Categories
Computing

Charging via USB-C for laptops: Here’s what you need to know

The arrival of USB-C and USB-C laptop chargers has been a game-changer for many electronics. You can use the connection to charge devices and transfer media, and it’s conveniently reversible. Top laptops no longer need a big power brick — you can just use USB-C.

But there are some precautions you should take when charging over USB-C. Here’s everything you need to know.

USB charging and laptops

You have probably already used USB connections to charge smaller devices either from your computer or from an outlet. That works well because past USB connections had enough wattage to successfully power up those smaller batteries. Prior versions of USB could only handle a limited amount of power, which is why laptop chargers have typically retained their larger, bulkier cables.

USB-C changed that. This type of connection now provides enough power to juice up most laptops (particularly the Type-C 3.0 version). That’s why laptop charging is a new topic of conversation for USB connections, especially now that more laptops are entering the market with USB-C charging compatibility.

So, how do you know if your current laptop has a USB-C port that also works with charging? You could always look it up, but the easiest way is to simply examine your charger. You can identify a Type-C charger by its unique features. USB-C’s connector is small and rounded, significantly different from the old USB version. It also works no matter which way you connect it to the right port, so there’s no need to flip it the right way around. If your charger uses this connection and plugs into your USB-C port, you have a winner!

USB-C chargers are turning up on many different devices, so it’s not strictly relegated to laptops. Newer phones use USB-C charging, car chargers may come with USB-C ports, and portable chargers (discussed more below) can have USB-C options. But laptops tend to have USB-C more frequently than other devices, at least for now.

Will any port work with any charger?

USB-C is a universal charging standard. That means that, technically, it doesn’t matter what USB-C charger you use — it should be able to power up a laptop with a USB-C charging port and power bank. In the real world, this is taking a while to come true. Today the majority of laptop USB-C chargers are interchangeable, but it’s not guaranteed.

Some laptops come with USB-C ports that don’t charge. This is most common on laptops that come with their own proprietary charger — although a number of laptops can be charged either way, only the propriety charger tends to power up a laptop more quickly. The Samsung Notebook 9 is an example of that, as is the 2019 HP Envy 13. If you’re not sure exactly how to charge your laptop, check the manufacturer’s website, or look up a review of the system here at Digital Trends.

Laptops that rely entirely on USB-C, meanwhile, might not charge with just any charger. PCWorld, in its testing, found that HP’s Spectre x2 wouldn’t charge with any USB-C charger besides its own. HP said that that was intentional because a bad charger could damage the device or cause it to malfunction. Other devices, like the Apple MacBook Pro, don’t have such tight restrictions — a new USB-C authentication system could help with this issue in the near future.

While we haven’t personally heard of any damage from using a USB-C charger other than the one that came with your laptop, there’s always a slim risk when plugging a laptop into an unknown power source. Faulty cables can also be a problem. Microsoft acknowledges this by saying that you can charge a Surface with a USB-C port, but it’s highly recommended that you use the Surface charger that came with the laptop because a USB-C charger would end up being very slow due to how power is metered within the device. In short, it’s a good idea to buy cables and chargers from reputable sources and think twice about using that cable you found laying on the ground in a conference room.

You can buy additional USB-C cables for your own security.

Your settings are important

You will also want to watch your USB-C power mode, which you can find in your laptop settings, usually in the power/battery section. Here, you may find that you can switch Type-C’s output, choosing whether to receive power or send power. If your USB-C laptop charger isn’t working when by all rights it should be, check your settings to make sure it is set to receive power.

Complex charging arrangements

U USB-C cable (Ravpower C to C cable) attached to a MacBook and an external battery power bank.

Because USB-C is universal and can do multiple things at once, this allows for some unique charging circumstances. Two worth noting are:

Pass-through: Today’s charging hubs also offer something called pass-through charging. This refers to a hub that can connect multiple USB peripherals to a laptop while also charging that laptop’s battery. Basically, it’s a combination between a hub and a USB-C charging cable, so you don’t need two different USB-C ports for each task. HooToo’s popular 6-in-1 USB-C Hub is a good example of this technology. There are other innovative options, too, like sending video to an external monitor while also making sure your laptop is charged during a presentation.

