Your New MacBook Air’s Thunderbolt Port Isn’t As Fast As You Thought

Your New MacBook Air’s Thunderbolt Port Isn’t As Fast As You Thought

'Eagle Ridge' Thunderbolt chip. Image courtesy of iFixit

As you stare lovingly at your new MacBook Air before you go to bed tonight, caressing its smooth aluminum shell, know this: its Thunderbolt port is inferior when compared to that of its cousins.

According to a report by Anandtech, Apple has used smaller, cheaper Thunderbolt controllers in its latest MacBook Airs in order to save space. This means they aren’t quite as fast as the Thunderbolt ports used in the company’s latest MacBook Pro, iMac and Mac mini lines, and that they are limited to just one display channel.

The full-sized Thunderbolt chip used in Apple other machines is named Light Ridge, and feature four bidirectional 10Gbps channels and support for two external displays.

Your New MacBook Air’s Thunderbolt Port Isn’t As Fast As You Thought

Faster 'Light Ridge' Thunderbolt chip. Image courtesy of iFixit

The scaled down Thunderbolt chip used in the new MacBook Airs, however, is named Eagle Ridge, and features only two Thunderbolt channels — meaning it’s half as fast — with support for just one external display.

Anandtech’s report also notes that the MacBook Air’s cheaper chip is likely to be the one used by PC makers who are making machines traditionally less expensive than those from Apple.

How do you feel about your new MacBook Air now you know its inferior to its peers?

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  • dagamer34

    The Intel HD 3000 really isn’t powerful enough to drive two displays, and that’s why the 13″ MacBook Pro can’t do it either.

  • Justin Lee Johnson

    It is the entry level machine. If someone thought it was superior to a NEW MacBook Pro or a NEW iMac they were sadly mistaken. Each machine has it’s own value and most people using a MacBook Air aren’t using Thunderbolt. It was mostly placed there for putting the machine into target disk mode so that info can later me transferred to the next Mac. If it only had USB it would have to transfer over a USB to Ethernet port which is tremendously slow. Either way no worries. They are still sexy as hell.

  • dongche79
  • Roger Chiu

    I don’t care about this. How many people will really use that port for dual display? Keep in mind that it is Air. Two channel for data is still good for Air.

  • tmadel

    Considering the dearth of Thunderbolt compatible peripherals who cares?  Apple will come out with a new iteration of the air in 2 years with far better capabilities.  By that time the peripherals we want will be available as well.

  • Steve Hall

    I guess my reaction is like that of the commenters before me: “So what?” I didn’t buy a 2lb Air to hook it up to a 20lb monitor. And for 128GB of storage, my 320GB USB2 external HD is just fine: I only need it for Time Machine and music storage anyway.

  • djgrahamj

    A single port only uses two channels anyway so it is indeed just as fast. The larger chip simply supports two ports.

  • johnthecompnerd

    This is a bit of a bummer, but I’m getting a Time Capsule soon, so I only need to connect it to one monitor anyway.

  • twitter-37295717

    You got something wrong: The speed of the port is EXACTLY the same. The difference is that it can’t handle two external displays. But the peak speed you’ll achieve is exactly the same, since the other ports doesn’t use the 4 channels at the same time, they use 2 for each chain of devices…

  • twitter-37295717

    Also, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, even with the “expensive” controller, can’t get two external displays, since it’s graphic card isn’t just powerful enough…

  • Dave Arthurs

    Bandwidth is not speed, it is bandwidth! The speed is the same, 10Gb/s.

  • AppleFanboyNZ

    It’s not “HALF AS FAST” it’s the same speed, Just half the bandwidth / channels, so it’s all the same speed, you just can only plug half the devices in all at once. Write things properly next time.

  • marioyohanes

    I read both Anandtech and Ars review about this. Your title is misleading! It’s not slower, but lower number of channel! Doesn’t matter if you have 1 pair or 10 pair channels, any device will only get 10Gbps at max at one time! But it does limit the number of device you can use at the same time, but definitely not slower!

  • Nutz320

    Does the 13″ Pro have a Eagle Ridge? If so, there goes any hope of external GPUs to the people who need it the most.

  • Mac999

    It’s not any slower. 10 GB/s max is the spec.  always. same for both eagle ridge and light ridge.

  • dagamer34

    13″ Pro has the same chip as the 15″ and 17″, which is why there wasn’t a story about Eagle Ridge until the MacBook Air was released.

    The limitation of 1 display on the 13″ Pro is because of the GPU, not the Thunderbolt chip.

  • Nicholas Calderon

    Doesn’t matter if only attaching one thunderbolt display.

About the author

Killian BellKillian Bell is a freelance writer based in the UK. He has an interest in all things tech, but most enjoys covering Apple, anything mobile, and gaming. You can follow him on Twitter via @killianbell, or through his website.

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