What’s the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C, and which is better? Here’s a simple guide explaining that.
We can probably all agree that USB has become excessively complex over the past few years.
With USB-C, the situation has gotten a bit more streamlined since there are no longer many different types of connectors, brands, and speeds.
Recently, this connector has gained a lot of popularity, appearing on the front panels of PC cases, the rear panels of motherboards, as well as smartphones, laptops, and other products. Nonetheless, there are different specifications that use this port, so they cannot be identified at a glance.
With Alternate Mode specifications, one of which is Thunderbolt 3, which is also steadily gaining popularity among certain products. How does Thunderbolt 3 differ from “regular” USB-C?
This is the question we will answer in this article, so read on!
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What Is USB-C?
The USB-C connector is a type of USB connector, and USB (Universal Serial Bus) has introduced a wide variety of connectors over the years, the most well-known and recognizable of which is the USB Type A connector.
Before USB-C, a total of ten different USB connectors were introduced, all with different shapes and pin configurations. While some were more popular and longer-lasting than others, all have now been replaced by USB-C.
The USB Type C connector is very compact and symmetrical, with 24 pins – over twice as many as the standard Type A and B connectors. As far as size goes, it’s about the same as the 5-pin Micro USB connector, but since the connector is symmetrical, it doesn’t matter which way the cable is flipped, and that’s a small but welcome convenience.
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It’s important to note that USB-C is only the connector and the actual features and transfer speeds depend on which version of the USB interface it supports. USB-C supports all versions of USB from USB 2.0 to USB 3.2 and will be the only connector that supports.
What Is Thunderbolt 3?
Thunderbolt 3 is a hardware interface designed by Intel and Apple that uses the 24-pin USB-C connector. Thunderbolt’s first two iterations used Mini DisplayPort before Intel switched to USB-C due to the connector’s increasing popularity.
In the past, manufacturers had to pay hefty royalty fees if they wanted to use Thunderbolt 3, which is why Thunderbolt 3-equipped devices were relatively rare and so expensive.
In March 2019, this changed, and OEMs are no longer required to pay fees to implement Thunderbolt technology in their products. However, all Thunderbolt devices still need to be certified by Intel in order to be approved.
Due to its high transfer speeds, Thunderbolt 3 is commonly found in Apple products, laptops, some motherboards, and in external GPU enclosures.
However, Thunderbolt 4 was released in July 2020, and it retains the same data transfer speeds but adds some new features that were absent from Thunderbolt 3. This includes USB4 support, dual 4K display support, and DisplayPort 2.0 support.
USB vs Thunderbolt 3
USB-C is just a connector, while Thunderbolt 3 is a type of hardware interface that uses this connector, therefore comparing the two would be like comparing apples to oranges.
Rather, if you wanted to compare Thunderbolt 3’s speeds with those offered by USB, you would need to compare it with one of the different versions of the USB interface supported by USB-C, and those can be found below.
|USB 2.0||1.5-480 Mbit/s|
|USB 3.0||5 Gbit/s|
|USB 3.1 Gen 1 (SuperSpeed)||5 Gbit/s|
|USB 3.1 Gen 2(SuperSpeed+)||10 Gbit/s|
|USB 3.2 Gen 1×1 (SuperSpeed)||5 Gbit/s|
|USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 (SuperSpeed+)||10 Gbit/s|
|USB 3.2 Gen 1×2 (SuperSpeed+)||10 Gbit/s|
|USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (SuperSpeed+)||20 Gbit/s|
|Thunderbolt 3||40 Gbit/s|
|Thunderbolt 4||40 Gbit/s|
Check the specification sheet of a USB-C-equipped device to find out which version of USB it supports.
Hence, as you can see from the table above, Thunderbolt 3 is significantly faster than USB 3.2, although USB4 has caught up in that respect, since it is actually based on Thunderbolt 3.
USB4 will be compatible with Thunderbolt 3 and 4, as well as older versions of USB. Furthermore, Thunderbolt 4 is a minor update that will add a few extra features but won’t drastically increase speeds.