Portable chargers: Maybe you have a portable charger with an old USB connection but a phone that only has a USB-C connection (which is not compatible with older USB ports). You can link the charger to a laptop that has both types of ports, and use it to power up your phone in a roundabout way. Do not try to use your laptop Type C charger to charge your phone directly. The voltage requirements are too different for most devices currently available, and multi-device chargers are still a nascent part of the market.

USB-C and Thunderbolt 3

The output and input ports of a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C cable.

There’s a variant of USB-C that’s a lot more powerful — Thunderbolt 3. Choose a laptop with at least one Thunderbolt 3-enabled USB-C port, and you can connect multiple 4K monitors at 60Hz and greatly increase your laptop’s gaming performance via an external GPU enclosure.

Thunderbolt 3 allows for a number of charging arrangements: It can “chain” up to six different devices together and easily charge while transmitting data at higher speeds than USB-C alone, up to 100W.

Since Thunderbolt 3 uses the same connection as USB-C, manufacturers are quick to label laptop ports if they also have Thunderbolt 3 technology — you can usually tell just by reading their descriptions. However, Thunderbolt 3 connections only work if you use the right cables, so make sure you have Thunderbolt 3 cables if you want to take advantage of those ports’ full features and bandwidth.

For Apple users

An Apple Lightning cable connected to an iPhone.
Nomad Lightning cable

Apple users should know that they aren’t immune to the USB-C transition we’re seeing. Currently, Apple uses Lightning cables for iOS charging, a proprietary design that silos off of all  Apple mobile charging accessories. The company has already switched to USB-C charging for MacBooks, and today’s iPad Pros also use USB-C charging. iPhones and iPads are currently unique in their Lightning cable reliance.

Apple is going to have to reimagine its current Lightning cable situation to fulfill the EU’s suspected precedent, demanding a set model of USB-C charging cables. Failure to comply with these demands will result in the loss of valuable European laptop buyers. Combine that with speculation of Apple ditching charging cables entirely, instead of focusing on a portless setup (most likely using a magnetic attachment on the back of the iPhone), and we may see the end of the Lightning cable in the next couple of years.

Furthermore, a recent rumor suggests that Apple will forgo its Lightning port for all its devices, starting with its iPhone range from 2025 onward. Another report also highlights how the company is reportedly preparing to remove the port entirely from the AirPods’ charging case, mice, etc.

The future of USB-C charging

Current USB options are about to receive a major overhaul. According to industry insiders, not only will USB have the fastest speeds ever, but they will also be universally compatible across all brands of devices. The dawn of 2021 could see an entirely new generation of laptops that espouse the new USB4 port. Of course, USB4 adds yet another layer of complexity when it comes to USB protocols. There’s even more to know about the new tech:

  • USB4 will be available on USB-C ports.
  • USB4 increases speeds and charging power to match Thunderbolt 3, up to 100W.
  • USB4 will require cables formatted for USB4 to enable its new features.
  • USB4 will be backward compatible with USB 2.0.

We’re guessing that all other ports may start giving way to the USB-C. USB-C ports will soon outweigh all other ports in importance, taking over as the primary port. In the future, USB4 and Thunderbolt will likely be the standard.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do all USB-C ports allow charging?

Although USB-C is increasingly becoming more commonplace as the go-to standard for charging, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all USB-C ports allow charging.

There are certain laptops — generally the systems that sport their own charger — that feature USB-C ports which don’t offer charging capabilities.

Can I charge my laptop via USB-C?

Generally speaking, if your laptop comes with a USB-C charging feature, then you should have no problem with charging your system via USB-C. That said, some mobile systems (notebooks and laptops) require you to use a specific cable that is exclusively made to be compatible with that system.

