Mac – How can one connect more high-speed external devices to a 13-inch, year 2020 MacBook Pro

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My 13-inch MacBook Pro was shipped brand-new from Apple in March 2020. It has only two receptacles (physical sockets or holes into which one can plug a device), both Thunderbolt-3, on the left side. These are occupied by my LG Electronics Ultrafine 27-inch external monitor and the power cord. (The receptacle on the right appears to be for a microphone.)

A previous MacBook Pro, purchased 2015, had plenty of old-fashioned USB Type A receptacles. On that machine:

  • I regularly backed up via Time Machine onto a LaCie Porsche Design external, mechanical (spinning) HD. (For backup, I favor physical, spinning HD over solid state alias SSD, because they are less likely to lose all my data if something goes wrong.)
  • I used another, identical LaCie external HD for transferring large blocks of data to other computers.
  • Occasionally, I plugged a flash drive into the USB receptacle to transfer small files.
  • And I plugged an external SuperDrive into the USB receptacle to watch DVD movies.

I need to keep accomplishing all these tasks on the new computer. But it appears that the current, 2020 computer simply is not designed for attaching devices via wires plugged into physical receptacles.

I have already purchased three different adapters for this macbook pro:

  1. Satechi USB-C multiport
  2. HyperDrive DUO 7-in-2 USB-C HUB for Mac
  3. Apple USB-C AV Multiport Adapter

None of these support the external monitor. The first 2 will not support the SuperDrive. The third will accept the SuperDrive, but it has only one USB Type A receptacle. Thus, if I want to watch a movie, I have to unplug the Time Machine disk. And then remember to re-plug the Time Machine disk after the movie.

In view of all this, is there a way to connect external devices — DVD player, spinning mechanical 2T hard drives, flash drives —
via Bluetooth or via my Wi-Fi router? For instance, can I purchase an external spinning HD and an external DVD driver which will connect to this MacBook Pro either by Bluetooth or via my wireless network (Wi-Fi router)? Can an external monitor be connected by Bluetooth or via Wi-Fi and handle internet streaming and movies?

How can I perform large data transfers and watch DVD movies on this MacBook Pro?

Best Answer

Assuming your "LG Electronics Ultrafine 27-inch external monitor" is the 27MD5KL 5K display that Apple co-developed with LG and resells through the online Apple store, then it's important to note a few things:

  1. That display needs to be connected directly to an actual Thunderbolt 3 port, not just any USB Type-C port. Some of the external USB hubs/docks/port-replicators you mentioned are NOT Thunderbolt 3 devices, they're just USB 3.x over USB Type-C. So they are incapable of passing the Thunderbolt 3 signals that your display requires, as you've already found.
  2. That display has a built-in 85W charger, which is plenty for your 13" MBP. Stop using your Apple charger at your desk; just plug your MBP into your display's Thunderbolt 3 cable and your display will charge your MBP. This leaves a Thunderbolt 3 capable USB Type-C port free on your MBP.
  3. That display has 3 downstream USB Type-C ports that do 5 Gbps USB 3.x gen 1 "SuperSpeed". If you have any USB peripherals that need 5Gbps or less, you should plug them into those ports. You can get cheap passive Type-C to Type-A adapters, or you could plug in a USB hub or one of your existing docks/port-replicators that you already mentioned. By putting your USB peripherals downstream of your display, you end up with just a single cable to plug into your MBP when you set it down at your desk.

If you have a peripheral that needs more than 5Gbps, it will have to connect via your MBP's second Thunderbolt 3 port, which is now free since you won't be using it for charging any more.

  • If your peripherals that need more than 5Gbps only need 10 Gbps USB 3.x gen 2 (SuperSpeed+) speeds, and you have more than one such peripheral, you could plug in a 10Gbps-capable USB 3.x hub.
  • If your peripherals that need more than 5Gbps need Thunderbolt (30-40Gbps) speeds or features, then you'll either have to connect them directly to the MBP's spare Thunderbolt 3 port, or you'll have to get some kind of Thunderbolt 3 dock that contains pass-through Thunderbolt 3 ports, not just USB ports. Note that a true Thunderbolt 3 dock must be connected to a true Thunderbolt 3 port. So you wouldn't be able to connect it to one of the downstream USB Type-C ports on the back of the LG 27MD5KL, because those three ports are not Thunderbolt 3; they're only 5Gbps USB 3.x gen 1 SuperSpeed over a USB Type-C connector.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are slow in comparison and thus are terrible choices for the kinds of high-bandwidth mass storage and video peripherals you've been talking about. It's hard to make Wi-Fi reach even 1Gbps, and it's usually a lot more like USB 2.0's ~480Mbps. Bluetooth is way worse; it's only good for 1-2 Mbps, limiting it to audio devices like headsets and speakers, and low-bandwidth input devices like mice and keyboards.