Given the new 12" Retina MacBook doesn't have a Thunderbolt and only has a USB-C port, how do I connect it to an existing Thunderbolt display?

  • This is essentially a special case of this general question: apple.stackexchange.com/q/20313
    – bmike
    Sep 29, 2015 at 17:26
  • @bmike: Seems this is a distinct case from the question you cite... That question is about miniDisplay port macs, The new 12in MB does not have this port. It only has USB-C.
    – Bryan P
    Dec 1, 2015 at 5:11
  • @BryanP the idea is you need a thunderbolt port to connect to a Thunderbolt Display. There are no adapters to improvise thunder bolt from any other source.
    – bmike
    Dec 1, 2015 at 5:33
  • I can't post an answer (protected question), but this should work: apple.com/shop/product/MMEL2/…
    – TimH
    Nov 2, 2016 at 17:48
  • I do wonder if this dongle also powers the new macbook pro, while sending video, USB and Ethernet. This would be amazing. Nov 10, 2016 at 11:51

7 Answers 7


As @Kevin McKenzie already said, and just to expand on it.

At present there is no adapter for the USB-C to Thunderbolt.

Here is quote from http://9to5mac.com/2015/03/09/apples-12-macbook-gets-new-usb-c-power-vga-usb-and-hdmi-adapters/

Thunderbolt Gen 1 and 2 don’t support USB 3.1, Type C or even 3.0 for that matter. An adapter wouldn’t have fixed this problem. However, Apple is releasing Thunderbolt 3 later in 2015. It’s not ready yet, because it’s developed with Intel and now Gen 3’s functionality is tied to Skylake chips – which will replace Broadwell shortly. I know. You’re thinking “But Broadwell just came out!” That’s true, but only because of delays. Now, you may wonder how a new MacBook without a Thunderbolt port or a Skylake chip will support a Thunderbolt Display.

Well, in short it won’t. That is unless Apple releases a firmware update for their Thunderbolt cables. Which they won’t. So it probably won’t support it. Considering the last time they updated it, I think we’ll see an update at WWDC, with a USB C port on the display itself.

  • 2
    This answer is incorrect. Thunderbolt most CERTAINLY supports USB3. I have an adapter from Kanex found here: kanex.com/article/thunderbolt-adapters (voted -1)
    – Jann
    Apr 11, 2015 at 0:37
  • 2
    @Jann You got it the wrong way around. There is no Thunderbolt output on the new Macbook, it has only a USB-C port. So you would need a USB-C to Thunderbolt adapter. Thanks for the Vote anyway.
    – Ruskes
    Apr 11, 2015 at 0:57
  • 1
    My comment was in ref to "Thunderbolt Gen 1 and 2 don’t support USB 3.1, Type C or even 3.0 for that matter. An adapter wouldn’t have fixed this problem." .. Thunderbolt DOES support USB 3.0 -- with adapters, it is USB-C that cannot (right now) support thunderbolt communications.
    – Jann
    Apr 11, 2015 at 16:45

Right now, you don't. The Thunderbolt display requires a Thunderbolt connection as input, and while Apple did announce some USB-C dongles yesterday, none of them were USB-C to Thunderbolt. They may well come out with something in the future, or a third party may, or they may be releasing a replacement for the Thunderbolt display soon, one that also supports input via USB-C.

  • The MacBook 12" mid-2015 can support external resolutions up to 4K. The HDMI adaptor only supports 1080p. So an USB Type-C display or adaptor would be the only way to go. One might hope that Apple releases new 4K screens soon. Or perhaps Apple is waiting for other manufactures to provide a 4K USB Type-C display.
    – Gawin
    Mar 10, 2015 at 21:59
  • I also suspect new Cinema Displays will be 5k to match the new iMacs. It sounds like the current, new MacBook is for primarily portable use with some external display support. Newer 15" models will likely be more "workstation class" later this year Mar 11, 2015 at 15:50
  • Nope. The MacBook simply does not have thunderbolt. The change will have to come on the display side - a Thunderbolt Display would need to check and support both the DisplayPort/HDMI output that the MacBook can provide or support Thunderbolt if that is the source.
    – bmike
    Sep 29, 2015 at 17:01

If you go to the technicality the Thunderbolt Display, according to iFixit, is technically a DisplayPort monitor internally coupled to a Thunderbolt dock station with DisplayPort output, and the internal DisplayPort connection is actually detachable from the dock station assembly as a Mini DisplayPort cable (!)

