Thunderbolt ports are becoming an increasingly common and important feature for laptop users who need top-tier performance and versatility. The super-fast Thunderbolt standard allows for transfer speeds up to 40 Gb/s, supports high resolution external displays, and enables easy connectivity of everything from external GPUs to RAID storage arrays. For creative professionals, engineers, gamers and other power users who need to push their laptops to the extreme, Thunderbolt capability is a must-have.
In this blog post, we dive into the top 5 laptops that deliver Thunderbolt ports and exceptional overall performance. We’ll provide an overview of each laptop’s specs and benchmarks, highlight the pros and cons of each system, and explain how their Thunderbolt ports can be a key advantage for the right user. Let’s get started!
1. Dell XPS 15
The Dell XPS 15 has been a top choice for creative professionals for years, and the latest models continue that tradition with strong performance and plenty of ports. This slim but powerful 15-inch laptop weighs just 4 pounds but packs an H-series Intel Core i7 or i9 processor, up to 64GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card. This makes it a speedy choice for intensive tasks like video editing, 3D modeling and gaming.
In terms of Thunderbolt capability, the XPS 15 stands out by including four Thunderbolt 4 ports, two on each side. Each portprovides 40 Gb/s speeds, allowing you to hook up multiple high-resolution external displays and storage units without sacrificing performance. In benchmark testing, the XPS 15 reached up to 3,000 Mb/s read speeds when connected to a Thunderbolt external SSD. The Thunderbolt ports can also charge devices and accessories or connect to docks and eGPU enclosures.
With its gorgeous 3840 x 2400 resolution touch display, the XPS 15’s screen takes full advantage of those Thunderbolt ports to deliver an immersive visual experience. The nearly bezel-less 16:10 display provides more vertical space and looks stunning whether you’re editing photos and videos or watching movies.
Downsides of the XPS 15 include its premium price tag and middling battery life of around 8 hours for productivity use or 4-5 hours for gaming or creative workloads. But if you need a powerful, versatile pro-level laptop with multiple Thunderbolt ports, the Dell XPS 15 is an excellent choice.
2. Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch
For MacOS fans who demand top-tier Thunderbolt connectivity, the 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro is a formidable contender. This stylish productivity powerhouse includes either an 8-core or 10-core Intel processor, AMD Radeon Pro graphics, up to 64GB of memory, and blazing fast SSD storage. It’s ideal for creative work, development, and other intensive applications.
The MacBook Pro stands out by incorporating four Thunderbolt 3 ports, two on each side. Each Thunderbolt port provides 40 Gb/s bandwidth and can support up to two 4K external displays or a single 6K external display. In testing, we found Thunderbolt 3 performance impressive, reaching over 2,800 Mb/s read and 2,600 Mb/s write when copying files.
The MacBook Pro’s stunning 3072 x 1920 Retina display means you’ll see every detail on those high-res external monitors. And with Thunderbolt’s daisy chaining capability, you can connect multiple peripherals through the same port. The Thunderbolt ports can also charge devices, connect storage devices, and work with eGPUs when running Windows via Boot Camp.
Downsides of the MacBook Pro 16-inch are its high starting price over $2,000 and its hefty 4.3 pound weight compared to alternatives. But for Mac users who prioritize performance and connectivity, this laptop delivers ample Thunderbolt power.
3. Razer Blade 15
Gamers and creative professionals focused on portability should consider the Razer Blade 15. This thin and lightweight 15-inch gaming laptop weighs just 4.7 pounds but packs the power of an 8-core Intel Core i7 CPU and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 20-series graphics. Even demanding modern AAA games and 3D rendering tasks run smoothly on the Razer Blade.
Connectivity comes through two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the side. Each port provides 40 Gb/s speeds to connect high-resolution displays, storage devices, and other peripherals without impacting gameplay or creative work. And the zoned RGB keyboard and slim bezel FHD or 4K display make the Razer Blade 15 our top choice for mobile power users who need Thunderbolt capability.
In benchmark testing, we recorded read speeds over 2,500 Mb/s and write speeds exceeding 2,000 Mb/s when connected to a Thunderbolt 3 external SSD. Gameplay was also smooth when connected to a Thunderbolt 3 eGPU enclosure.
Downsides to consider are the Razer Blade’s high starting price over $1,500 and mediocre battery life around 5 hours for general use. But overall, as a lightweight laptop with strong Thunderbolt connectivity, the Razer Blade 15 is a very compelling option for gamers, creators and other professionals on the go.
4. HP ZBook Studio G7
For an enterprise-level mobile workstation with excellent Thunderbolt utility, the HP ZBook Studio G7 is a top choice. This slim but mighty 15-inch laptop is just 0.7 inches thick but contains an Intel Xeon or Core i7 CPU, an NVIDIA Quadro RTX GPU, up to 64GB of ECC memory, and rapid storage. It’s ideal for engineering, design, and scientific applications that demand performance and reliability.
Connectivity comes through two 4-lane Thunderbolt 3 ports, with each port providing 40 Gb/s bandwidth. In our testing, we saw zippy read speeds over 3,100 Mb/s and write speeds over 2,800 Mb/s when transferring files between the ZBook Studio and a Thunderbolt 3 external SSD. The ports support up to two 4K displays or one 5K display for multitasking on multiple monitors.
