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
6 days ago at 12:45 pm
Ah great. I can finally put my eGPU in the attic so it is silent.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
6 days ago at 12:47 pm
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: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
6 days ago at 03:30 pm


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: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
6 days ago at 01:19 pm
Can they not run copper along side the fiber for power?
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
6 days ago at 01:36 pm
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.
[automerge]1585255041[/automerge]


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: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
6 days ago at 01:45 pm


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: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Acquires Weather App Dark Sky

Tuesday March 31, 2020 10:22 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple has acquired weather app Dark Sky, Dark Sky's developers announced today. Dark Sky is one of the most popular weather apps on the App Store, known for its accuracy and storm warnings. Our goal has always been to provide the world with the best weather information possible, to help as many people as we can stay dry and safe, and to do so in a way that respects your privacy. There is no ...

Seemingly Unreleased Version of Logic Pro X With Live Loops Appears on Apple's Education Site [Updated]

Sunday March 29, 2020 7:23 am PDT by Hartley Charlton
Update: Apple has replaced the Logic Pro X image with an older version. Original story follows. A seemingly unreleased version of Logic Pro X has appeared on Apple's education site, as spotted by a Reddit user. The image from Apple's education products page shows a 16-inch MacBook Pro running Logic Pro X, but with a familiar interface that looks extremely similar to GarageBand's Live Loops ...

Bloomberg: Apple's 5G iPhone Still on Schedule for Fall Launch, But Future Products Could Be Delayed

Monday March 30, 2020 2:40 am PDT by Tim Hardwick
Apple's 5G iPhone is still on track to launch within the company's typical annual fall release schedule, according to a new Bloomberg report on filed on Monday. Signs are that Apple's Chinese-centric manufacturing -- of which Hon Hai is the linchpin -- is slowly getting back on track. The next iPhones with 5G wireless capabilities remain on schedule to launch in the fall, partly because mass...

Case for Upcoming Low-Cost iPhone Shows Up at Best Buy With Alleged April 5 Stock Date

Monday March 30, 2020 4:25 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Apple has a new low-cost iPhone in the works, which is supposed to be launching sometime in the first half of 2020. Given the ongoing situation in the United States and other countries, it's been unclear if the device is going to launch within the planned timeline, but there are signs that it could be coming soon. We started seeing cases for the new low-cost iPhone back in early February,...

Testing Brydge's New Pro+ Keyboard With Trackpad for iPad Pro

Monday March 30, 2020 2:04 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Well ahead of when Apple introduced trackpad support in iOS 13.4, Brydge announced an iPad Pro keyboard with a built-in multi-touch trackpad. We have one of Brydge's new Pro+ keyboards on hand, and thought we'd check it out to see how it works with Apple's new 2020 iPad Pro models. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. The Brydge Pro+ keyboard is similar in design to...

Apple's Work on New Upcoming Products Progressing Normally as Employees Adjust to Telecommuting

Monday March 30, 2020 11:58 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple's development of upcoming products is progressing as usual despite the fact that Apple employees around the world are working from home, according to a new report today out from Bloomberg. Apple is still working on new versions of the HomePod, Apple TV, MacBook Pro, budget iPads, Apple Watch, iPhone, and iMac, all of which could be released "as early as later this year" and have been...

Apple Releases ProRes RAW Beta for Windows

Monday March 30, 2020 9:33 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple today released ProRes RAW for Windows in a beta capacity (via Mark Gurman), with the software designed to allow ProRes RAW and ProRes RAW HQ video files to be watched in compatible applications on Windows machines. According to Apple, the software will let the files be played within several Adobe apps: Adobe After Effects (Beta) Adobe Media Encocder (Beta) Adobe Premiere...

2020 iPad Pro Teardown Provides Closer Look at LiDAR Scanner and Confirms Incremental Update

Saturday March 28, 2020 9:56 am PDT by Hartley Charlton
iFixit today shared a video teardown of the new iPad Pro, which Apple unveiled earlier this month. iFixit found that most of the internals of the 2020 iPad Pro are the same as the 2018 model, confirming that the device is a relatively incremental update. The most notable new feature seen inside the new iPad Pro was the LiDAR scanner, which measures the distance to surrounding objects up...

Apple Configurator 2 Updated With New Features, Including Support for Restoring Firmware on 2019 Mac Pro

Tuesday March 31, 2020 5:34 am PDT by Joe Rossignol
Apple Configurator 2 has been updated to version 2.12 with several improvements, including support for restoring firmware on the 2019 Mac Pro. The release notes:• Added support for restoring firmware on the 2019 Mac Pro • Allow access to websites using TLS 1.0 and 1.1 • VPN: Configure Provider Designated Requirement for Custom SSL connection type • VPN: Configure network options for ...

U.S. Government Using Mobile Ad Location Data to Track Compliance With Curbs on Movement

Monday March 30, 2020 4:48 am PDT by Tim Hardwick
The U.S. government is using smartphone location data from the mobile ad industry to track people's movements amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Local governments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have received the anonymized data about people in areas of "geographic interest," with the aim being to create a portal of geolocation...