This article explains the main differences between Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 (USB-C).
Thunderbolt 3 adopted the USB-C connector mainly because it is compact. Although both technologies use the same connector, the compatibility between them is limited.
Please find below answers to common questions regarding the Thunderbolt 3 interface.How can I tell if my computer has a Thunderbolt 3 port?
Consult your computer documentation for Thunderbolt 3 compatibility. A Thunderbolt 3 port on a computer is a USB-C port with the Thunderbolt icon, a lightning bolt next to it. See the image below:
How can I identify a Thunderbolt 3 cable?
A Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) cable is reversible and identical on both ends. It has the Thunderbolt icon and the number 3 on the connector. See the image below:
Are Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 (USB-C) storage devices interchangeable?
|Connector face||Cable end|
Are USB 3.1 (USB-C) cables and Thunderbolt 3 cables interchangeable?
- A Thunderbolt 3 computer port can support both Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C devices.
- A USB 3.1 (USB-C) computer port can only support USB devices.
What is the performance difference between USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3?
- Thunderbolt 3 cables support Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 (USB-C) devices.
- USB 3.1 (USB-C) cables do not work with Thunderbolt 3 devices.
- A Thunderbolt 3 storage device requires a Thunderbolt 3 cable and a Thunderbolt 3 port on the computer.
Is a Thunderbolt 3 storage device backwards compatible with Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 computers?
|Protocol||Theoretical burst transfer rate|
Gigabits per second (Gb/s)
|USB 3.1 Gen 1||Up to 5 Gb/s|
|Powered USB 3.1 Gen 1||Up to 5 Gb/s|
|USB 3.1 Gen 2||Up to 10 Gb/s|
|Powered USB 3.1 Gen 2||Up to 10 Gb/s|
|Thunderbolt 3||Up to 40 Gb/s|
Thunderbolt 3 technology is backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 1 and 2, however adapters are required since Thunderbolt 3 uses a different interface than the previous generations. Additionally, some features unique to Thunderbolt 3 devices, such as charging capability, may not work when using adapters. Another important factor is that not all adapters are bi-directional, which means connecting adapters to Thunderbolt 3 devices may not function with Thunderbolt 2 or Thunderbolt 1 computers or vice-versa.
Some of our Thunderbolt storage devices have multiple interfaces (e.g. Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1) so they can be used on systems that do not support Thunderbolt 3.
We strongly recommend to always connect using Thunderbolt 3 when available to take full advantage of Thunderbolt 3 performance.Note
: We cannot guarantee that all adapters will be fully functional with Thunderbolt 3 devices.Are all Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) cables created equal?
No, in fact, there are two types of Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) cables, passive and active. Passive cables cost less and can reach up to 40 Gb/s data transfer if the length is 0.5m or less and 20 Gb/s if over 0.5m. Active cables can reach up to 40 Gb/s data transfer with a length of up to 2m.