, they're optical cables, and the article makes a point of showing "Corning's optical Thunderbolt 3 connectors", but is there really light coming out of the end of these cables, or are there instead optical-electrical transceivers in the enlarged hoods of the connectors, and it does a normal electrical USB-C/TB3 connection at each end?

Even the copper versions are not passing the signals directly. The ends take the signal from the computer, do compression, multiplexing and stuff, the other end puts it all back together. The ends are actually complex/smart electronic devices.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
16 weeks ago


Can they not run copper along side the fiber for power?

The enemy is voltage drop (and heat) from resistance in the copper wires. If the copper wires were big enough, maybe. But DC (direct current) is especially bad at this with long cable runs.

Would be cool if there was a way to send power over the fiber with photons. They can probably do that on Star Trek.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
16 weeks ago


Another big question: will these run the XDR in 6K ?
(which is TB3, but quite picky on how it's connected and e.g. doesn't allow an intermediate device and still run at 6K)

I can confirm that the Areca TB3 Optical Cables currently DO NOT support 6K resolution on the Apple Pro Display XDR. I purchased the 30m version, and also tested the shorter lengths with the company's sales rep, with my XDR and 2019 Mac Pro with Radeon Pro Vega II - we could only ever get 5K resolution on the XDR. This was with a virgin machine and with nothing other than bluetooth mouse/keyboard connected to it. Areca/Tekram is aware of the issue and has said that it is a cable firmware issue, and that they are currently trying to resolve. I would make sure to confirm with them that this is resolved before you purchase for use with an XDR display. I intended to use it for a remote display application and ultimately had to return the cable.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Warns Against Closing MacBooks With a Cover Over the Camera

Friday July 10, 2020 11:12 am PDT by
Apple this month published a support document that warns customers against closing their Mac notebooks with a cover over the camera as it can lead to display damage. Image via Reddit Apple says that the clearance between the display and the keyboard is designed to very tight tolerances, which can be problematic. Covering the camera can also cause issues with automatic brightness and True Tone....

iPhone Users Who Experienced 'Batterygate' Can Now File to Receive Around $25 Settlement From Apple

Monday July 13, 2020 6:50 am PDT by
Earlier this year, Apple agreed to settle a U.S. class action lawsuit that accused the company of "secretly throttling" older iPhone models. Now, eligible iPhone owners are beginning to be notified about their legal rights and options. Under the proposed settlement, Apple will provide a cash payment of approximately $25 to each eligible iPhone owner who submits a claim, with its total payout ...

Apple Moving Forward on Semitransparent Lenses for Upcoming AR Headset

Friday July 10, 2020 7:24 am PDT by
Apple and Foxconn have reached a key milestone in the development of Apple's long-rumored augmented reality headset, with the semitransparent lenses for the device moving from prototype to trial production, reports The Information. Apple is developing the lenses on a single production line at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu in southwestern China, where most of Apple’s iPad production is...

Arm-Intel-PowerPC Universal Binaries Are Possible

Saturday July 11, 2020 1:42 pm PDT by
Casual MacRumors visitors may not realize that we have a very active PowerPC forum where users discuss issues related to PowerPC Macs that have not been produced since 2006. Threads range from hardware upgrades and software options to nostalgia: Photo by AphoticD Apple's recently announced transition to Apple Silicon (Arm) based Macs raised some interesting questions about future support...

Possible 'iPhone 12' Battery Certifications Suggest Lower Capacities Than iPhone 11 Series

Monday July 13, 2020 4:22 am PDT by
MySmartPrice has spotted certifications for three new Apple batteries that it believes could be for the upcoming iPhone 12 lineup, despite them being less capacitive than the batteries in the current iPhone 11 series. The batteries are identified with the model numbers A2471, A2431, and A2466, and appear on Safety Korea, China's 3C, and the Danish agency UL Demko. Apple is expected to...

Leaker: 'iPhone 12 Pro' to Come With 6GB of RAM

Friday July 10, 2020 1:59 am PDT by
Later this year, Apple is expected to release four OLED iPhones in three display sizes, including 5.4, 6.7, and two 6.1-inch models. Rumors suggest the 6.7-inch iPhone and one 6.1-inch model will be higher-end devices, and now leaker @L0vetodream has corroborated previous rumors about the internal specs of Apple's upcoming lineup. Rumors suggest Apple will use 5-nanometer A14 chips in its...

Kuo: Apple Silicon Macs to Include 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air This Year, 14.1-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro Models Next Year

Friday July 10, 2020 2:58 am PDT by
At last month's WWDC, Apple officially announced that its Mac computers will be transitioned from Intel x86 to homegrown Apple Silicon chips. Apple said it plans to deliver the first Apple Silicon Mac by the end of the year and complete the transition in about two years. According to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, a 13.3-inch MacBook Pro with a form factor similar to the current 13.3-inch...

Google to 'Dramatically' Improve Chrome Impact on Mac Battery Life

Sunday July 12, 2020 1:56 pm PDT by
Google will address long-standing battery life issues, particularly on Mac devices, reports The Wall Street Journal. Chrome will improve "tab throttling" by better prioritizing active tabs and limiting resource drain from tabs open in the background. This is said to have a "dramatic impact on battery and performance." Google has reportedly been performing early tests on Mac laptops in...

Top Stories: iOS 14 Public Beta, iPhone 12 Size Comparison, 14-Inch MacBook Pro Rumors

Saturday July 11, 2020 6:00 am PDT by
After one round of developer beta testing, Apple unleashed iOS and iPadOS 14 to a wider audience this week, opening it up to members of the public beta program. There are lots of changes and new features to check out, but as with any beta, be careful about installing it on your main devices. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Other major stories this week included our ...

Apple Shares Humorous 'Working-From-Home Thing' Video

Monday July 13, 2020 9:31 am PDT by
Apple today shared a funny video focused on the problems that people working from home have to deal with, including noisy children, chaotic schedules, communication issues, and more. The video focuses on showing off Apple products and their capabilities that can be useful when working from home, such as the ability to scan a document with an iPhone, mark up a PDF, Siri Reminders, and more.The...