Not All USB-C Cables Are Thunderbolt Cables

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Wondering why the Thunderbolt connection on your computer is underperforming? Before you blame the port or peripheral, check the cable.

Confused? Blame the Connector

Let’s open with the basics because that highlights why there is so much confusion about USB-C and Thunderbolt cables.

USB-C is a connection standard. The USB Type-C plug is an oval-shaped USB connector that replaced previous USB connectors like Mini-B, Micro-B, and other prior designs. The most notable difference, immediately visible to the user, is the change from a single-orientation plug (where cables have to be inserted right side up) to an orientation-agnostic plug (where there is no up or down).

Unlike previous iterations of USB that were simple and fairly limited, the USB Type-C plug is a rather versatile design that can support a wide range of applications from basic cellphone charging all the way up to delivering enough power for your laptop or advanced display support—but only if you have the right type of connection with the right type of cable.

Related: What Is Thunderbolt 3, and How Is It Different From USB-C?

Usually, people are pretty clear on whether or not the device they have supports Thunderbolt—the advanced interface that uses the USB-C connector—because having Thunderbolt is a big selling point.

Where the problem arises is that plain old USB-C cables and more advanced Thunderbolt cables use identical connectors. Further, a plain old USB-C cable linking two Thunderbolt-capable devices will still function, just in a significantly downgraded fashion.

Buy a Quality Cable that Supports Thunderbolt 4

While there are plenty of high-quality USB-C cables out there but you’re not going to get the Thunderbolt experience without a Thunderbolt cable.

Although there are Thunderbolt 2, 3, and 4 cables that all use the USB-C connector, we recommend skipping to the front of the version line and buying a Thunderbolt 4-certified cable.

You might pay a little bit more to buy a Thunderbolt 4 over Thunderbolt 3 cable, but you won’t have to buy a new cable later when a new device uses Thunderbolt 4.


Cable Matters Thunderbolt 4 6.6FT Cable

$60 $67 Save $7

This cable has a decently long 6.6 foot length so your devices don’t have to be glued to each other.

If you’re connecting devices that aren’t directly next to each other or you’d like a little length for a charging or display cable, look for longer Thunderbolt cables like this 6.6 foot-long certified cable from Cable Matters.


Anker Thunderbolt 4 2.3FT Cable

$40 $49 Save $9

Need less length? Keep the quality but lower the price with this 2.3 foot Thunderbolt 4 cable.

If you still need the speed and power of a Thunderbolt 4 cable but you don’t need the extra length, you can always buy a shorter certified cable, like this model from Anker.

Quality Thunderbolt cables aren’t cheap, but when it comes to something that can carry up to 100W of power between devices, you definitely don’t want to skimp on quality.

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