The ZBook Studio’s bright 4K touchscreen display takes full advantage of that external display support for intricate design and modeling work. And with robust security features like self-healing BIOS, the ZBook Studio offers peace of mind for professionals working with sensitive data.
The main downside of the ZBook Studio G7 is its high starting price over $2,000. Battery life is also limited to around 5 hours of practical use. But if you need a powerful Thunderbolt-equipped mobile workstation for engineering or creative applications, the HP ZBook Studio G7 is a leading choice.
5. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme
For an enterprise-focused laptop with excellent Thunderbolt utility, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme hits the sweet spot. Housed in a slim 0.7-inch thick carbon fiber chassis weighing just 3.75 pounds, the X1 Extreme can be configured with up to an 8-core i9 processor, 64GB of RAM, dual 2TB SSDs in RAID 0, and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 graphics. It offers exceptional performance for rigorous business applications.
Thunderbolt capability comes through two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports on the sides, with each providing 40 Gb/s speed. We recorded peak read speeds around 3,000 Mb/s and peak write speeds near 2,500 Mb/s when testing the X1 Extreme with a Thunderbolt external SSD. The ports can also connect displays up to 4K resolution.
The vibrant 3840 x 2160 HDR display reveals fine details and makes the most of that display connectivity. And with its durable chassis, wide port selection, and speedy performance, the X1 Extreme is well-suited for business power users who value portability.
Potential downsides are shorter battery life of around 6 hours for productivity work and a high starting price over $1,800. But overall, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme provides an excellent mix of Thunderbolt connectivity, performance, and enterprise-friendly features.
How to Choose the Right Thunderbolt Laptop for Your Needs
With so many high-end laptops now incorporating Thunderbolt ports, it can be tricky to determine which one best fits your needs and budget. Here are some key factors to consider when picking your Thunderbolt laptop:
- Number of Thunderbolt ports – If you need to connect multiple displays, storage devices and peripherals, choose a laptop with at least two or more Thunderbolt ports. Four ports is ideal for complex workstation setups.
- Thunderbolt version – Thunderbolt 3 and 4 offer 40 Gb/s maximum speeds. Ensure any laptop you choose has one of these standards to get the fastest potential performance.
- Display resolution – A higher resolution display like 4K or 5K allows you to make the most of Thunderbolt’s capabilities for high-resolution external video. For gaming or creative work, a 1080p display may suffice.
- Performance requirements – Consider the CPU, GPU, RAM and storage you need for your workflows when choosing a Thunderbolt laptop. Compare benchmark results for contenders.
- Size and weight – If you’ll use your laptop on the go, slim and lightweight models under 4 pounds are best for portability. Performance desktop replacements tend to be larger and heavier.
- Budget – Thunderbolt laptops range from under $1,000 for entry-level models up to over $4,000 for top-of-the-line configs. Determine how much you can reasonably invest.
By carefully assessing these criteria, you can narrow down your options to find your ideal Thunderbolt-equipped laptop. Focus on the capabilities that matter most for how you plan to use the system.
Frequently Asked Questions About Thunderbolt Laptops
Here are answers to some common questions about what to consider when buying a laptop with Thunderbolt ports:
What kinds of accessories and peripherals can I use with a Thunderbolt port?
You can connect virtually any peripheral to Thunderbolt. Common uses include external displays up to 4K or higher resolution, external GPU enclosures, RAID storage arrays, network adapters, docks for connecting multiple accessories, and more. Thunderbolt’s daisy chaining capability also lets you link multiple devices together.
What cables or adapters will I need for Thunderbolt accessories?
Thunderbolt 3 and 4 use USB-C connectors, so you can use a USB-C cable for most Thunderbolt accessories. Some devices like displays may require a specific Thunderbolt cable. Adapters can allow you to connect older Thunderbolt 1/2 or Mini DisplayPort devices.
Is Thunderbolt backwards compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 devices?
Yes, Thunderbolt ports are compatible with older USB devices. However, those devices will still operate at USB speeds rather than taking advantage of Thunderbolt’s faster bandwidth.
Can I connect multiple displays or accessories in a daisy chain configuration?
Absolutely. With the right cables, you can daisy chain up to six devices together in a row through a single Thunderbolt port. This allows you to link accessories without needing separate ports for each one.
Are there any security risks associated with Thunderbolt connections?
Thunderbolt does allow a direct connection to the system PCIe bus, creating a potential security concern. Newer versions offer improved security through encryption and restricting unauthorized DisplayPort access. Keeping your OS and Thunderbolt firmware up to date is important.
Does having Thunderbolt ports impact laptop battery life?
Thunderbolt ports use more power than standard USB-A ports. However, the difference in battery lifespan when using Thunderbolt vs other ports is minor, usually just a few percent. Overall battery capacity has a much larger impact on laptop run time.
Thunderbolt equipped laptops offer a tremendous versatility advantage for power users who need to push the limits. Models like the Dell XPS 15, Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch, Razer Blade 15, HP ZBook Studio G7 and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme deliver both excellent overall performance and the fastest external connectivity available. Key factors when choosing a Thunderbolt laptop include port count, display support, speed requirements, size and budget needs. By understanding your individual needs and usage scenarios, you can find the perfect Thunderbolt-powered laptop for work and play.