Can You Use a Thunderbolt SSD with a 2013 MacBook?

Thunderbolt has taken the tech world by storm. Apple removed all ports except the Thunderbolt 3 from MacBooks a few years ago, forcing Apple faithfuls to adapt to the change. Since then, the market has grown to love the Thunderbolt ports for their speed, which is far better than the USB ports that had previously made up the industry standard.

Another reason to love Apple products is their long-term durability, if you take proper care of them. That’s why it’s not uncommon to still find older models, like the 2013 MacBook Pro, still being used today.

However, because the highest-quality SSDs on the market are made for Thunderbolt 3, these older models can be limited on which SSDs are compatible. That’s why we’re going to walk you through the world of Thunderbolt SSDs and answer questions about your 2013 MacBook.

What ports does my 2013 Apple MacBook have?

Basically, the types of ports depend on what specific model of 2013 Apple laptop you have. However, when it comes to Thunderbolt ports, the MacBook Air has one Thunderbolt 2 port, whereas the MacBook Pro models have two Thunderbolt 2 ports. As of 2020, the Thunderbolt port of choice for SSDs is the Thunderbolt 3, which obviously causes problems if you’re still working on an older MacBook model.

So, can I use a Thunderbolt SSD with a 2013 MacBook?

Yes, you can use a Thunderbolt SSD with a 2013 MacBook… most of the time. If you’re using an SSD that has a Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 model, they will correspond to the 2013 MacBook Air or Pro, respectively, without adapters. However, if you’re trying to use a more recent SSD, most of which use Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C connectors, you will need to purchase an additional adapter. That being said, this adapter will limit the speed at which your Thunderbolt 3 SSD is performing, capping out at either Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 speeds, depending on the port you have.

You should also research each component of your Thunderbolt SSD before purchasing. Some adapters and SSDs won’t work if either has a captive cable, or a cable that is not removable. 

What’s the difference between a USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 port?

The term “USB-C” refers to the shape of the port, whereas Thunderbolt 3 refers to the lightning-fast interface port created by Intel. You could say that Thunderbolt 3 inputs fit into USB-C ports, but if it’s not specifically a Thunderbolt 3 port, you won’t get speedy capabilities of the Thunderbolt 3.

USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are both form factors. Thunderbolt 3 is down-compatible with USB-C. However,  USB-C isn't up-compatible with Thunderbold 3 ports.

Buying an SSD: USB-C vs. Thunderbolt 3

SSDs, adapters, and other accessories may use the term USB-C to describe their inputs and outputs. As mentioned above, this only refers to the shape, not the capability.

If you’re a Mac user, it’d probably be best if you find an SSD on the market that is specifically made for Thunderbolt ports, since that’s the Mac interface of choice. These SSDs are crafted for your Apple laptop, whereas the USB-C SSDs are made for any device that has USB-C ports whether they are Thunderbolt 3 ports or not.

The issue is that very few brands out there make Thunderbolt SSDs, so you’ll need to do some digging to find the right one, like Fledging’s Shell Thunder SSD Enclosure, if you have access to Thunderbolt 3 capabilities. 

What’s the difference between an enclosure and an SSD?

An SSD is simply the external device, whereas the enclosure is an openable container that reads the SSD. Enclosures allow you to change out the drives so you can replace the one inside with newer or larger drives, if needed.

While it can seem daunting to exchange hardware, many external SSDs are built to be fairly intuitive, making it easy to still get that Thunderbolt 3 efficiency even if you’re new to SSDs.

Enclosures also allow you to customize your SSD based on your own needs. With as few Thunderbolt 3 SSDs as there are on the market, you’re severely limited on your choice of specifications. Instead, having an enclosure allows you to choose your drive and replace it if you change your mind later. 

Be sure to do your homework. There are tons of USB-C pretenders out there who parade as Thunderbolt 3 SSDs. You’ll have the same plug configuration but lack Thunderbolt 3’s speed entirely. 

What should I look for in a Thunderbolt SSD?

Again, Thunderbolt-specific SSDs are extremely rare on the market, so you’ll be very limited on choices. However, there are some considerations you may want to take into account before you take the plunge.

Cooling

Thunderbolts, especially if you’re using an adapter for your 2013 MacBook, take up a lot of energy to do what they do. If your SSD isn’t equipped with a fan, and many aren’t, you’ll need to make sure that you have a way to cool it off to avoid thermal throttling.

One of the only fan-equipped Thunderbolt SSDs on the market is the Shell Thunder, which comes with smart fan technology, which helps the drive run smoothly while still staying quiet.

Durability

Many generic USB-C SSDs are branded as “rugged,” usually coming in a rubberized case or decked out with some other droppable plating. These types of SSDs are made to be carried around, especially useful if you’re prone to accidents. Enclosures in particular are good for this need, and the stronger metal it’s made out of, the less likely it is to break or dent.

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So, in summary, you can use a Thunderbolt SSD with your 2013 MacBook if it has an adapter or is made with an earlier Thunderbolt model. It can be difficult to find the right Thunderbolt SSD for your Apple MacBook, especially if it’s an older model, but it’s an investment that you should be willing to spend time researching.

If you’re looking for a Thunderbolt 3 SSD, you’re in luck. Try out the Fledging Shell Thunder, and you’ll be on your way to making your Apple Mac better.

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