How can you tell the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C?

Answered by Stephen Mosley

To differentiate between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C cables, there are a few key factors to consider.

1. Cable End Identification: One of the easiest ways to tell the difference is by checking the cable ends. A Thunderbolt 3 cable will typically have a lightning bolt symbol printed on the cable head on both ends. This symbol represents the Thunderbolt technology. Some manufacturers may also include a “3” on the cable head to further distinguish it. On the other hand, a USB-C cable will not have any specific symbols or indications related to Thunderbolt technology.

2. Cable Shape: While USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 cables use the same physical connector, they have distinct shapes for the cable itself. Thunderbolt 3 cables usually have a flattened, rectangular shape compared to the more rounded shape of USB-C cables. This difference in shape can help identify Thunderbolt 3 cables at a glance.

3. Cable Speed and Capabilities: Thunderbolt 3 cables offer significantly higher data transfer speeds compared to USB-C cables. Thunderbolt 3 supports data transfers at up to 40 Gbps, whereas USB-C cables typically support data transfer speeds up to 10 Gbps for USB 3.1 Gen 2 or 20 Gbps for USB 3.2 Gen 2×2. Additionally, Thunderbolt 3 cables support various functionalities such as video output, power delivery, and daisy-chaining of multiple devices, which may not be available with USB-C cables.

4. Device Compatibility: Another way to identify the difference is by considering the devices you are connecting. If you have a Thunderbolt 3-enabled device, you will need a Thunderbolt 3 cable to fully utilize its capabilities. USB-C cables, on the other hand, can be used with various devices that support USB-C connectivity, but may not necessarily support Thunderbolt 3 features.

It’s worth noting that while Thunderbolt 3 cables are compatible with USB-C ports, not all USB-C cables are Thunderbolt 3 compatible. USB-C cables can vary in terms of their supported speed and capabilities, so it’s essential to check the specifications and ensure compatibility with the devices you’re using.

In summary, to tell the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C cables, you can check the cable ends for lightning bolt symbols, consider the cable shape, examine the cable’s speed and capabilities, and check the compatibility with your devices.