When it comes to buying a modern laptop, there is one factor that confuses everyone, including tech savvies is choosing between USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. Although USB-C was introduced by USB-IF and Thunderbolt 3 is based on Thunderbolt technology developed by Intel, they share certain factors in common, and the main one is the similar port size and form factor.
Basically, Thunderbolt 3 has integrated USB Type C’s form factor to make it a universal port that can be used for connecting multiple devices without needing extra ports. However, buyers, especially individuals who will be using Thunderbolt ports for the first time, really get perplexed with their choice.
That is why we have come up with this article, where we will discuss the difference between USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 to give you a better understanding of the two ports.
But before we dive right into the difference between USB-C and Thunderbolt 3, we would like you to know about the two interfaces. By knowing about the two interfaces, it will help you to understand the difference between the two.
Thunderbolt 3 is the third generation of Thunderbolt technology interface developed by Intel. It was co-developed by Apple, and the main motto was to make it a universal interface for all devices.
It was integrated with the USB-C interface so that it could be utilized to connect a large number of peripheral devices. This protocol is known for its 40 Gbps high-speed data transfer rate, which ensures top-notch performance between a laptop and external HDD, graphics, and other devices.
It also achieves a 16 Gbps transfer rate for PCIe connectivity which is an incredible feat. Due to its high bandwidth, this interface also comes with the capability to connect one external 5K monitor or two 4K displays at a 60Hz refresh rate, thus allowing you to have a multi-monitor setup.
Moreover, it replaces DisplayPort and HDMI cables to help you to utilize one cable for all types of connections. Another facility that serves as a major highlight of this interface is its daisy-chaining facility, where it can go up to four devices from one interface and that too without compromising on the performance.
It not only reduces cable cluttering in both desktop and laptop setups but makes sure of the availability of other ports for connecting separate sets of peripheral devices. Besides, Thunderbolt 3 comes with the capability to deliver power up to 100-watt through the Power Delivery protocol, and it is sufficient to charge large devices like laptops, smartphones, printers, etc. However, the device that doesn’t adhere to the Power Delivery protocol, it can still offer charging up to 15-watt.
USB Type C
USB Type C is undoubtedly the most popular among the two, and it has been present in the market for a long time. Not only do a large number of peripheral devices utilize this interface, but it will be widely used by manufacturers in their laptops, PCs, and various others.
It has a similar oval shape as the Thunderbolt 3, but it doesn’t have stringent certification, and that is why its USB C cables are sold by a large number of brands. USB Type C archives a maximum speed of 20 Gbps depending upon the cable, port, and SuperSpeed rating in the port.
However, if you use a USB-C on a USB 3.1 port, then the maximum speed you will get is 10 Gbps irrespective of the rating on the port. This port is not only about high speed but also about massive power delivery, and it can deliver power up to 100-watt, which is similar to Thunderbolt 3.
However, devices don’t adhere to the Power Delivery protocol; USB-C can only deliver power up to 2.5-watt. Like its competitor, USB-C can also help you connect your laptop to an external monitor, and the resolution can go up to a 4K monitor.
What Are The Main Differences Between USB C and Thunderbolt 3
USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 might look the same to you from the outside, but both interfaces differ from each other in different aspects. Even though they look the same, not all USB-C support Thunderbolt 3, and not all Thunderbolt 3 can be called USB-C. Let’s check out those aspects where Thunderbolt 3 differs largely from USB-C interfaces;
Data Transfer Speed
Thunderbolt 3 serves as a superior option when it comes to comparison with USB-C. The former interface offers a maximum data transfer rate of 40 Gbps, while the latter option can only go up to 20 Gbps. The speed of USB-C also gets halved for different port connectivity.
Most importantly, when connected to PCIe devices, Thunderbolt 3 can achieve a speed of 16 Gbps which is highly useful when you connect external graphics cards. Due to high bandwidth support, connecting Virtual Reality headsets is quite easy and you get an impressive performance.
Support For External Monitor
With both Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C interfaces, you can connect your laptop to an external monitor. With USB-C, you can only connect up to one 4K monitor, but with Thunderbolt 3, you can connect up to two 4K monitors at a 60Hz refresh rate. However, if you connect, the resolution goes up to a 5K monitor, and it is mainly due to the high bandwidth coverage.
Serial Connection To Multiple Devices
Intel has introduced a daisy chaining facility with Thunderbolt 3, where you can connect up to 4 devices from one interface in the laptop. It is highly useful for reducing cable cluttering. But you can’t do the same with USB-C as it can connect only one device at a time.
Native Audio Support
Thunderbolt 3 offers transfer of both audio and video signal through its interface; thus, you get native audio support with it. The audio quality isn’t compromised during the connectivity. USB-C doesn’t offer the same native audio support as Thunderbolt 3, and you will have to utilize a converter to get proper audio output.
By the above fact, you must have already guessed, Thunderbolt 3 is more versatile than USB-C. The Thunderbolt 3 can support a large number of ports which includes PCIe, DisplayPort, DC power, and USB protocols but USB-C is quite limited in such support.
Although USB-C also offers backward compatibility to many devices, it doesn’t shine in the same manner as Thunderbolt 3 in terms of versatility.
USB-C can deliver a power of 2.5-watt to devices that don’t follow the Power Delivery protocol, which is quite low. However, you won’t face the same issue with Thunderbolt 3 as it can deliver up to 15-watt of power which is sufficient to connect different peripheral devices.
Despite Thunderbolt 3 being superior to USB-C, the latter is still widely used in different devices. A large number of manufacturers still use USB-C in their devices as the number of laptops, smartphones, or PCs having USB-C is much larger than Thunderbolt 3.
Moreover, average users are more familiar with USB-C ports as they are widely used for day-to-day usage. Thunderbolt 3 is mostly limited to Intel and Apple-based products, so they don’t have a wide reach like USB-C. The number of peripheral devices supporting this interface is quite less, so it isn’t that many available as USB-C.
All Thunderbolt 3 cables come with certification, which ensures that you will get all the functionality and ensure performance. However, not all USB-C cables come with certification and the manufacturer has the ability to choose which functionalities they want to include.
Cost Of The Cables
Since USB-IF doesn’t have a stringent certification policy that is why USB-C cables come at varying costs. Some manufacturers sell them at low cost by either compromising on the quality or by putting limitations. However, all Thunderbolt 3 cables come with a high price point, and it is mainly due to the certification and quality testing.
USB-C vs. Thunderbolt 3: Which One You Should Choose?
USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are both highly efficient interfaces that have a lot to offer when it comes to connecting peripheral devices to computers. Moreover, both the interfaces share the same interface shape and form factor which makes them not only compatible with each but also many other ports.
However, as a user, if you are looking for high data speed, huge compatibility, and modern functionalities, then Thunderbolt 3 serves as the clear winner. Importantly, it is compatible with a lot of ports and connectivities so that you won’t have problems connecting various types of peripheral devices.
If you connect a USB-C device through Thunderbolt 3, you will find some limitations in the performance. Significantly, Thunderbolt 3 is limited to Intel and Apple devices, so it doesn’t have a large ecosystem of devices.
In contrast, USB-C is quite popular in the market and you will find a lot of devices supporting this interface. However, you won’t get the same performance and functionalities as Thunderbolt 3. So if you are concentrating on performance and won’t mind limitations in availability, Thunderbolt 3 should be your target.