What is the difference between USB-C, USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3?

Often the three terms USB-C, USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3 are mixed up or coincident, especially when looking for cables or Mac, iPad and iPhone accessories. They by no means mean the same thing, but provide different information on connection and possible uses. In this guide I have summarized explanations of the three terms as well as current developments. So you look through the jungle of terms and, for example, no longer make a bad buy with regard to the Apple MacBook with the corresponding connections;)

What is the difference between USB-C, USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3? And can an inclusion have all three names? You can find the answers here.

What is the difference between USB-C, USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3? And can an inclusion have all three names? You can find the answers here.

What is USB-C

The easiest way to explain is USB-C or "USB-3.1-Type-C", because it is "only" a form and structure of a connection or plug. The special feature is not only the ability to enable certain data transfer protocols and other useful specs, but also the special user-friendliness. After USB-A, USB-B, micro-USB and the like, USB-C is the first system that can be used without twisting. 

No matter how you plug the connector into the port, it works. The construction of the plug and socket are one thing; The point-symmetrical contacts in the components also ensure a successful connection. In short: USB-C or USB Type C only describes a physical form and forms the structural basis for transmission standards.

What is USB 3.1 / 3.2?

The designation USB 3.1 has less to do with one type of construction and is made possible by such a construction, but not defined. As with USB 1.0, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0, it is a transmission standard; In more professional terms, it is a so-called "serial bus system" based on the transfer protocols that are used. As development progresses, this means that a higher data turnover is possible with each higher standard version. 

With the original USB 3.1 Gen 1 (formerly USB 3.0) transmission standard, this is up to 5GBit / s. With USB 3.1 Gen 2 it is 10 GBit / s. Important to know: These standard versions are now called USB 3.2 Gen 1 and USB 3.2 Gen 2. There is also USB 3.2 Gen 2 × 2 with up to 20 Gbit / s. All information on this also confusing topic can be found with this link.

What is Thunderbolt 3 / USB4?

The Thunderbolt 3 it is also a standard for the transmission of data, but also electronic information as well as charging and operating current via one and the same connection. As the list shows, Thunderbolt 3 is much more than USB 3.2 and also includes this data transfer protocol. 

In addition, there is the possibility of implementing several input and output devices as well as a network connection via a USB-C connection and a correspondingly certified cable or a hub / dongle. Thunderbolt 3 was developed by Apple and Intel; now open as a standard and handed over to the USB Implementers Forum, which is why it will be renamed USB2019 in 4.

Summary and comparison of the terms

Here I have summarized all three terms for you again with short definitions, a description and links for further information. If you have any questions or comments on the topic, please leave a comment;)

USB Type C USB 3.1 Thunderbolt 3
This is… A type of connector and connector that has been specified since 2014 A serial bus system / a transmission standard An interface protocol from Apple and Intel that combines various functions
It describes… Connections and plugs with point-symmetrical contacts A type of communication between individual devices The possibility of implementing various functions and device operations at the same time via one connection
It works… With compatible components Also downward compatible with older bus systems With compatible connectors, cables, hubs and devices
In the future… Will this type of connection establish itself as the standard? Is it called USB 3.2 (see post linked above) Is it called USB4 or USB 4
More information… Wikipedia Wikipedia Wikipedia
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