Learning Thunderbolt Technology & Connections
In my previous blog post, I explained my recent gyrations with Thunderbolt drivers and connections on my 8th-Generation i7 Lenovo laptops. I stated a need for actual Thunderbolt hardware to work with and use this stuff. Thanks to a near-miraculous delivery from Belkin Monday evening, I am now learning Thunderbolt technology & connections. I got an email from Belkin the week after returning from SpiceWorld 2019. Did I want one of their new Thunderbolt 3 hubs announced at that show? I replied “Yes!” and didn’t think much more about it. Thus, imagine my surprise when my wife asked Monday night “What’s in this package from Belkin?” Turns out it was a Thunderbolt™ 3 Mini Dock (Model P-F4U098). This miniature hub supports two HDMI ports, plus 1 each USB 3.0 and 2.0, and GbE (RJ-45) ports as well.
Synchronicity: not much sooner wished for, than delivered. Here’s some real Thunderbolt hardware!
[Click image for full-sized view; Source: Belkin product page.]
Hardware Is Required for Learning Thunderbolt Technology & Connections
Now that I’ve got the Mini Dock, I’m actually able to use my Thunderbolt channel for data and device communications. It’s puzzling to me, however, that Belkin doesn’t include a USB-C/Thunderbolt pass-through connection on the device. Given that one of Thunderbolt’s major selling points is its ability to handle up to 40 Gbps per channel (20 in each direction, full-duplex), I’m stunned that HDMI is the only high-speed link on this device and that its only USB ports are 2.0 and 3.0 (not even 3.1). Be that as it may, I’m now learning a bit about the ins and outs of Thunderbolt (pun intended). Here’s what Thunderbolt Software (available through the Thunderbolt symbol in the notification tray on the Taskbar) tells me about itself:
After my recent driver install shenanigans, it’s nice to see that everything is current and correct.
I can also see my lone Thunderbolt device — the Mini Hub, of course — in the Attached Thunderbolt Devices widget as well (all Thunderbolt function are available with a right-click to its notification tray item). Here’s what that looks like:
I can see the hub, but the Thunderbolt software stays mum on what’s attached to it. Weird!
I figured the tool would show me device chains attached to the hub. Wrong! Nirsoft USBDeview showed me the goods when I plugged in a USB 3.0 flash drive to the hub’s USB 3.0 port. I was also surprised to understand that one must reboot Windows for a device plugged into the Thunderbolt hub to show up in Explorer (and be otherwise accessible to Windows). It’s not exactly the same as USB, where one can plug in or unplug devices and see their status change in real time. Thunderbolt is fast and, as the hub shows, can aggregate lots of services (video, networking, and USB storage) onto a single channel.
Where the Thunder Bolts from Here
I’m still getting the hang of this stuff, though. The FAQ from the Thunderbolt Technology Association (ThunderboltTechnology.net) has so far proven pretty illuminating. Given Intel’s emphasis on DisplayPort video therein, I’m thus a little puzzled about why Belkin elected to include 4K 60Hz HDMI ports instead. As I mess around with this Mini Dock, I immediately get the appeal of Belkin’s higher-end, more expensive full-size docks: they include up to 2 USB-C Thunderbolt passthroughs, GbE, DisplayPort, and a headphone jack, as well as external power (and thus also, charging support for laptops). Gosh! I’ve got a whole new product space to learn. This should be fun . . .