The USB Type-C port is at the head of almost all new gadgets, especially Apple MacBook models. While it combines power, data, and video into one, it’s one of the most confusing standards for users. Many people often assume that any regular USB-C cable will work with their MacBook to charge it or connect it to the monitor. Surely not. You need a specific USB-C cable to charge it or connect it to a premium Thunderbolt 3 monitor. So before you waste your money buying incompatible cables, read on.
First off, all MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, Mac Mini, and Mac Pro models released after 2016 carry a Thunderbolt 3 port. You’re not the only one who always wonders if you’re buying the right cable for. your MacBook to connect it to an external monitor. Of course, it is recommended that you use just one cable for a better connection and a clutter-free desktop. So, if you are planning to buy a monitor with USB-C, or if you already have one, there are a few things to keep in mind before choosing the right cable and monitor.
The USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port can provide speeds of up to 10 Gbps. So you get those speeds if you connect a compatible SSD or other device with a USB 3.1 port. One thing to note here is that the number is purely theoretical.
Meanwhile, Intel’s proprietary Thunderbolt 3 port can carry data at a speed of 40Gbps when connected to a hard drive or docking station. You may also note one of the advantages of the Thunderbolt 3 cable – it can double as a USB-C cable. However, you can use a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 cable to get Thunderbolt 3 quality speeds or features.
That said, the shape of the connector on USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 cables that support USB-C cables is the same. So how do you tell the difference and identify the right cable? Thunderbolt 3 cables that support USB-C cables have the Lightning Bolt symbol on both ports.
This is the biggest differentiator between the two cables, and only certified ones carry this symbol. You’ll also find it next to the USB-C ports on your MacBook. You should note that plugging the Thunderbolt 3 cable into a regular USB-C port transport device will only make it work like any other USB-C 3.1 cable.
So you need to check this lightning logo on the ports on the product photos and the actual cable to verify if it is a Thunderbolt 3 cable. To make it obvious, Thunderbolt 3s are a bit expensive than yours. Classic USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 cables. So you can buy a Thunderbolt 3 cable and use it for data transfers and charging as well. Regarding the charge, there is also a distinction.
Power supply and resolution support
USB-C can be used for power, transfer and video. USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 cables certified for Power Delivery can deliver up to 100 W. This means that you can use these cables with a USB-C connector compatible with Power Delivery to charge your MacBooks at 100 W. It also means that your MacBooks will charge faster than using a normal USB-C charger.
These USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 cables can also support video output through the special DisplayPort Alternate Mode layout and you can connect it directly to a DisplayPort or HDMI monitor.
Likewise, Apple Certified Thunderbolt 3 USB-C cables can also deliver power up to 100 W. If you have a Mac product released after 2016, you’re in for a treat. A typical Thunderbolt 3 cable can output 4K or 5K video resolution at 60Hz.
All of this means that you can use just one cable to charge your MacBook and also send a video signal to the monitor at the same time. However, the catch here is that the affected monitor has to support the delivered power charging technology to be worth it.
For example, the Philips 346B1C USB-C monitor supports Power Delivery up to 90 W. This means it is slightly below the full specification.
The best part is that Thunderbolt 3 also supports DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 2.0 features. If we’re talking about external monitors, then a single Thunderbolt 3 cable can drive a single 5K at 60Hz display or two 4K monitors at 60Hz (more on that later).
Now your main concern should be choosing the right monitor with the right Power Delivery support. You will get a few models like the LG 38WN95C UltraWide monitor providing power up to 94W.
When it comes to USB-C, unfortunately macOS doesn’t allow you to do much. If you connect two USB-C monitors, it will just result in a mirrored display.
Fortunately, the problem is quite the opposite when it comes to Thunderbolt 3. Here you can have a real extended screen via a serial connection. For those who don’t know, the 2019 family 16-inch MacBook Pro can power four 4K monitors via a daisy-chain connection when connected via Thunderbolt 3 cables. So, when it comes to daisy-chaining, Thunderbolt 3 l wins hands down.
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Which one to choose: Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C
From the comparison above, it’s pretty clear that Thunderbolt 3 offers more data transfer speeds, up to two 4K displays, and better serial connection support for macOS running MacBooks, Macs. Mini, iMac and Mac Pro. Things are not the same on the other side of the bridge. USB-C cannot double as Thunderbolt 3.
So you can choose the end-to-end Thunderbolt 3 chain by investing in a solid quality cable as well as a Thunderbolt 3 monitor like LG 27MD5KB-B or Samsung LC34J791WTWXXL. These monitors are quite expensive, and you can always get a USB-C monitor and choose one that offers USB-C output for chaining.
However, there is another way to get the most out of your MacBook’s Thunderbolt port if you are tight on your budget and still want 4K quality. You can purchase a 4K monitor with a DisplayPort 1.4 port and 144Hz refresh rate. Along with this, you will need a USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) to DisplayPort 1.4 cable to enjoy 4K resolution at 120Hz from your MacBook.
Looking to connect more than your monitor to your MacBook Pro? Check out the article below to find our recommendation for the best portable Thunderbolt 3 docking stations to boost your productivity.
Last updated on Dec 13, 2020
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