Is USB-C charging better?

USB-C charging is better than any other alternative charging platform. Due to the advanced technical capabilities of the standard, using USB-C charging for your system means it will generally charge it faster than, say, a regular power cable.

For example, a USB Type-C cable that offers up to 240 watts of power was recently revealed, which is unheard of for USB-C. It just goes to show the possibilities that USB-C brings with it.

Can USB-C let you charge your laptop without a charger?

Yes, and no. Providing your notebook or laptop comes with a USB-C port that was specifically designed to supply charging support, then you can charge it without a regular charger. However, as we mentioned above, not all laptops offer USB-C ports that you can utilize in order to charge your device.

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Game

SteelSeries Arctis 7+ and 7P+ gaming headsets boost battery, add USB-C

SteelSeries has announced an update to its popular Arctis 7 gaming headset with the new Arctis 7+ and Arctis 7P+ models. The two new Arctis options bring hotly-anticipated upgrades to the aging model, perhaps the best of which is finally swapping out the micro USB port for USB-C. The Arctis 7+ and 7P+ support just about every gaming platform except for the Xbox.

The SteelSeries Arctis 7 has been a popular headset among gamers for years and the new models aren’t likely to be an exception. The Arctis 7+ and 7P+ retain the company’s signature design and many of the features users love while building upon them with the latest hardware and functionality.

Both models support the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, PC and Mac, Oculus Quest 2, and mobile devices. The Xbox consoles, however, are notably absent from the list, meaning gamers who prefer Microsoft’s console will need to go with one of SteelSeries’ other models.

Both models bring high-end gaming audio features to the table, but the Arctis 7P+ is ideal for PS5 owners who want to leverage the console’s Tempest 3D AudioTech. SteelSeries says it designed the 7P+ specifically for the PlayStation 5, enabling gamers to hear the most subtle sounds in games and the direction from which the sounds originate in a simulated 3D audio environment.

Both models include a compact USB dongle for wireless audio support across various devices, as well as a battery boost of up to 30 hours on battery. Likewise, both Arctis headsets sport a ClearCast bidirectional noise-canceling microphone certified for use with Discord. The microphone is retractable and, for the Arctis 7P+ model specifically, offers the same noise cancellation tech found in headsets used by aircraft carrier deck crews.

The Arctis 7+, meanwhile, gives buyers early access to the company’s Sonar audio software, making it possible to hear the game in 7.1 surround sound, enable ChatMix, and other features. Both the 7+ and 7P+ feature 40mm neodymium drivers, a 20 to 20,000Hz frequency range, and an on-ear cup design.

Though this isn’t a huge update, it is a solid one that brings welcomed changes for PS5 owners and Arctis 7 fans who have grown tired of hanging on to their old micro USB chargers. The addition of USB-C makes fast charging possible, plus the overall battery life improvement means gamers won’t have to recharge their headsets daily to enjoy their favorite video games.

The SteelSeries Arctis 7+ and Arctis 7P+ are available now for $169.99 USD each.

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Categories
Game

SteelSeries updates its Arctis 7 headsets with longer battery life and USB-C

Since 2019, Engadget has the SteelSeries Arctis 7 as one of the best gaming headsets you can buy. At this point, it’s iconic but with a design that hasn’t changed much since 2016, it recently started to show its age. Thankfully, SteelSeries just announced the Arctis 7+ and Arctis 7P+.

The tweaks the company has made are modest, but they’re ones current Arctis 7 owners will appreciate. Most notably, SteelSeries has replaced the finicky micro USB port you used to charge the headset with a more modern USB-C connection. Using the new port, it’s possible to get three hours of uptime after 15 minutes of charging.

