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What is Thunderbolt-Certified vs. Thunderbolt-Compatible?

Thunderbolt Logo

Last week OWC announced another industry milestone with the introduction of the world’s first Thunderbolt™ 3 certified bus-powered storage enclosure – the OWC Envoy Express. Currently available for pre-order, it will begin shipping in August.

The Envoy Express has generated a lot of interest and excitement, but it has also led many people to ask what it means to be “Thunderbolt-certified.” After all, there are currently several Thunderbolt-compatible bus-powered enclosures on the market. We’ll hit compatibility in a moment, but let’s talk certification first.

Thunderbolt Certification is a Big Deal

The problem with NOT having a Thunderbolt-certified product is one of reliability and credibility. The Thunderbolt technology is Intel’s property, so unless the product is certified, you can’t be sure it will perform the way it’s supposed to – consistently at peak performance. Without certification, there are no assurances either now, or later down the road that the product will operate safely and efficiently, harnessing all of Thunderbolt’s capabilities with future OS or chipset firmware updates.

Both Apple and Intel require rigorous testing for product certification. It’s a process that takes time, but it ensures the consistent experience promised of Thunderbolt and prevents unexpected problems with dependable operation, verified safety, rock-solid data security, ongoing compatibility, etc. This is why OWC goes the extra mile and sacrifices nothing when it comes to the quality and reliability of its products.

Thunderbolt Compatibility vs. Certification

“Thunderbolt Compatible” is an industry marketing term used for USB-C devices. The phrase evolved organically and can be (understandably) confusing. We at OWC have also adopted the term for our USB-C products but always do our best to explain what it means in our product literature and marketing materials.

So, what is a Thunderbolt 3-compatible device? Simply put, it is a USB-C device that can be plugged into a Thunderbolt 3 port on your computer and operate just fine. However, it will not reap the benefits of the Thunderbolt 3 technology such as up to 4X the speed and the ability to daisy-chain up to six devices.

In other words, Thunderbolt-compatible devices are not true Thunderbolt solutions but do utilize the same USB-C connection. While computers with Thunderbolt 3 support all USB-C devices, only actual Thunderbolt devices offer higher performance capabilities, certified reliability, and stability that Thunderbolt 3 is designed to deliver.

For a more detailed explanation of the difference between USB-C and Thunderbolt 3, check out the Rocket Yard article, “What’s the Difference Between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C and Which Should You Use?

Envoy Express Certification

OWC Envoy Express
OWC Envoy Express – The world’s first Thunderbolt™ 3 certified bus-powered storage enclosure

As previously mentioned, certification for the Envoy Express was a rigorous process. Why? Because it is a bare enclosure that allows you to install your own drive. This means that we had to ensure that it would support any 2280 M.2 NVMe SSD from any manufacturer – past and present – and that was a hefty task. We had to consider many factors, including power impact on the bus with all the various drives – getting this wrong could create issues with the device’s operation, risk data loss, even damage the host or other devices on the chain. This takes a lot of work, time, and testing.

But it was worth the effort. There are no other bus-powered 0GB enclosures legitimately available today approved for use on the Thunderbolt bus. And being certified means it will always work and will always be supported.

OWC Mark C
the authorOWC Mark C
Content Marketing Manager
A creative by nature, Mark is a writer, programmer, web developer, musician, culinary craftsman, and interpersonal artisan. He loves the outdoors because greenspace is to the soul as whitespace is to the written word. He does not like Diophantine geometry or mosquitos. Most everything else is okay. Oh yeah, he is also the managing editor of the Rocket Yard blog.
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  • I have read that the USB4 covers Thunderbolt.
    Be nice if Apple uses it on the new Arm Mac Pros.