Connectivity is one of those things that we’ve become so reliant upon, and it feels like we can’t get through our days without it. From devices to peripherals, adapters, and a whole load more, the need for it seems never-ending. But with advances being made in new technologies of late, the need to migrate from old pieces of technology to new ones has never been higher. So how does Thunderbolt compare to USB C? Are they compatible? And what are the similarities and differences between the two? This comparison guide outlines all you need to know about Thunderbolt and USB-C.

Thunderbolt vs USB C: Side-by-Side Comparison

ThunderboltUSB C
What it is  an interface technology that provides bandwidth speeds up to 10 Gbpsa new reversible cable that allows faster data transfer and charging of devices
Primary Use  To allow the users to connect several external devices to the computer.  connect a computer to another computer, or connect a computer to an external monitor
Conceived20092013
Initial release20112016
Compatibility  Compatible with most existing USB C ports and connectorsincompatible with Thunderbolt ports
Data transfer  Fast, 40 Mbps data speed.Slow, 20 Gbps data speed  
Cost  ExpensiveRelatively cheaper

Thunderbolt vs USB C: Seven Must-Know Facts

  • In 2011, Intel released its first Thunderbolt controller. The port uses two bi-directional 20 Gbit/s channels—each with a bandwidth of 10 Gbit/s bidirectional (2×5 Gbit/s) or 20 Gbit/s in one direction (1×10 Gbit/s + 1×5 Gbit/s). It was at one time marketed as Light Peak by Intel. The name comes from technology used to achieve very high data rates over very short distances.
  • Thunderbolt is similar to DisplayPort and PCI Express in that it is designed for interfacing peripherals to computers and connecting them together without a host CPU. However, it differs from these standards as it can work both ways – from computer to device and vice versa. This allows Thunderbolt devices to be daisy-chained together without using repeaters as other technologies require.
  • Thunderbolt and USB-C are two types of technology that transfer data between computer systems and a variety of peripherals (e.g., memory card readers, hard drives, displays).
  • Both technologies offer benefits over their predecessors, though neither is perfect for every situation. It is important to note that both technologies require compatible cables, ports, and supporting hardware to function correctly; it is also essential to keep abreast of software updates as they will significantly influence functionality across platforms.
  • USB C is a relatively new option for USB connections and is an effective replacement for many other connection types. USB C is versatile, capable of transferring 5Gb/s, which is 10 times faster than USB 3.1 Gen 1 at 2.5Gb/s and can “power a system and charge a laptop.” That’s not where its benefits end with Thunderbolt 3, and it can transfer data, video and power in one cable!
  • The USB connector was created by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), a consortium of firms that has developed, certified, and shepherded the USB standard over the years. Apple, Dell, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Samsung are among the more than 700 companies that make up the USB-IF. As a result, USB-C ports are now found on a wide range of new gadgets in many tech sectors. USB-C is used to charge batteries, transfer data, or both in hard drives, smartphones, and smart home devices.
  • Almost all USB 3.1 devices include USB-C ports, with some capable of providing 100 watts at 20 volts and 10 gigabits per second. The recharging capabilities of USB-C are unique. The output power allows larger devices, such as smartphones, to be charged without additional charging cables.

Summary of Thunderbolt vs USB C

Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt, released in 2011 by Intel, is an interface technology that provides bandwidth speeds up to 10 Gbps. That’s 10 gigabits per second! It’s fast—really fast. You can transfer a 4K video from one computer to another in a mere minute or so. And since it operates over a single cable, you don’t have to worry about having multiple cables connected and figuring out which one goes where. In short, Thunderbolt gives you more speed and simplicity than its main competitor (and predecessor), USB 3.0/3.1 Gen 1/Gen 2 Type-C (USB-C).

How fast do Thunderbolt cables transfer data?

