What is Thunderbolt, and what’s the difference between USB-C and Thunderbolt 3?

Posted on Posted in Talking Tech

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I’m pretty sure you’ve heard about Apple’s new MacBook Pro, and how it only has four USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports, but what exactly is Thunderbolt, and what does USB-C have to do with Thunderbolt 3? That’s what I’m about to explain, so take a seat and get comfortable.

Thunderbolt is a port found  on computers, and it was developed by Intel in partnership with Apple. Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 combined PCI Express and DisplayPort into a single connection, that’s why the Mini DisplayPort is used to house the Thunderbolt 1 and 2 technology. With Thunderbolt you can connect up to six peripherals at a time, such as monitors, storage devices, etc. You can also plug-in USB peripherals as long as you have the correct adapter, but those connections won’t run at Thunderbolt speeds.

Speaking of Thunderbolt speeds, Thunderbolt 1 and 2 both can transfer data up two 20 Gbps in either direction, meaning that it can transfer and receive data at the same time. Thunderbolt 3 can transfer data at speeds up to 40 Gbps per second, two times the speed of Thunderbolt 1 and 2, and four times the speed of USB-C by itself at only 10 Gbps per second.

Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 were found in the Mini DisplayPort, but that all changed with Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 3 now lives inside USB-C, but not all USB-C ports have Thunderbolt 3 technology inside them. You’ll probably only find USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports on the more recently released MacBooks, and a small number of Windows PC’s.

The major difference between USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports is the max speed at which data can be transferred. Like I mentioned above, USB-C alone can only transfer data at speeds up to 10 Gbps per second, while USB-C Thunderbolt 3 can transfer data at speeds up to 40 Gbps per second.

Also, Thunderbolt 3 peripherals and USB Type-C peripherals aren’t totally compatible with each other. You can plug a USB-C peripheral into a Thunderbolt 3 enabled device, but data will only be able to transfer at USB-C speeds. However, you can’t plug a Thunderbolt 3 peripheral into a USB-C only laptop. I mean you can physically plug it in, but you won’t be able to transfer data.

I hope this helped answer some of your questions regarding Thunderbolt 3 and USB Type-C. If you have any other questions or comments, then let me know below.



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