So if you are brave enough to give the monitor a hack, with some quick drilling action on the chassis and a Mini DisplayPort extension cable you can actually detach the display from the internal docking station and use it as a standalone display and use the docking station portion of the machine independently. Ugly hack and probably not worth it since Apple already had a Mini DisplayPort+USB Cinema Display in the past.

Using one of that and a third party USB Type C to USB+Mini DisplayPort+Power adapter you can use that last generation Cinema Display on your MacBook actually.

  • This would neuter the thunderbolt but as you say, be highly risky. +1 for the only viable solution even if it's an edge case for most.
    – bmike
    Sep 29, 2015 at 17:02
  • @bmike However the last generation Cinema Display actually fits the role better. With Skylake and Thunderbolt-3-over-USB-C though things can change drastically. Sadly I am not going to move beyond Ivy Bridge thanks to Apple no longer refreshing non-Retina MacBook Pro and Retina models no longer fit my long-term continuous upgrading philosophy and I have to keep evolving my Sandy Bridge i7 and Ivy Bridge i5 units. Sep 29, 2015 at 17:12
  • I love this answer. Most people are better off selling the Thunderbolt Display and choosing one that accepts HDMI/DP or waiting for Apple's refresh on monitors this fall or next spring.
    – bmike
    Sep 29, 2015 at 17:25

Apple have released a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter.


I have one of these. It works well, still providing access to the extra ports on the back of the Thunderbolt Display.

2 issues I have with the adapter: (1) it is quite long and slightly unpretty and (2) the Thunderbolt Display intermittently does wake from sleep, requiring that I unplug and replug the adapter.

  • I also had to enable "Thunderbolt BIOS assist mode" in the BIOS setup screen. It took me about an hour to figure this out and was almost going to return my TB3 to TB2 adapter.
    – Frank Fu
    May 29, 2020 at 15:59

If your display is Thunderbolt, it won't run even if you connect it properly to a mini-DisplayPort signal.

If you have a DisplayPort display, you can get things to work as follows:

You need three items to make this work.

This only lets the display itself work and you would need to connect USB to gain speakers and camera functions.

  • How about a HDMI male to Mini DisplayPort male cable, into a female to female mini DisplayPort adaptor (available on ebay) and then plug the Mini DisplayPort cable from the apple display into it. Would this work?
    – malhal
    Apr 19, 2016 at 22:14
  • Sure - the HDMI -> DP is usually a $130 active adapter. Basically it's a specialized GPU to convert the signals. DP embeds HDMI but not the other way around so a cheap passive adapter won't work, @malhal
    – bmike
    Apr 20, 2016 at 15:57

Apple will surely have a USB-C Display coming soon. The display would provide USB2.0, ethernet, firewire, thunderbolt, etc. The kicker is that the display could also charge the laptop through the USB-C cable. So you basically get a docking station in your display with a single connection to USB-C. Very slick, even if the Monitor is 2x the cost of what it should be. =(

  • I'm banking on this. Shame nothing was announced at WWDC. Maybe a USB-C display is wishful thinking. Jun 10, 2015 at 19:44
  • Apple already have one out there: the last generation Cinema Display. Couple that to a third party USB Type-C to mDP+USB+Power adapter and you are good to go. Jun 12, 2015 at 22:47

Could this be a solution to connect the new MacBook to a Thunderbolt display?

Using the following adapters (and an Ethernet cable):

enter image description here

  • 3
    The thunderbolt display adds ethernet functionality to computers over thunderbolt. It's not used as a display interface.
    – Alexander
    Apr 3, 2015 at 14:53
  • I think it's also too much expensive solution...
    – k1r8r0wn
    Apr 4, 2015 at 12:56
  • 3
    @kirbrown it's not a solution
    – Alexander
    Apr 9, 2015 at 2:00
  • 1
    Very creative. This cracks me up! Jan 19, 2016 at 5:50
  • 3
    Who spent the time making this diagram
    – j_mcnally
    Feb 2, 2016 at 2:04

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