Thunderbolt 2 can transfer data at speeds up to 20 Gbps—twice as fast as USB 3.0. That means it’ll move one gigabyte of data in around five seconds. What’s more, Thunderbolt cables are bi-directional, meaning they can be used for both sending and receiving data. (USB 3.0 cables only work one way.) However, not all Thunderbolt ports support bi-directional transfers—lookout for bi-directional or multi-purpose packaging if you want a cable that works both ways.

Pros!Cons!
Thunderbolt is a fast technology; it has more bandwidth available than other types of connections.
Thunderbolt is only compatible with Mac computers, but its adoption rate is growing because many developers are producing Thunderbolt-compatible devices
Thunderbolt can transfer data at a rate of 40 Gbps, while a USB 3.1 will do it at 10 Gbps, and a USB 3.0 will do the same at only 5 Gbps.
Security vulnerabilities; susceptible to option ROM attacks
Flexibility
More expensive than USB C
It has a three-in-one option; it combines DisplayPort and PCI Express in two serial data streams apart from a DC connection for the additional power.
Has a smaller ecosystem
Higher bandwidth

USB C

USB Type-C is a new reversible cable that allows faster data transfer and charging of devices. Connectivity is easier than ever before. The USB C also has a smart feature, meaning it can tell which way to plug it in, so you don’t have to worry about which side goes up or down. Many different companies have their version of a USB Type-C cable (Apple uses their Lightning Cable for iPhones), so make sure to check if your device supports it before purchasing any accessories. 

Pros!Cons!
Unlike previous versions of USB cables, it supports transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbps.
Although many think of it as next-generation technology, it is slow compared to what was expected.
It comes with a sleeker design. At first glance, you can’t tell them apart from existing connectors.Its different applications and interface compatibilities cause confusion. For example, just because a device has a USB C port doesn’t ensure it supports the latest USB version or additional USB capabilities like USB Power Delivery or Alternate Mode.
Supports modern USB versions
Has extensive usability and applications

Thunderbolt vs USB C: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?

The introduction of Thunderbolt with Mac laptops has brought about a new protocol and interface for external peripherals. As more external devices support Thunderbolt, it can be useful and convenient. This is why you might want to use a Thunderbolt port when connecting your laptop to an external display or hard drive. However, you may also wonder what differentiates Thunderbolt from other protocols like USB-C.

While it may seem logical to choose the more advanced Thunderbolt 3 connector over a standard USB-C port whenever possible, the choice isn’t always so straightforward. You may not even have to select between the two in many circumstances. Take the most fundamental feature of either port: charging a battery. There’s often little difference in the ability of each port to charge the laptop’s battery on laptops that allow charging their internal battery over USB-C and that have a mix of USB-C-style connectors, some of which support Thunderbolt 3 and some of which don’t (though there are some exceptions).

As a result, there is no apparent winner between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C. They’re simply different, and each excels in a distinct set of scenarios. If history is any indicator, they’ll both be supplanted by a new standard in a few years—perhaps the still-developing USB4—and there’ll be a whole new set of differences to understand and intricacies to unravel.

Thunderbolt vs USB C: Full Comparison FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is thunderbolt and USB C?

Both Thunderbolt and USB-C are connection protocols. While it may seem like they do many of the same things, they actually serve two very different purposes.

What are thunderbolt and USB C used for?

The most common use for Thunderbolt is now data transfer from an external hard drive or flash storage device to a laptop or a desktop computer. USB C is similar in that it allows you to connect devices to your laptop or desktop computer, but it does so using a different kind of connector than previous versions of USB.

When were thunderbolt and USB C developed?

Thunderbolt technology was developed in 2009 by Intel, while USB 3.1 (which encompasses both Type-C and Type-A ports) was developed over a more extended period and released in 2013.

Which is faster, Thunderbolt or USB C?

Thunderbolt. While the Thunderbolt 3 will transfer data at 40 Gbps, a USB 3.1 will do it at 10 Gbps, and a USB 3.0 will do the same at only 5 Gbps.

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