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Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C - What is the difference?

Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C - What is the difference?

Thunderbolt 3 and USB Type-C.
Unfortunately, this is not a simple question to answer. USB Type-C is a connector type that supports various iterations of USB technology whereas Thunderbolt 3 is its own hardware interface. But utilizes the USB-C connector. The two don't fall under the same categories so they aren't easy to compare. Under the naked eye though these two connectors look extremely similar and can be used in similar capacities.

USB has a long and needlessly complicated past. Just try googling a chart of all the different USB generation ports their specs and compatibility if you've got the time and you'll see what we're talking about, it's a mess. Thankfully, we don't need to know this history lesson to use and appreciate the USB connection today.

It had its successes. It had its mistakes. And now with the help of USB Type-C, it's slowly becoming more agile than ever. But here's the thing, many technologies utilize this connector now. One such technology is Thunderbolt 3. And quite frankly, it can be difficult to distinguish USB-C from Thunderbolt 3 at a glance.

That's why in this article, we will be talking about this topic. So comparison and understanding are useful in knowing which one is best suited to your needs. So, let's begin by introducing the two terms. We'll start with USB Type-C as it does hold seniority over Thunderbolt 3.

​What Is USB-C?

Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C - What is the difference?

USB Type-C is one in a long line of USB connectors before USB Type-C. We've had no fewer than 10 different USB connectors, all with different shapes and pin configurations. USB which stands for ''Universal Serial Bus''. Now granted, not all 10 connectors have seen as wide an implementation. USB Type-A still remains the most popular type.
Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C - What is the difference?

This is the connector that most peripherals use. But all of them, USB Type-A included are slowly being supplanted by USB Type-C and while the knee-jerk reaction to this adds to most types of change may be negative. This isn't a bad thing. USB Type-C is compact and symmetrical.

In saying this, though, USB Type-C is slowly replacing USB Type-A. USB Type-C is compact and symmetrical not forgetting its best feature the flipper ability. Leaving behind the USB Type-A awkwardness and needing to constantly flip the connector to plug it in. Also, USB Type-A is big and the connector slot requires a wide section on the side of the computer which is a look of the past with the ever-decreasing width of a laptop and monitor designs nowadays.

Sure having to flip the USB Type-A plug a few times before you can insert it into the connector isn't a huge deal but it is an inconvenience that USB Type-C will eliminate.

Furthermore, USB Type-C features a grand total of 24 connectors that's more than twice as many connectors there are in USB Type-A.
USB-C cables allow you to charge your USB-C enabled device up to 3 amps.
With a USB-C 3.1 cable, you can power your devices up to 100 watts.
When you connect your mobile device to a USB-C computer you can transfer data such as photos videos and audio files up to 10 gigabytes per second.

But here's where things get a little tricky. USB Type-C is just a connector. It isn't a type of interface. It supports all of the USB technologies from USB 2.0 to the newly released USB 4.0. USB 4.0 will only support USB Type-C connectors but USB Type-C connectors will still be compatible with older versions of the USB interface.

Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C - What is the difference?

With its compact but powerful versatile design and capabilities technologies are beginning to utilize the connector, now one of them being Thunderbolt.

We know, it's kind of complicated but we wouldn't be pointing it out if it weren't relevant and it's relevant because the same doesn't hold for Thunderbolt 3.

What Is Thunderbolt 3?

Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C - What is the difference?

Thunderbolt 3 is a type of hardware interface developed by Intel and Apple that uses the 24 pin USB Type-C connector. This was the first iteration of the Thunderbolt technology to utilize the USB Type-C connector but it won't be the last. As it's been revealed that the Thunderbolt 4 interface will continue this tradition.

It used to be that manufacturers had to pay a hefty royalty fee, in order to implement Thunderbolt 3 in their products, which is why so few devices utilized it and why those that did were so expensive to begin with. But as of March 2019, OEMs no longer have to pay any royalties to use this interface.

The first Thunderbolt connection was released in 2010 at first only available on Apple devices. Designed to be an incredibly powerful and flexible connection. It was particularly promising for designers or engineers reusing laptops but still needed high-powered connections to external storage, high-resolution displays, or similar accessories

So, expect to see more devices with Thunderbolt 3 support. As of the writing of this article, however, Thunderbolt 3 is still most commonly found in Apple products, laptops, some motherboards, and external GPU enclosures.

External GPU enclosures favor Thunderbolt 3. Overall the other available types of hardware interfaces for their high transfer speeds. It doesn't quite match a direct connection via PCI express but it does come close which is hugely important for graphics cards.

