What’s the Difference Between Thunderbolt™ 4 and USB-C?

Learn how Thunderbolt™ technology delivers the best experiences with simple, powerful, and flexible connectivity.

Discover a universe of possibilities with Thunderbolt™ technology

Thunderbolt™ Key Takeaways

  • Thunderbolt™ 4 uses the oval-shaped USB-C connector type, features a lightning symbol, and is compatible with USB4.

  • This communication protocol delivers powerful charging, data transfers, and video signals with a single cable.

  • Use Thunderbolt™ 4 to daisy chain up to five additional devices: docks, hubs, external PCIe devices, external graphics, and up to two 4K displays.

  • Find Thunderbolt™ 4 ports on 11th Gen or later Intel® Core™, Intel vPro®, and Intel® Evo™ platform-enabled devices.

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What Is Thunderbolt™ Technology?

Thunderbolt™ technology is an Intel-developed connectivity standard that delivers power, data, and a video signal over a single connection. The Thunderbolt™ certification establishes mandatory minimum requirements for cables, PCs, and accessories to help ensure greater reliability and interoperability across devices and vendors. For end users, Thunderbolt™-based products deliver a great experience when connecting accessories.

Where to Find Thunderbolt™ 4-Enabled Devices

Thunderbolt™ 4 is available on many modern computers and is compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS. At least one Thunderbolt™ 4 port is required on all Intel® Evo™ laptops and all Intel® Core™ vPro® processor-enabled laptops.

The Difference Between Thunderbolt™ 4 and USB-C

Thunderbolt™ 4 is not the same as USB-C; however, Thunderbolt™ 4 uses the USB-C connector type, recognizable by its oval shape.

Thunderbolt™ 4 Sets Higher Minimum Requirements

Thunderbolt™ 4 certification requires support for power, data, and video with constant 40 Gbps bandwidth. USB cables, devices, and ports may be limited to a variable range of data speeds, with no guarantee of display quality. The Thunderbolt™ logo is a simple, surefire indicator of what a connection between devices can do.

Figure 1. Easily identifiable by a simple lightning symbol, Thunderbolt™ 4 certification guarantees 40 Gbps bandwidth compared to the wide range of USB options.

Cross-Compatibility Between Thunderbolt™ and USB

Various USB standards, including USB 3.2 and USB4, also use the USB-C connector type, and these cables and ports are cross-compatible with Thunderbolt™ 4. When devices with different capabilities are connected, the connection will only support the lowest common data rate. For example, you can plug a USB 3.2 cable into a Thunderbolt™ 4 port, and the port will negotiate data, power, and video signal capabilities with the connected device at a USB 3.2 level.

Thunderbolt™ 4 Features and Benefits

Thunderbolt™ 4 offers distinct advantages over USB-C with a more flexible and expansive set of capabilities. Productivity, content creation, and gaming applications can all benefit from Thunderbolt™ 4 technology with cleaner workspaces and more bandwidth to support more accessories.

Power, Data Transfer, and Video Display in One

Thunderbolt™ 4 ports and cables support the trifecta of power charging and data transfer with bidirectional movement and video display in one interface. For example, with a Thunderbolt™-enabled laptop, display, and cable, the laptop can pass a video signal to the monitor and the monitor can charge the laptop at the same time. Thunderbolt™ 4 delivers:

  • High bandwidth: 40 Gbps of bandwidth dynamically allocated for data and video, ideal for heavy workloads or fast file transfers.
  • Quick charging: Up to 100W of power for laptop charging and up to 15W for computer-powered accessories.
  • Rich display options: Up to two 4K 60 Hz displays or one 8K 60 Hz display on a single connection1.

Faster Data Transfer

The Thunderbolt™ 4 standard requires a total bandwidth of 40 Gbps, which it dynamically allocates between data and video for all devices on a single connection. Compared to the variable speeds of USB4, this requirement ensures that connections are always delivering peak file transfer speeds to support productivity, gaming, and content creation.

Daisy Chains, Hubs, and Docks

Connect multiple Thunderbolt™ devices together in a daisy chain. Data, power, and video signals can flow from the computer and down the chain into five additional accessories. Also connect multiple devices into a Thunderbolt™ hub or dock that can be plugged into a Thunderbolt™ computer to consolidate all accessories into a single connection.

External Graphics, Storage, and PCIe Enclosures

The high bandwidth of Thunderbolt™ 4 allows end users to connect their computers to external GPUs, storage drives, and PCIe enclosures. PCIe connectivity is not supported by USB 3 and is optional for USB4, whereas Thunderbolt™ 4 offers the most flexibility in which devices you can connect.

  • With external graphics, gamers can play at recommended visual settings and higher frame rates, even on thin and light notebooks. Creators can significantly reduce rendering and export times to boost their productivity and output.
  • External storage makes it possible for gamers to play their games with large file sizes directly from an external drive, freeing up valuable storage space on their computer. Creators can quickly back up huge video and photo files for additional peace of mind.
  • The ability to connect an external PCIe enclosure allows for even more possibilities, such as video capture cards.

Thunderbolt™ 4 Cables

Thunderbolt™ 4 cables can connect to USB and DisplayPort accessories with lengths of up to two meters to give users more flexibility in setting up their workstations and gaming centers.

PC-to-PC Networking

Users can connect Thunderbolt™-enabled computers together to establish a security-enabled connection between the devices at speeds faster than a 10 Gb Ethernet connection. This connection facilitates quick and easy file sharing, especially for large files.

OS Driver Support in Windows 11

With the launch of Windows 11, Microsoft has brought Thunderbolt™ drivers from the firmware level and integrated them into the OS. Windows 11 snap layouts will also work with multiple 4K displays connected over Thunderbolt™.

Thunderbolt™ for Productivity, Gaming, and Creation

Gamers, content creators, and workers who need everyday productivity will all benefit from Thunderbolt™ technology. This standard helps provide a clutter-free desktop with consolidated connectivity and high bandwidth in a single connection. End users can move massive files fast, enable the highest-quality display settings, and use docks, hubs, and daisy chains to add the accessories they need.

FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Thunderbolt™ 4 technology is a connectivity standard that delivers a constant 40 Gbps bandwidth for data, power, and video signal transfers between devices. Thunderbolt™ connections ensure an optimal experience by dynamically allocating total bandwidth between video and data.

No. USB-C is a connector type with an oval shape that both Thunderbolt™ 4 and USB (Gen 3 and later) cables and devices use. The main difference between Thunderbolt™ and USB is that Thunderbolt™ certification mandates minimum requirements for data, power, and video signal transfer to ensure the best end user experience.

Product and Performance Information

1Some computers and monitors may require support for Display Stream Compression (DSC) to support higher resolutions.