Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C appear almost as often in the specifications of computers, cell phones and other technology products. Both are connector standards, but they work very differently, which can confuse buyers. To solve your doubts, we compare USB-C vs. Thunderbolt 3, the way they overlap and what are their strengths.
USB-C vs. Thunderbolt 3: how are they different?
USB-C is one of the latest versions of this port, which incorporates features highly anticipated by users, such as the possibility of introducing the connector in any orientation and the ability to deliver up to 100 watts of power to charge devices. This type of port also delivers data transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbps and supports video for 4K screens, although the connection needs adapters to correctly output audio data.
Thunderbolt, meanwhile, was developed by a partnership between Intel and Apple, from a combination of PCI Express, DisplayPort and DC power technologies. This transforms Thunderbolt into a versatile alternative for computers that still support this type of ports. Thunderbolt 3 is the fastest and most powerful version of this technology. As you can guess, they are available more frequently in Apple products, although other brands are also used.
In the comparison USB-C vs. Thunderbolt 3 the most complex comes now. The two technologies were separated for several years, on devices that were geared towards different types of users. With the passage of time, this was changing and they began to look alike. When USB-C arrived, both technologies were so similar that Thunderbolt was designed to only use USB-C ports. Then, companies began to provide USB-C connections with Thunderbolt 3 capabilities.
What functions does Thunderbolt 3 add?
Thunderbolt 3 goes one step further than what USB-C offers. Although it delivers many other functionalities, the key features of the connection include:
- Speeds of 40 Gbps, higher than what USB-C offers.
- Support for 2 4K screens or a 5K screen for video and audio outputs.
- Native audio support
- You need special cables for longer connections, which reduces data speed.
- Serial connection of multiple devices, connected and accessible from a computer.
- Compatibility with all devices that require Thunderbolt 3 connection, as well as USB.
A USB-C port may not be Thunderbolt 3?
S. Many USB-C ports do not have Thunderbolt 3 capabilities and only offer connections through the USB 3.1 (Gen 1 / Gen 2) protocol. At the moment, the ports have a name system that forces them to explicitly indicate “USB-C Thunderbolt 3”, so you can know that it supports both options. Devices with the capacity to use USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connections are being manufactured on both ports, as required.
Instead, a Thunderbolt 3 port, by design, also works as a USB-C. There are no separate ones, as there were with Thunderbolt. However, there are special cables that allow access to all connection capabilities, so it is something you should consider.
It happens to know if your USB-C is compatible with the standard Thunderbolt 3, they usually come with the small Thunderbolt logo, which is shaped like a lightning bolt. However, there are some exceptions, so always check the product specifications.
Is having only Thunderbolt 3 better than USB-C?
USB-C is far from being a bad port: it is faster and more versatile than past generations, with the ability to charge accessories for your devices. If you don't need one, you don't have to get a Thunderbolt 3 port. While USB4 is on its way, in a direct comparison, Thunderbolt 3 is superior in every way.
Why then do companies not convert all USB-C ports into Thunderbolt 3? You must remember that they spent many years as separate technologies that were competition. Although they are beginning to converge, device compatibility remains a problem.
Thunderbolt 3 connections require specialized hardware, which increases the cost of the devices. Some companies may not want to include this expense, especially in cheaper equipment. Other companies prefer to save by incorporating only one Thunderbolt 3 port, keeping the others as USB-C. This also facilitates the design and power of the device.
Last but not least, Thunderbolt 3 requires that the device be powered by Intel chips, thus discarding many products that do not use these processors from the first minute.