Thunderbolt architects made a rather brilliant decision when faced with USB-C. They have joined in with this new design. They have dropped the old Mini DisplayPort connector and switched to the USB-C connector. The move from USB-C, combining the two technologies into a particularly robust hybrid, allowed Thunderbolt 3 to be expanded from Apple devices to other PCs and laptops.

A process that is running but is finally possible. Thunderbolt 3 ports look exactly the same as USB-C ports and are actually physically identical from a connector plug-in point of view. In many cases, they do everything a USB-C port can accept very quickly. In fact, Thunderbolt 3 is a superset of USB-C, you can plug a USB-C device into a Thunderbolt 3 port on a computer and it will work just fine.

Interestingly enough, Thunderbolt 4 won't see an increase in transfer speeds. It'll only introduce some new other features like dual 4K display support. So if new graphics cards start to take full advantage of the PCI express 4.0 interface then Thunderbolt 4 might not be able to keep up with newer graphics cards.

Here are some things you can do with Thunderbolt 3 ports today.

  1. Transmit data at a rate of 40 gigabytes per second. Depending on the configurations, output video to 4k monitors at 60 hertz.
  2. Charge smartphones and most laptops up to 100 watts of power.
  3. Connect to an external GPU depending on the configurations as well. Many other Thunderbolt 3 equipped devices especially laptops have a mix of USB-C ports with and without Thunderbolt 3 capabilities.

There are usually clear identifiable depictions of a bolt of funder located next to the relevant ports. Meanwhile, USB-C ports that lack Thunderbolt 3 capabilities may be labeled with the USB Super-Speed SS logo along with a number indicating the port's peak speed.

Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C - What is the difference?

At this given time, though Thunderbolt 3 is still only commonly seen on Apple devices. Although, you do see Thunderbolt 3 and external GPUs because they favor this hardware interface over the rest for its high transfer speeds.

So now, that we know what USB Type-C is and what Thunderbolt 3 is. Let's highlight some of the differences between Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C.

USB vs. Thunderbolt 3

Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C - What is the difference?

To start with, we have to point out that comparing USB Type-C specifically with Thunderbolt 3 is a bit like comparing Apples and Oranges. Just because they're both fruit doesn't mean direct comparisons can be made. As I've mentioned, USB Type-C is just a connector, whereas Thunderbolt 3 is the type of hardware interface that utilizes the USB Type-C connector.

In a vacuum, there is no comparison to be had here. But if we limit the USB Type-C to a single USB technology then we can at least make some comparisons. Thunderbolt 3 has a data transfer speed of 40 gigabits per second. Conversely, USB 2.0 features a max speed of 480 megabits per second.

Granted this is the slowest connection compatible with USB Type-C but even if we take USB 3.2 gen 2x2 super speed plus ''yes'' that is the full name of that technology. We're still looking at 20 gigabits per second cap. And this is easily the fastest USB technology available.

Everything in between it and USB 3.0 has data transfer speeds of 5 to 10 gigabits per second. So yes, it must be apparent why exterior GPU enclosures relied on Thunderbolt 3. It's faster than any previous USB technology. This is going to change now that both USB 4.0 and Thunderbolt 4 are set to feature a speed cap of 40 gigabits per second but until that happens Thunderbolt 3 will remain the king of speed.

Which port should you use Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C?

While it may seem obvious that you should use the more advanced Thunderbolt 3 port over the regular USB-C one whenever you can. The decision isn't always this simple. In many cases, you don't even need to choose between the two at all to see why take the most basic capabilities from either port.

Charging a battery, no changes in the data transparent speed. When connecting a device like a laptop that supports Thunderbolt 3 and a device like an external hard drive or a phone that only supports USB-C.

Basically, if you're using the connector for a very basic and not heavily databased task, USB Type-C would serve the purpose very well. But there are a few cases in which you should dock for Thunderbolt 3 where possible, even, if it means opting for a more expensive device. This is mostly true for media professionals who frequently copy a lot of images and video footage and from external drives, for creative pros working on a late model mac, all of which support Thunderbolt 3.

It's a no-brainer to buy a Thunderbolt 3 external drive to reduce the time spent waiting for data to transfer to be complete. As a result, neither Thunderbolt 3 nor USB-C is a clear winner. They're just different and each one excels in different use cases.