Arctis 7+

SteelSeries

On that note, battery life is also improved. SteelSeries claims you can get up to 30 hours of gameplay on a single charge, up from the approximately 24 hours you got from the previous version. As for the differences between the 7+ and 7P+, there aren’t many. You can buy the latter in both black and white colorways where the former is only available in black. Additionally, the 7P+ includes support for the PlayStation 4 and PS5’s 3D Audio functionality. That said, you can use both headsets with pretty much any system or device other than Xbox consoles.

The Arctis 7+ and Arctis 7P+ are available to buy today from the SteelSeries website. They’ll both set you back $170. That’s an increase from the $150 MSRP of Arctis 7 and 7P, but what’s an extra $20 when you don’t have to deal with micro USB anymore. 

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Categories
Computing

Satechi USB-C Clamp Hub Solves M1 iMac’s Main Problem

Satechi debuted its most recent Apple accessory today, a small USB-C Clamp Hub that’s especially manufactured for the M1 24-inch Mac. The problem it’s attempting to solve is simple: The iMac’s severe lack of ports.

Satechi is a consumer electronics brand located in San Diego, California that makes USB-C products and modern tech accessories. Its latest accessory is a handy USB-C Clamp Hub, a sleek adapter that attaches to the bottom right of your M1 iMac.

It is specially designed for the new ultra-thin Apple machine, with the company even matching some of its colors, silver and blue, to those of the 2021 M1 Mac to make sure your setup looks color-coordinated. Since it’s specifically manufactured for the 2021 version, if you have a 2019 or earlier machine, you’ll want to look to Satechi’s other offerings as it has released different models for those PCs as well.

The USB-C Clamp Hub hosts a total of five ports on its front. It aims to provide you with easy access to the ports on the machine’s back. By making use of only one USB-C port on the back of your machine, it makes your setup look much cleaner and more organized. Satechi’s latest release sports a simple and minimal design and easily attaches the expanded I/O of your machine. Its ports include three USB-A ports, one USB-C port, and an SD and microSD card reader.

All three of the Clamp Hub’s USB-A ports provide speeds of up to 5Gbps and don’t require charging. The USB-C port also offers up to 5Gbps and doesn’t need to be charged. The SD and microSD card readers both belong to the UHS-I class and provide speeds of up to 104Mbps. There is also an adjustable knob for fast installation and a snug fit.

Satechi’s Clamp Hub is available at a starting price of $55 with the silver one launching in September and blue arriving in October. You can also pre-order it on the Satechi website anytime you want now.

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Categories
Security

Google’s new Titan security key lineup won’t make you choose between USB-C and NFC

Google announced updates to its Titan security key lineup on Monday, simplifying it by removing a product and bringing NFC to all its keys. The company will now offer two options: one has a USB-A connector, one has USB-C, and both have NFC for connecting to “most mobile devices.” The USB-A key will cost $30, and the USB-C key will cost $35 when they go on sale on August 10th.

One of the biggest changes in Google’s new lineup is an updated USB-C key, which has added NFC support. Google’s previous USB-C option, made in collaboration with Yubico, didn’t support the wireless standard. Now, the choice between USB-C and A is easy, as there aren’t features that one has that the other doesn’t. It’s simply a matter of what ports your computer has. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Yubico was involved with the new key.

According to Google’s support document, its Titan security keys can be used to protect your Google account as well as with third-party apps and services that support FIDO standards, such as 1Password. They, and other security keys from companies like Yubico, can act as second factors to secure your account even if an attacker obtains your username and password. They also fight back against phishing since they won’t authenticate a login to a fake website that’s trying to steal your credentials. The Titan keys also work with Google’s Advanced Protection Program, which is designed to provide extra security to people whose accounts may be targeted.

Google’s current USB-A security key already includes NFC and sells for $25. The USB-A plus NFC key that Google lists in its blog post will sell for $30, but it comes with a USB-C adapter. The USB-A key currently listed on the store doesn’t include one, unless bought as part of a (sold-out) bundle, according to Google’s spec page.

