Thunderbolt 4 vs USB C | Poles apart!

People who use desktop computers and laptops are acquainted with USB ports.

Despite all the years of experience handling USB ports and devices, everybody makes mistakes when inserting the USB device into the port. Invariably, they enter it upside down, only to rectify it immediately. It can be irritating at times to identify the right-side-up portion on the USB device.

The USB C port eliminates this problem. Let us see how it does so and the features and benefits of the USB C port. We shall also compare the USB C port with Thunderbolt 4, the latest technology in connectivity today.

What is USB-C?

USB is an industry-standard connector used for transmitting data and power using a single cable. At first glance, the USB-C connector resembles a micro-USB connector. However, if you view it carefully, you will notice that the USB-C connector is oval and is comparatively thicker to accommodate flippability, its stand-out feature.

USB Type-C

If you have a USB-C connectivity port on your laptop or MacBook, you can see that it does not have a distinct up or down orientation. The right way to insert the USB-C device into the port is always ‘up,’ whichever way you insert it.

Besides, the standard USB-C cables come with the same connector on both ends to make it easier for the user.

The USB Implementer’s Forum (USB-IF) has developed the USB -C connector and has more than 700 OEMs as its members. It includes Apple, HP, Samsung, Intel, Dell, Microsoft, and almost all laptop and desktop computer manufacturers.

USB-C is useful for connecting various devices like smartphones, smart home devices, hard drives, charging devices, data transfer devices, and many more.

Things a USB-C port can do

  • The improvements in technology ensure that a single port, USB-C, can handle a variety of tasks.
  • USB-C connectors can transmit data at speeds up to 20Gbps, an improvement over its previous generation USB ports.
  • USB-C ports can deliver up to 100W of power to charge batteries.
  • It can also transmit DisplayPort video and audio signals by connecting your device to an external monitor. However, the specific USB-C port should support DisplayPort over USB.

Every device having a USB-C port cannot do all the activities mentioned above. For instance, a USB hard drive cannot transmit video signals. It can use the USB-C port for sending/receiving data.

An Apple iPad uses a USB-C port to charge or sync with your laptop/MacBook. Thus, you have one port offering a range of utilities.

What is Thunderbolt 4?

Thunderbolt 4 is an improvement over Thunderbolt 3 technology. They look similar to the USB-C ports but do much more than what a USB-C port can. Besides performing everything that a USB-C port does, the Thunderbolt 4 connectivity port can do various other activities.

Thunderbolt 4 allows data transfer speeds up to 40Gbps on cables with lengths up to two meters. It is double the speed that the USB-C port offers.

Thunderbolt 4 is a universal port, as it serves all purposes like data transfer, video display, charging, and much more.

Thunderbolt 4 port supports up to two 4K displays or one 8K display, whereas the regular USB port does not. The USB-C port with DisplayPort over USB can support one external monitor (not 4K). Thunderbolt 3 and USB4 support one 4K display monitor.

Thunderbolt 4 displays backward compatibility with Thunderbolt 3.

Thunderbolt 4 technology offers facilities to wake up a computer/laptop from its sleep mode by tapping the keyboard or moving the mouse.

It protects against DMA attacks.

Thunderbolt 4 supports Thunderbolt Hubbing that allows connecting up to four Thunderbolt ports in a hub, each independent from the others.

Thunderbolt 4 Vs. USB-C – At a glance

This table should simplify things better.

Parameters Thunderbolt 4 USB-C
Universal Port Yes, for a range of options Yes
Data Transfer Speeds Up to 40Gbps Maximum of 20Gbps
Video display Up to two 4K displays alternatively, one 8K display Connects to one video display, provided it supports DisplayPort over USB
Charging Yes Yes
Power delivery Yes Yes
Wake-from-sleep feature Yes No
Protection from DMA attacks Yes No
Backward Compatibility Yes No
Availability 11th generation Tiger lake Intel CPUs All the latest high-end laptops and MacBooks support USB-C

Thunderbolt 4 Vs. USB-C Port – How to tell the difference?

The Thunderbolt connectivity port looks similar to the USB-C port but comes with its lightning symbol engraved below it to distinguish it from the standard USB-C port. It is better to go through the specifications and understand the difference.

Some USB-C ports come labeled with a USB SS (SuperSpeed) logo along with the peak speed it supports. For instance, SS-5 supports speeds up to 5Gbps, whereas SS-10 supports up to 10Gbps.

Benefits of Thunderbolt 4

  • Thunderbolt 4 allows you to connect several devices to a single hub.
  • Cable pricing can come down because they will not need inbuilt processors.
  • Thunderbolt 4 can power two 4K displays instead of one.
  • The latest 11th generation Intel Tiger Lake CPUs (the high-end) support Thunderbolt 4
  • While Thunderbolt devices are expensive than USB-C devices, they last longer.

Final thoughts

Though Intel has developed Thunderbolt technology to replace USB, it will take some time. Even the latest Thunderbolt 4 connects to your laptop through the USB-C port. It is expected that Thunderbolt and USB-C will co-exist for a while until there is a proper alternative to USB. Besides, the pricing plays a critical role because Thunderbolt devices are expensive.

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