There is a tremendous history prior in the development of the USB-C standard, which will continue to evolve in the future. USB-C is a connector-only standard. What all is connected to that and what protocols are communicated with is an entirely different story.
With the arrival of USB-C on the iPhone, Apple has taken the final step toward this standard there. But there is still a big difference between the USB-C port on the iPhone 15 and the Pro version. The iPhone 15 has a USB-C port with a data transport similar to USB2 (480 Mbit/sec), the same as the Lightning port. The Pro version of this phone can reach speeds up to 10 Gbit/sec, but you have to get an appropriate cable for that, as the included charging cable does not support that speed.
All that remains for now is a preliminary answer to the question: what kind of cables should I use? For now, because even in the USB-C and Thunderbolt world, developments continue to follow one another.
For example, Intel recently released the Thunderbolt 5 standard:
My current computer has four USB-C Thunderbolt ports built in. Thunderbolt 3 supports speeds of up to 40 Gigabit/sec. The new computers have Thunderbolt 4 ports built in; three of them, each of which can also handle up to 40 Gbit. Thunderbolt 4 can signal two 4K monitors or an 8K monitor. Not all computers with Thunderbolt 3 protocol support 4K monitors. Fortunately, the MacBook Pro 16-inch can.
With the advent of Thunderbolt 5, the bar has been raised considerably. Thunderbolt 5 delivers a whopping 80 gigabits per second (Gbps) of bidirectional bandwidth and with Bandwidth Boost up to 120 Gbps for the best display experience. These enhancements provide up to three times more bandwidth than the best existing connectivity solution and provide excellent connectivity for displays and data. Thunderbolt 5 meets the high bandwidth needs of content creators and gamers. Thunderbolt 5 is based on existing industry standards, including USB4 V2, and is broadly compatible with earlier versions of Thunderbolt and USB. We will see this new standard appear in future generations of computers, but for now we have to work with the “old” standards.
Actually, it’s pretty simple. You know what ports your computer has and your peripherals. You just need to connect them together. I personally use the following cables for this purpose:
- USB-C charging cables
USB charging cables only have the function of powering devices, with the ability to communicate a minimal amount of data for information. On the MacBook Pro, I use the standard Apple charging cables for this purpose. Those work great, but you have to handle them with care. Never kink the cable right behind the connector; that will cost you a replacement cable after a while. Roll them up. The same goes for the charging cables for the new iPhones with USB-C, the Apple Watch USB-C charging cable, iPad and other hardware. Among them, the standard charging cable can now be used. That way you can power everything.
These cables are not cheap. Therefore, choose the best quality. In my case, this cable is connected between the Macbook and an external hub; a distribution station with multiple ports for external devices. This Thunderbolt cable provides charging power from the hub to the laptop and can also build a stable 40 Gigabit connection between the hub and computer. To this external hub I connected my 4K monitor, five USB hard drives (each port gets 5 Gbit), a stereo audio output and two USB-C SSD drives (each connected to a 10 Gbit port).
By using only one cable for charging and data between the laptop and my external hub, I still have three free ports on my laptop that I can use for three fast SSD drives or other hardware.
Thunderbolt cables have the same connection as USB-C cables. They are distinguished by a lightning symbol with a number: 3, 4 and in the future: a 5. Look at the symbols on USB-C and Thunderbolt cables to find the right one. If there is nothing on the connector, then it is a charging cable.
Reason why Thunderbolt cables are so expensive: the internal wires for data transport are very well shielded from each other and complex electronics are built into the connectors that restore the signal before it enters the computer or device.
I personally use a 1 Meter Thunderbolt 4 cable, it costs 69 Euro.
- USB-C data cables
The external drives I personally use are from Samsung. Samsung T7 drives are for sale in 512 GB, 1, 2 and 4 Terabytes. These drives come with a USB-C to USB-C data cable, as well as a USB-C to USB-A data cable. With the old standard (USB-A cable), you get an average speed of 350-500 MB/sec. With the USB-C cable, that speed is doubled.
The external drives I personally use are from Samsung. Samsung T7 drives are for sale in 512 GB, 1, 2 and 4 Terabytes. These drives come with a USB-C to USB-C data cable, as well as a USB-C to USB-A data cable.
With the old standard (USB-A cable), you get an average speed of 350-500 MB/sec. With the USB-C cable, that speed is doubled.
There are also external drives for sale with a Thunderbolt 4 connection that are even faster. Experiences vary, depending on brand and type. I have not yet accumulated any experiences with these myself. Speeds can reach over 2500 MB/sec with these drives.
With the arrival of Thunderbolt 5, hardware manufacturers will have to work hard again. Whether it’s a display or an SSD drive, the electronics will have to handle all that data.
As with Thunderbolt 5, the data stream will be divided into multiple lanes (compare it to lanes on a highway), with the end goal of achieving much faster speeds. I expect we will see the first computers, cables and hardware appear during 2024/2025.
One more note about the various cables: not all cables come with the safety measures they all really should. This can have serious consequences for your computer or peripherals. So be very careful when buying cheap alternatives. Overloading can destroy the port in your computer, and that costs more than an expensive cable. That’s why I chose original Apple charging cables and Thunderbolt 3/4 cables, and the original cables with the Samsung T7 drives also work fine.
- Old cables junk bin
Don’t forget to stock an old cable junk box. At least one cable of each type. That way you can keep connecting or charging devices with those ports. In five to 10 years, you can replace all those old cables with your USB-C/Thunderbolt cables, because they will have been replaced by new kinds again.
Thanks for your help Gerard!