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

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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.

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

alphaod

macrumors Core
Feb 9, 2008
22,167
1,212
NYC
After getting bored of waiting for longer Thunderbolt 3, I switched a lot of my Thunderbolt 3 enclosures to NAS with 10G and upgraded my network to 10G fiber.

But this will help for my eGPU I can move to somewhere further, not sure on the cost though.
 

axcess99

macrumors member
Jul 1, 2005
43
30
Will DP run over this? Can I finally move me second display half a (american) football field away from me?
Great excuse to bust out my telescope.
 

Rudy69

macrumors 6502a
Mar 30, 2009
641
687
I wish we could push the limit for the copper cables a tiny bit. They're just a bit short for what I use it for but it's not a problem I'd spend over $500 on
 

827538

macrumors 65816
Jul 3, 2013
1,306
1,192
Great to see, I remember when Intel was first working on Thunderbolt it was meant to work over fiber optics. Cool to see it finally be a reality. Hopefully the prices will come down.
 

s66

macrumors regular
Dec 12, 2016
171
108
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)
 

Jupeman

macrumors member
Jan 13, 2008
83
32
I had Corning Thunderbolt 2 optic fiber cable that was 10m long. It was great... while it worked. Those cables seemed to overheat on the ends and fry their electronics after a little over 1 year. The warranty length? one year. Corning was very firm on that. I was discouraged by the failure of these cables given the price. I'm very wary... If someone offered a 5 year warranty, it would be more reassuring, but if the vendors offer 1 year, I will personally probably stay away (cost is nuts, too, the cabling itself really isn't that expensive... the cost is all in the ends/plugs).
 

gnomeisland

macrumors 6502a
Jul 30, 2008
688
345
New York, NY
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.
- - Post merged: - -

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.
 

mam8dg

macrumors newbie
Mar 20, 2019
21
16
I wonder if there would be any improvement in latency for audio recording vs. a copper cable at ~10 feet each.
 

glowplug

macrumors regular
Jun 22, 2017
166
277
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.
 
Last edited:

Squirrel

macrumors member
Jul 15, 2001
30
14
I had Corning Thunderbolt 2 optic fiber cable that was 10m long. It was great... while it worked. Those cables seemed to overheat on the ends and fry their electronics after a little over 1 year. The warranty length? one year. Corning was very firm on that. I was discouraged by the failure of these cables given the price. I'm very wary... If someone offered a 5 year warranty, it would be more reassuring, but if the vendors offer 1 year, I will personally probably stay away (cost is nuts, too, the cabling itself really isn't that expensive... the cost is all in the ends/plugs).
I had the exact same experience, but I was able to push Corning to send me a new cable even after the 1 year. That second cable failed eventually as well. Although it helped when I placed a fan by the cable ends to keep it cool. It really sucks that they put out an expensive product knowing that it was not reliable. Shame on Corning! I hope this other company has found a way to keep the ends cool.
 

oneMadRssn

macrumors 601
Sep 8, 2011
4,981
11,679
New England
Can they not run copper along side the fiber for power?
They probably can, but there is power drop over large lengths when the power is high current but low voltage. It's the reason it's very rare to see USB charging cables over 12 feet, and it's the reason household power is much higher voltage and why long-distance transmission lines are VERY high voltage.

High voltage and low current (relatively) is how you move electricity over long distances. But USB-C allows up to 20V and 5A, which is low voltage (relatively) and high current.
 
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canonical

macrumors member
Oct 17, 2014
93
163
Ethernet 6 and 7 cabling is obviously dramatically cheaper, and can achieve speeds of 10G, but buying 10G switches is currently still very expensive. But, it has the advantage that you don't have to re-wire your houses and ethernet is much more flexible in various spider connections (anything links to anything). By contrast, these 50m cables are very expensive, but the hubs would presumably be standard jobs and inexpensive - but more likely intended for point to point applications, such as eGPU or backup in a different room.
 
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CarlJ

macrumors 68040
Feb 23, 2004
3,857
6,066
San Diego, CA, USA
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?
 
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adamjackson

macrumors 68000
Jul 9, 2008
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Honestly, if I was a millionaire I already have a 2-post rack in the basement for networking equipment and NAS....I'd throw a MacPro in there and then just run a single Cable up to my XDR display in my office and work completely on just a display like an old school terminal. Honestly that'd be awesome.
 

RalfTheDog

macrumors 65816
Feb 23, 2010
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Lagrange Point
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.
 

YetAnotherAppleFan92

macrumors member
Oct 31, 2018
74
98
Toronto, Canada
This is neat, but I think it’s kind of funny because we are almost 5 years into Thunderbolt 3 and I still don’t have a single device or cable. Same with USB-C. The only Thunderbolt 1 and 2 connectors I have are dongles to other connectors. Everything I have left that is still wired uses USB 3.0 or 3.1 with an A connector.
 
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