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What’s the Difference Between USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4, and USB4?

Nowadays, there are so many different kinds of wires and connections. Some of the most popular are USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4, and USB 4 – but what’s the difference? 

I’m Michele from Rocketyard. Here’s what you really need to know.

USB-C is a connection type.  USB-C is not Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4, or USB-4. It is only the connection that those technologies use. To understand the difference between those technologies you have to go past the USB-C connector, even though they all share it.

Thunderbolt and USB-4 are a communication standard, or protocol, that provides a set of features for a computer to interact with devices through that USB-C connection.

All three of these technologies use the USB-C connection type to connect to computers and devices. 

The difference between Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 is that Thunderbolt 4 guarantees certain specifications that are optional with the Thunderbolt 3 standard. Thunderbolt 4 is always 40 Gigabits per second, while Thunderbolt 3 and USB-4 can operate at either 20 or 40 Gigabits per second.

The difference between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-4 is purely in the name. The actual standards are identical. In fact, Intel gave the Thunderbolt 3 standard to the USBIF which allowed for the adoption of the technology on USB-4 devices. As far as compatibility and performance goes, they are practically the same even though the names are different.

As far as cables go, regardless of whether the device is USB 4 or Thunderbolt 4, it’s best to purchase a Thunderbolt 4 cable to work with any of those devices to guarantee full compatibility. 

Since Thunderbolt 4 includes support for USB and DisplayPort, if you see the Thunderbolt logo – a small lightning bolt and the number four on the cable – you know that connection can do it all.

I’m Michele from Rocketyard. Thank you for watching.

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  • Can I plug my W/D external drive with it’s Thunderbolt cable, male plug, into a female USB C to male USB A adapter, plugged into a regular USB port on my 2017 IMac. I’m in need of an additional Thunderbolt port. W/D won’t comment on whether the hard drive will work because at the ancient age of 3 years, they won’t support the hard drive.

  • I’m more concerned with connector compatability than connection speed. Are allô thèse speed variation comparable Wishart thé standard USB sockets on m’y Mac?

    • All of these cables have the same connector, so the answer is “yes” as long as the USB ports on your Mac are Type-C.

      • The new iMac 24 inch ports are described as Thunderbird USB 4. Will a USB 3 Adapter which I bought for my silicon MacBook Air work with the iMac to attach a trackball and printer ?

        • If it works with your M1 MacBook Air, there should be no problem with it working with the new iMac.