Google’s NFC / Bluetooth / USB key, which was made available to the public in 2018, will no longer be sold as part of the updated lineup. It’s already listed as sold out on Google’s store page. Google’s blog post says that it’s discontinuing the Bluetooth model so it can focus on “easier and more widely available NFC capability.”

While the updated Titan Security Key lineup seems to lack a Bluetooth option, it’s nice to see that the USB-C key is getting NFC. If you’re living the MacBook / iPhone lifestyle, you’ll be able to use the updated USB-C plus NFC key without any dongles. Google says in its blog post that the Bluetooth / NFC / USB key will still work over Bluetooth and NFC “on most modern mobile devices.” Google’s Titan Security Key store page currently lists the old models, but Google’s post says the updated lineup will be available starting on August 10th.

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Tech News

Razer USB-C GaN charger can charge four devices at once, but it’ll cost you

To go along with its freshly-announced Razer Blade 14 – the first AMD-based gaming laptop the company has made – Razer also announced that it’s getting into the business of making Gallium Nitride (GaN) chargers. Dubbed simply the Razer USB-C GaN Charger, this new charger comes with a surprising amount of functionality and portability. The only downside, it seems, is that it’s going to cost a lot of money to own one.

The Razer USB-C GaN Charger offers up to 130W of total charging power between its four charging ports. Two of those are USB-C ports and the other two are USB-A ports, so you can charge a variety of items with this brick. In addition, you can use all four of those ports at the same time to charge four different devices at once as well.

According to Razer’s own specs, the wattage breakdown sees both USB-C ports sharing 100W, while the two USB-A ports share 18W. The charger clocks in at 0.35g and comes with modular plugs that cover the UK, EU, and the US, so Razer is definitely positioning this as something of a travel charger as well.

The fact that it uses Gallium Nitride helps keep the charger’s footprint small while also offering better power delivery than standard charging bricks. It also should run significantly cooler than standard fast chargers, which in turn reduces the risk of overheating when you’re charging multiple devices at once.

All of that sounds great, but these features come at a cost, as we said at the outset. Razer has priced its USB-C GaN charger at $179.99 – significantly more than the fast chargers most of us are probably used to buying. If that price tag isn’t enough to dissuade you, then the Razer USB-C GaN Charger is available beginning today from Razer’s website.

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Computing

Gaming Laptops Could Be Powered By USB-C By the End of 2021

The USB Implementers Forum — the organization that defines and promotes the USB standard — released a new revision for USB-C on Wednesday. USB-C revision 2.1 ups the power limit of the USB-C standard from 100 watts to 240 watts — enough for some gaming laptops.

USB-C has seen some changes over the last several years, but the standard has supported only 100W of power delivery since it released in 2014. It’s a convenient, popular choice for charging ports on Chromebooks and thin and light laptops, but beefier machines have required a proprietary power brick and connection. The updated standard will allow some gaming laptops to adopt USB-C for charging.

And 240W is the right number. The Razer Blade 15, one of the best gaming laptops, comes with a 230W power adapter, so swapping out the proprietary connection for USB-C makes sense. By contrast, the MacBook Pro M1 already uses a USB-C connection for charging through a 61W power brick.

All-in-one machines will likely get the USB-C treatment, too. The most recent iMac, for example, draws around 150W, and some older models nudge up toward 200W. Assuming Apple would ditch the proprietary magnetic connection it has on the iMac and Mac Mini, we could see USB-C delivering power to a full desktop.

Laptops will see the most noticeable boost, but revision 2.1 has implications for many peripherals. Large, power-hungry displays can now use USB-C, as can USB-C docking stations. Some laser printers may even be able to use USB-C (though, many still draw upwards of 500W).

The USB Implementers Forum says that all cables supporting the higher power delivery “shall be visibly identified with [extended power range] cable icons.” They’ll also need to be electronically marked to support the higher power draw, which the USB-IF requires for all USB-C cables.

