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Best Thunderbolt laptops 2021: top notebooks with Thunderbolt 3 ports

Included in this guide:

(Image credit: Intel)

The best Thunderbolt laptops are becoming more important as Thunderbolt becomes more common. A laptop with at least one of these ports is crucial for connecting to all sorts of peripherals. After all, Thunderbolt ports are impressively versatile. The best external hard drives use them, as do newer keyboards, mice, and, most importantly, USB-C monitors.

They’re also blindingly speedy. You’ll find that a lot of laptops these days are equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 version of the port, which gives you speeds of up to 40Gbps. That’s four times as fast as USB 3.1. That’s why storage devices using this port are so quick when transferring large amounts of data. Anyone working with huge projects like video editors, photographers, and other creatives benefit from using one.

It’s also ideal for multi-monitor setups, since this port can support up to two 4K monitors.

Since it uses the same connector as USB-C, you can plug in any USB-C peripheral as well and have it work. Just know that a USB-C port and Thunderbolt are not necessarily the same thing, so take a look at a laptop’s specs to figure out which one it comes with before buying. Otherwise, you might not be able to use certain peripherals with your new purchase.

We’re also seeing a growing number of laptops with Thunderbolt 4 ports, which offers a throughput of 32 Gbps, up from 16 Gbps in case of the Thunderbolt 3 controllers, allowing for much faster data transfers.

MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021) against a white background

(Image credit: Apple)

An incredibly impressive creative laptop

Specifications
CPU: Apple M1 Pro (8-core) - Apple M1 Max (10-core)
Graphics: Integrated 16-core GPU - 32-core GPU
RAM: 16GB – 64GB
Screen: 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
Storage: 512GB – 8TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic performance+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Screen on the smaller side

The MacBook Pro 14-inch puts an emphasis on what set this line of laptops apart in the first place. It’s an incredible piece of hardware for creative professionals. From its incredibly impressive performance, the inclusion of Thunderbolt 4 (three of them!), to the fact that it can easily run at full power on battery mode, something most other laptops just won’t do when unplugged. It also has incredible battery life and a gorgeous XDR display. It may be an expensive notebook to get but what you get for the price is simply astounding. So, if you can afford it, you really can’t do much better than this MacBook Pro.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro 14-inch (2021)

Dell XPS 15 against a white background

(Image credit: Dell)

2. Dell XPS 15 (2020)

The best Windows Thunderbolt laptop

Specifications
CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics - Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti
RAM: 8GB – 64GB
Screen: 15.6" FHD+ (1920 x 1200) IPS - UHD+ (3840 x 2400)
Storage: 256GB – 1TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Fast performance+Eye-catching design
Reasons to avoid
-GTX 1650 Ti is a little weak-15-inch screen might be too large for some

If you want the best Thunderbolt laptop that runs Windows 10, then the Dell XPS 15 is for you. In fact, it's our pick for the best laptop as well. The only reason why the MacBook Pro 16-inch pips it in this lineup is because all of its ports are Thunderbolt 3, while 'only' two of the three USB-C ports in the Dell XPS 15 are Thunderbolt 3. However, that should be more than enough for most people.  Also, Dell's update to its 15-inch flagship ticks pretty much every box when it comes to what we want from a laptop. The end result is that the Dell XPS 15 (2020) is about as close to perfect as a laptop can get and one of the best Dell laptops to date; there's really not a lot we can fault it for. It's got some of the latest, and best, mobile tech from Intel, and can even be configured with a discrete GPU, making it adept at image and video editing, and even a spot of light gaming.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 15 (2020)

MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020) against a gray background

(Image credit: Apple)

3. MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020)

Another great Thunderbolt laptop from Apple

Specifications
CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i5 – 10th-generation Intel Core i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645
RAM: up to 32GB
Screen: 13-inch Retina display with True Tone
Storage: 256GB – 4TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Improved specs (on some models)+Larger capacity SSD for starting model+New keyboard is great
Reasons to avoid
-Entry-level model still has 8th gen Intel CPU-You still only get Thunderbolt 3 ports

The MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020) comes with new (and powerful) Intel processors and improved RAM speeds for better performance, all packed in the 13-inch incredibly svelte body. Apple rounds it all out with that incredible Magic Keyboard from the new 16-inch, finally getting rid of that problematic keyboard. Even if you don’t go for the 10th-generation Intel Core configurations, you might still appreciate the fact that all models come with more storage capacity for the same price as their predecessors. And, they come packed with Thunderbolt 3 ports as well.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020)

HP Spectre x360 (2020) against a white background

(Image credit: HP)

4. HP Spectre x360 (2020)

An amazing Thunderbolt 3 laptop

Specifications
CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics
RAM: 8GB – 16GB
Screen: 13.3" FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS BrightView micro-edge WLED-backlit multitouch – 13.3" diagonal 4K (3840 x 2160) UWVA BrightView micro-edge AMOLED multitouch
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Stylish and high-quality finish+Great all-around performance
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life takes a hit-Can run hot at times

The HP Spectre x360 2-in-1 laptop has had a big refresh, and the boost in specs, with 10th-generation Intel Core processors and Intel Iris Plus graphics, along with the impeccable 2-in-1 design and pristine gem-cut chassis. While it's certainly pricey, you're getting some excellent extras, such as formidable security features and Bang & Olufsen speakers. If you care about aesthetics as much as you do performance and overall quality, this is the Thunderbolt laptop for you.

Read the full review: HP Spectre x360 (2020) 

MacBook Air (2020) against a white background

(Image credit: Apple)

5. MacBook Air (2020)

The most affordable MacBook

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i3 – i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics
RAM: 8GB – 16GB
Storage: 256GB – 2TB PCIe-based SSD
Dimensions: 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.61 cm
Reasons to buy
+Lower price of entry+New 10th generation processors+Improved keyboard
Reasons to avoid
-Screen colors a little muted-Battery life only OK-Webcam still just 720p

Apple’s thinnest and lightest MacBook is back with a vengeance. Not only has it fixed a lot of the complaints with its predecessors – namely, that problematic keyboard is now gone, replaced by a drastically improved keyboard. But it also comes with new and more powerful internal components, even more storage space options, and a lower price of entry. The MacBook Air is Apple's most affordable laptop, but it still comes with Thunderbolt 3 ports, which makes it a great choice if you want a laptop with Thunderbolt ports, but don't want to spend a fortune.

Read the full review: MacBook Air (2020) 

Acer Swift 3 2020 against a white background

(Image credit: Acer)

6. Acer Swift 3 (2020)

The best budget Thunderbolt laptop

Specifications
CPU: up to Intel Core i7-8565U
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce MX150, Intel HD Graphics 620 or AMD Radeon Vega 8
RAM: 4GB – 8GB
Screen: 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) ComfyView IPS – 15.6" Full HD (1920 x 1080)
Storage: 128GB – 1 TB HDD, 16 GB Intel Optane Memory
Reasons to buy
+Superb keyboard and trackpad+Excellent performance+Very reasonably priced
Reasons to avoid
-Looks a little plain

Beyond the Acer Swift 3's modest exterior, you'll find an excellent laptop that boasts plenty of power for work and study. The Swift 3 (not to be confused with the Switch 3 another laptop from Acer) is an inexpensive laptop; however, that plain chassis is all-aluminum and packed with beefy components - and that includes a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port. This laptop is incredible to use as well, with its roomy trackpad as well as its backlit keyboard that offers a comfortable typing experience with decent travel. Thanks to the relatively low price, this is easily one of the best Thunderbolt laptops you can buy at present.