USB Type-C is a connector type that supports various iterations of USB technology. Thunderbolt 3 is its own hardware interface but it uses the USB Type-C connector. If we compare Thunderbolt 3 and USB overall, in terms of speed, Thunderbolt 3 is pretty fast. So which connector you will be using? In any case, I hope you found this article helpful.  You can let me know if you have by sharing it with friends and leaving a comment.


Q. Is DisplayPort the same as Thunderbolt 3?

A. DisplayPort is a type of digital display interface that can be used to connect a video source to a display device. The specification for DisplayPort is maintained by the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA). The DisplayPort connector is used on newer computer monitors and televisions. The first version of DisplayPort was released in 2006. DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort, via adapters, can connect to all other modern display interfaces including HDMI, DVI, and VGA.

DisplayPort supports the following resolutions and refresh rates.

DisplayPort 1.2: Supports up to 4K at 60Hz, some 1.2a ports may also support AMD's FreeSync and Nvidia's G-Sync technologies.
DisplayPort 1.3: Supports up to 4K at 120Hz or 8K at 30Hz.
DisplayPort 1.4: Supports up to 8K at 60Hz and HDR.
DisplayPort 2.0: Supports 16K with HDR at 60Hz and 10K without HDR at 80Hz.

Q. Is thunderbolt and USB c compatible?

A. Thunderbolt and USB C are compatible with each other. USB-C cables are compatible with Thunderbolt ports, and USB-C ports are compatible with Thunderbolt cables. 

Q. Is Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C compatible?

A. The first Thunderbolt connection was released in 2010 at first only available on Apple's MacBook pro but Thunderbolt 3 universalized the technology and made it compatible with USB-C.

Q. Is USB-C 3.1 the same as Thunderbolt 3?

A. The USB-C 3.1 specification is not the same as Thunderbolt 3. The main difference between the two technologies is bandwidth. Thunderbolt 3 is an Intel technology that offers speeds up to 40Gbps, whereas USB-C 3.1 has a max speed of 10Gbps.

Q. Can I plug a USB into a thunderbolt 3 port?

A. Yes, USB-C cables are compatible with Thunderbolt ports, and USB-C ports are compatible with Thunderbolt cables.

Q. Why is Thunderbolt 3 so expensive?

A. Thunderbolt 3 is expensive because of its length. It is the first standard to support 40 Gbps data transfers, and it is much faster than the previous version.

Q. How do I know if my cable is Thunderbolt 3?

A. The Thunderbolt 3 cable is reversible, meaning you can plug it in from either side, and it's also much thinner than previous cables. If you're still not sure, the plug will have a Thunderbolt symbol on it.

Q. Do I really need Thunderbolt 3?

A. Thunderbolt 3 is a new, fast, and versatile port that can transfer data at up to 40 Gbps. It also supports up to 100 watts of power, so you can charge your laptop through the port. The Thunderbolt is worth it for those who want to daisy-chain multiple 4K monitors. It is not worth it to purchase a Thunderbolt if you only use a single monitor.

Q. Is Thunderbolt 3 better & faster than USB c?

A. Thunderbolt 3 is faster than USB-C because it uses an entirely different technology. Thunderbolt 3 is a high-speed, low-latency protocol that supports up to 40 Gbps, and can support up to 100 watts of power delivery, whereas USB-C is limited to 10 Gbps.

Q. Is USB-C the same as USB 3?

A. USB-C is not the same as USB 3. One is a type of USB connector thinner than the old USB connector, while the other is a speed standard for USB cables that can carry significantly more power. The USB-C connector is reversible, meaning it can be plugged in upside down, and it also supports faster data transfer speeds. The USB-C connector is also thinner than the old USB connector. The USB-C connector can also be used to charge devices like laptops. 

Q. Can Thunderbolt 3 Do 4K 120hz?

A. It is important to note that Thunderbolt 3 can technically support two 4K monitors, one 5K, or one 4K at 120 Hz per port.

Q. Is Thunderbolt 3 better than HDMI?

A. With Thunderbolt 3, you can achieve data transfer speeds 8 times faster than USB 3.0. If you have a high-resolution display that needs a lot of bandwidth, then Thunderbolt 3 is the way to go because it has more video bandwidth than HDMI.

Q. Does Thunderbolt 3 charge faster than USB-C?

A. Devices with Power Delivery protocol are charged at up to 100 watts, which is the same as USB-C. Thunderbolt 3 is capable of charging devices faster than USB-C when it comes to Macbook Pro where you can get faster charging and data transfer speeds.

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