Direct 20 Gbps connection between Mac and Windows 11 machine with no Ethernet adapters

Problem statement

Here is the challenge. We have a MacBook Pro M2 and an Intel NUC 12th generation PC running Windows 11. We want to transfer a significant amount of data between the two and potentially sync content of 2 directories. The Mac has no Ethernet adapter.

Solution

Both machines support Thunderbolt 4 and USB4. I happen to have a 0.5 m (1.6 ft) Thunderbolt 4 cable in my tools bag. We connect the two machines back to back. They establish USB4 peer to peer 20/20 Gbps connection, and automatically assign locally significant IP addresses from the 169.254.0.0/16 APIPA range.

Direct MacBook to Intel NUC USB4 20/20 Gbps connection

The MacBook side

Let’s start with the Mac. Head over to System Settings and Network. Select the Thunderbolt Bridge adapter and explore its config.

Thunderbolt bridge interface and IP address

As far as I can tell, the machines have decided to use USB4. From what Windows network manager is telling us, they negotiated 20/20 Gbps link speed. I expected 40 Gbps but I think I set a wrong expectation in my head. 20 Gbps up and 20 Gbps down full duplex makes up 40 Gbps.

Windows PC on the other end of the Thunderbolt link

A quick iperf3 test gives us amazing throughput of 16.4 Gbps of TCP traffic from the Mac client to PC server. That’s fast!

16.4 Gbps of TCP traffic from Mac to PC

By default macOS uses standard MTU size of 1500 Bytes. This is important hold that thought.

Standard MTU

In the downstream direction, that is from Windows PC towards the Mac, we “only” get 5.3 Gbps. Windows claims 20/20 Gbps link speed, so what’s wrong?

Limited 5.3 Gbps TCP throughput from PC to Mac

Yes, we need to bump MTU (Maximum Transmission Unit) size to the maximum value of 9000 Bytes on my Mac. Apparently, Windows defaults to 62000 Bytes MTU on this peer to peer link type, and there is no UI option to change it. But that’s fine for now.

Enable Jumbo frame support on Mac

Let’s retest upload speed. Now we are talking. That’s 16.4 Gbps TCP from Mac to PC and 12.8 Gbps from PC to Mac. I am starting the file transfer.

12.8 Gbps TCP from PC to Mac with Jumbo frames enabled

We are not done yet.

Intel NUC and the Windows part

Windows sees this link as a peer to peer USB4 connection.

Connection status

The two machines negotiated a 20/20 Gbps link. Windows uses 62000 Bytes MTU by default with no obvious UI option to change it. Mac uses 9000 Bytes. MTU mismatch is bad and we should fix that.

20/20 Gbps USB4 P2P link
Adapter settings don’t offer MTU adjustment in the UI

Let’s deal with the MTU, and set it to 9000 Bytes on Windows. Same as the Mac.

Set MTU to 9000 Bytes on Windows 11 for this adapter

With matching MTU on both sides of the pipe, we get 15.1 Gbps TCP throughput from Mac to PC, and 13.6 Gbps from PC to Mac. Slightly more symmetrical in both directions.

Mac to PC
PC to Mac

Summary

I knew Thunderbolt 4 peer to peer connection was possible between 2 Macs but I’ve never tried connecting a Mac to a PC. It works.

Use a Thunderbolt 4 cable, not just a regular “USB-C to USB-C” cable. If there is a Mac involved, increase macOS MTU size to Jumbo 9000 Bytes and match MTU setting on both machines.

The outcome is a peer to peer 20/20 Gbps USB4 link with TCP throughput around 15 Gbps in either direction.

Published by

Jiri Brejcha

Jiri is passionate about mobility ranging from Wi-Fi to folding bikes;-) He is a Wi-Fi Technical Solutions Architect at Cisco UK, proud member of the Cisco Live Network Operations Center deployment team, and WLAN Pi development team. If he is not working, he is most likely riding his Brompton bike. All opinions are my own, not Cisco's.

2 thoughts on “Direct 20 Gbps connection between Mac and Windows 11 machine with no Ethernet adapters”

  1. Is it possible to connect an M1 Mac to Rog Ally in an ethernet way with just a Thunderbolt 4 cable? I want to use the M1 Mac to access Rog Ally’s remote desktop and use the keyboard and screen of the Mac to use Rog Ally as an affiliate Windows device for the M1 Mac.

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