Read the full review: Acer Swift 3

Dell XPS 1 against a white background

(Image credit: Dell)

7. Dell XPS 13

Another brilliant Thunderbolt laptop from Dell

Specifications
CPU: 10th generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus
RAM: 8GB – 16GB
Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – 4k (3840 x 2160)
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous design+Excellent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Lackluster audio-Expensive

The Dell XPS 13 now rocks 10th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processors and a bezel-less ‘Infinity Edge’ display, which means the Dell XPS 13 (2020) is a brilliant performer, while remaining thin and light. What’s more, there’s a wide range of customization options, so you can really make the Dell XPS 13 the best Thunderbolt laptop for your needs. This model refines the already-brilliant design of the XPS 13, but it does come at a high cost. While this is easily  one of the best laptops in the world right now, it's also one of the most expensive as well.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 13

Gigabyte Aorus 17X against a white background

(Image credit: Gigabyte)

8. Gigabyte Aorus 17X

The best gaming laptop with Thunderbolt 3

Specifications
CPU: 10th-generation Intel Core i7 – i9
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 16 series – RTX 20 Super series
RAM: up to 64GB
Screen: 1‎7.3" Thin Bezel FHD 1920x1080 240Hz Anti-Glare Display
Storage: 1TB SSD (PCIe), 2TB HDD
Reasons to buy
+Dominating all-around performance+Gorgeous display+Mechanical keyboard is a dream
Reasons to avoid
-Very, very heavy-RTX 2080 model needs two power adapters

The Gigabyte Aorus 17X is a gaming laptop with a Thunderbolt 3 port. While Thunderbolt 3 isn't going to be too high up in the list of priorities for many gamers, it means you can quickly move large files, such as game footage, game saves or even whole games, to an external hard drive. Sure, it's very expensive, but you're looking for a laptop that can pretty much slay anything in its path, this one’s got that face-melting performance you’re looking for, with 10th-generation Intel Core processors and Nvidia’s most powerful GPUs for gaming. Besides its performance, it’s got a few other things going for it including a display that is a complete stunner, a mechanical keyboard (nothing short of that is good for gaming) that’s incredible to use and build quality that’s designed to last.

Read the full review: Gigabyte Aorus 17X

HP Elite Dragonfly against a gray background

(Image credit: HP)

9. HP Elite Dragonfly

Another stunning Thunderbolt laptop from HP

Specifications
CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
RAM: 8GB - 16GB
Screen: 13.3" diagonal Full HD touch display – Full HD touch Sure View display
Storage: 256 GB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Impeccable design+Excellent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Pretty expensive

This laptop from HP is one of the most stylish and slimline laptops you'll ever see, and it's also packed with some brilliant features and powerful components.

While the HP Elite Dragonfly is primarily aimed at business users, don't let that put you off. Its incredible design and gorgeous screen makes this the best laptop for anyone who can afford it. Battery life is excellent, the keyboard is a joy to type on, and it also has LTE connectivity. This lets you plug in a SIM card and access mobile internet wherever you are, without having to connect to slow (and potentially compromised) Wi-Fi hotspots.

It's expensive, but if you can afford it, it's easily one of the best Thunderbolt laptops available.

Read the full review: HP Elite Dragonfly

MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019) against a gray background

(Image credit: Apple)

10. MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019)

Still a great Thunderbolt laptop

Specifications
CPU: 9th-generation Intel Core i7 – i9
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 555X – 560X, Intel UHD Graphics 630
RAM: 16GB – 32GB
Screen: 15.4-inch, 2,880 x 1,800 Retina display
Storage: 512GB – 4TB SSD
Dimensions (H x W x D): 34.93 x 24.07 x 1.55cm
Reasons to buy
+Powerful+Decent configuration options
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Lack of ports

If you want the most performance you can get in a MacBook without needing to pull off a heist, you’ll want to look into the MacBook Pro 15-inch. Now refreshed with hexa-core 9th-generation processors and up to 32GB of RAM, you won’t be held back by anything you throw at it – especially now that you can get Radeon Pro Vega 20 graphics. With that kind of performance, and plenty of Thunderbolt 3 ports, this laptop is well worth getting if you're an Apple fan.

Read the full review: MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019)

Matt Hanson

Senior Computing editor

Matt (Twitter) is TechRadar's Senior Computing editor. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. If you're encountering a problem or need some advice with your PC or Mac, drop him a line on Twitter.