These new extended power range (EPR) cables are backward compatible. So, EPR cables will work with standard power range (SPR) devices, but SPR cables will not work with EPR devices. Although USB-C can handle more power, EPR cables will still need to handle 50V at 5A, so the dream of plugging your gaming laptop into a random USB outlet is still a ways off.

USB-C EPR cables are not yet out, but we’re not far off. The USB Implementers Forum says that it expects devices supporting high-powered USB-C to launch by the second half of 2021.

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Tech News

USB-C will soon be able to charge at 240W, more than 2x its current limit

USB-C is fantastic. As the one-connector-to-rule-them-all, it’s the closest thing to a universal connector tech has seen, able to power everything from earbuds, to phones, to laptops. But despite its increasing ubiquitousness, there are limits to its utility. USB-C Power Delivery has been capped at 100W for a while now, for instance; while that’s enough for most devices, some powerful laptops are still forced to use traditional power connectors that can handle higher wattages.

Now that concession may soon be a thing of the past. As reported by Android Central, the latest revision to the USB-C cable and connector specification — revision 2.1 — will allow USB-C cables to transmit as much as a whopping 240W of power.

That’s enough for all but the most obscene laptops. The 15-inch MacBook Pro pushed the old standard to the limit at 96W, for example. Razer’s 17-inch Blade laptop with an Nvidia RTX 3080 comes with a 230W charger.

Heck, 240W is more power than most high-end e-bike chargers offer as well.

Granted, I’ve seen Dell squeeze 130 W through existing USB-C protocols, but the new standard will clearly make these high-power chargers a lot more common.

As noted by Android Central, the advent of the new revision means that there will soon be new USB-C cables on the market that are labeled ‘Extended Power Range,’ replacing the old top-notch ‘Standard Power Range.’ These cables should theoretically be safer too, so you might want to think twice before buying a new high-power USB-C cable until the new EPR cables show up later this year or early 2022.

All this is good news for those of us who have been dreaming of being able to use one charger for all sorts of devices. Since USB-C arrived, I can’t count how many times I’ve used a laptop charger to charge my phone — and sometimes even used a phone charger to power a laptop. Who knows, maybe by 2030 we’ll be able to charge our electric cars with USB-C too.

Via Android Central

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Categories
Computing

Snag a pair of USB-C to USB-A cables for just $5

If you’ve got a smartphone or laptop rocking a USB-C port, you need more cables than the one that came with your device. Right now, there’s a great deal on Amazon ready to add more cables to your personal inventory for cheap. Aukey is selling a pair of six-foot USB-C to USB-A cables for $5 with the checkout code 34ENRGJ9. That’s half off the regular $10 price.

These cables have everything you need in a proper USB-C to USB-A cable—most importantly, a 56k ohm resistor to make sure power transfers safely between the two USB versions. The cables also have TPE insulation and aluminum alloy shielding all wrapped up in a nice-looking braided nylon exterior.

The cables can safely charge up to three amps, making them appropriate for the Raspberry Pi 4 as well, and they support data transfer at up to 480 Mbps. We don’t review cables, but people who have bought them on Amazon seem very happy with their purchase, and Aukey is a good name for these kinds of tech accessories.

[Today’s deal: Two, six-foot Aukey USB-C to USB-A cables for $5 with checkout code 34ENRGJ9 at Amazon.]

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has never met a tech subject he didn’t like. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, social networks, and browsers. When he’s not covering the news he’s working on how-to tips for PC users, or tuning his eGPU setup.

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Categories
Computing

USB-C vs. Thunderbolt 3 | Digital Trends

Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C are frequently mentioned in the same breath, making understanding the difference between the two quite challenging for the average person.

Both are hardware connection technologies, but they do function in different ways. Here’s everything you need to know about USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, how they overlap, and what their specialties are.

What’s the real difference?

USB-C is one of the latest USB hardware designs, a very significant upgrade for the USB port that added some important features, including the ability to (at last) connect no matter which side was up and the ability to deliver up to 100 watts of power to charge devices. It can also provide data transfer speeds up to 10Gbps and support video for a 4K display — although the connection does need converters to output audio data properly.

Then we have Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt was a connectivity technology developed via a partnership between Intel and Apple, a combination of PCI Express, DisplayPort, and DC power technologies. This makes Thunderbolt a versatile connection option for the devices that support it, and Thunderbolt 3 is currently the fastest, most powerful version available. As you might expect, Thunderbolt connections are frequently found on Apple products, although other brands worldwide have made use of them as well.

Now comes the complicated part: The two connection technologies were separate for several years, supporting different devices for different people. However, as time passed, this became less feasible, and the two technologies started to resemble each other more.

By the time the USB-C port type showed up, both technologies were similar enough that Thunderbolt was designed to connect using only USB-C ports. So, we saw companies begin to add extra Thunderbolt 3 hardware to USB-C connections so that the USB-C ports could be used as Thunderbolt 3, essentially adding Thunderbolt capabilities to the new USB-C ports.

What capabilities does Thunderbolt 3 add?

Thunderbolt 3 is a step up from what USB-C alone can offer. It does a lot, but the key features of the connection include:

  • 40Gbps speeds, far faster than what USB-C can offer by itself.
  • Support for up to two 4K displays or a 5K display for routing video and audio out.
  • Native audio support.
  • Special cables are required for longer connections, which do lead to a decrease in data speeds.
  • Serial connection of multiple devices linked together and accessed by one computer.
  • And, of course, compatibility with all devices that require a Thunderbolt 3 connection, as well as all USB devices.

Can a port be USB-C but not Thunderbolt 3?

Yes, it can. Many USB-C ports don’t have Thunderbolt 3 capabilities and only offer connections through the USB 3.1 (Gen 1/Gen 2) protocol. This is why, for the time being, ports have an awkward naming system that must explicitly state “USB-C Thunderbolt 3” so people know it supports both options. Devices are being made that have the ability to use either USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 connections on these ports based on what they need or support.

However, note that the reverse is not true: A Thunderbolt 3 port, by design, can also function as a USB-C port. There is no separate, special Thunderbolt 3 port, as there was for past versions of the Thunderbolt connection. However, special Thunderbolt 3 cables are used to access the full capabilities of the connection, so keep that in mind when buying. If you’re looking for USB-C cables, we have a list you may want to check out.

You can tell if your USB-C supports the Thunderbolt 3 standard by looking for the small Thunderbolt logo. Whether it’s a laptop port or on a cable itself, a Thunderbolt port is usually accompanied by the logo. There are some exceptions, though, so always check the specifications of the particular product in question.

So, Thunderbolt 3 is better than just USB-C?

google-pixel-3a-usb-c
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

USB-C is far from a bad port: It’s much faster than past generations and very versatile, with the welcome ability to charge up accessory devices. So don’t feel like you have to get a Thunderbolt 3 port if you don’t actually need one. But yes, in a head-to-head comparison, Thunderbolt 3 is better than USB-C in basically every way.

With USB4 on the way, it’s catching up rapidly. But as it stands, yes, Thunderbolt 3 is a faster and more capable standard. So, why don’t companies turn all USB-C ports into Thunderbolt 3?

Remember, USB and Thunderbolt spent many years as siloed, competitive technologies. Ultimately, the two technologies are trying to join forces, but there are many obstacles, namely universal pairing capabilities and a unique name for the final combined port.

Devices that contain the specific parts to support Thunderbolt 3 connections will undoubtedly be more expensive. Some companies might not want to include this extra expense quite yet, especially not more budget-oriented devices. Other companies may prefer to save money by making only one port on their devices, Thunderbolt 3 while keeping the other ports USB-C. This also makes the device easier to design and power.

If your apparatus isn’t an Intel-powered device, then you won’t be able to use Thunderbolt 3 technology. Considering there are plenty of devices out there that don’t fit the bill, this is an issue that manufacturers will have to prioritize.

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