USB-C cables and their pitfalls - and the solution?

USB C cable

Most of the devices in my collection are now charged via USB-C. The iPhone is still an exception here, as it still uses the Apple-specific Lightning connector. But as simple as USB-C looks at first glance, it still has a few negative surprises in store.

Why is USB-C so great anyway?

It is no coincidence that the EU has focused on USB-C in its regulation on charging plugs. And Apple also used the USB-C port relatively early on in its MacBook models. The reason for this is the versatility of the connection, because you can do the following things with it:

  • Power and charge devices (up to 100 W)
  • transmit video and audio signals
  • Transfer data between Mac and hard drives, printers or scanners

So the big advantage is that I can connect a MacBook to a USB-C monitor, for example, and not only audio and video are transmitted via the connection, but at the same time you can also connect external hard drives to the monitor hub and the MacBook via the use the same USB-C cable to charge. All via a plug connection.

USB-C (Thunderbolt) speed comparison

On Macs, the USB-C port is usually a Thunderbolt port, which can send data back and forth at very high speeds. How fast? Here's what you can see compared to other protocols:

  • USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) achieves up to 40 Gbit/s
  • USB-A achieves up to 10 Gbit/s
  • Lightning (USB 2) manages 0,48 Gbit/s
The USB-C connector has many advantages, but not every cable supports all the features one would expect (Photo: Sir Apfelot).

The USB-C connector has many advantages, but not every cable supports all the features one would expect (Photo: Sir Apfelot).

So why is USB-C still problematic?

The reason why USB-C sometimes really annoys me is actually the USB-C cables. For these cables, there is currently no mandatory rule for the manufacturers regarding the protocols that the cable supports.

For example, USB-C cables are often included with power banks, which allow up to 40 or 60 watts of charging current to pass through, but only support lame USB-2 for data transmission.

However, there are USB-C cables that allow fast data transfer at 40 Gbit/s, but only support a very limited charging capacity, so that a connected MacBook, for example, is not charged.

Apple's MacBook models have had USB-C ports that support Thunderbolt 3 for years (photo: Sir Apfelot).

Apple's MacBook models have had USB-C ports that support Thunderbolt 3 for years (photo: Sir Apfelot).

And despite the different possibilities that each cable offers, the appearance of the cables can be completely the same. So you can't see from a cable what charging capacity they support and what speed you can expect for data transmission.

If this is confusing for me as a technology nerd, how must it be for a normal user? Until now, one could assume that a cable that fits also does the job for which it was plugged in. Unfortunately, USB-C has changed that. You might plug in a suitable cable, but still there might not be proper data transfer or charging devices might be impossible - depending on what you're expecting.

USB-C cable: expensive does not equal good!

Anyone who thinks that they are simply going by the price when shopping and will only get the expensive USB-C cables in the future will be disappointed. Unfortunately, the price is no guarantee that the cables will both fast charge (USB-C Power Delivery) and Thunderbolt (40 Gbps).

The safest, but also most expensive cable solution is the original Apple cable, which supports Thunderbolt 3 and thus enables both 100 watts of power and 40 Gbit per second data transfer.

The safest, but also most expensive cable solution is the original Apple cable, which supports Thunderbolt 3 and thus enables both 100 watts of power and 40 Gbit per second data transfer.

My solution: selected USB-C cables

I still have all the charging cables that come with the devices in various boxes. But I don't usually use them because their function is always somehow limited. In addition, many of the cables also have a USB-A connector on one side and there is simply no suitable port on my MacBook Pro. So most cables are useless to me.

So that I still have a good cable that I can be sure of supporting both 40 Gbit/s data transmission and 100 watt charging power, I got two cables that support both. In this way, you don't always have to wonder whether problems might be due to the cable.

Tip: Look for a Thunderbolt 3 cable with 100 watts

If you want to buy a USB-C cable for the Mac, you should basically look for a Thunderbolt 3 cable that supports 100 watts USB C Power Delivery. This way you can find the “good” cables on Amazon.

To make it easier for you, I have selected a few USB-C cables for you that have the properties described above. When making my selection, I chose brands that I already know and which offer good quality:

Here are all the cables mentioned above in a product box with a price:

5,72 EUR
Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) cable (0 m)
  • This 0,8 m long cable supports Thunderbolt 3 data transfers with up to 40 Gbit / s, data transfers with USB 3.1 of the ...
  • Generation with up to 10 Gbit / s, DisplayPort video output (HBR3) and charging with up to 100 W.
  • Use this cable to connect a Mac with Thunderbolt 3 USB-C to Thunderbolt 3 devices such as docks, hard drives and ...
1m USB 4 Cable Thunderbolt 3 & 4 USB C Monitor Cable to Type-C | 8K | 100W | 5A | 20V | 40Gbps | 1m...
  • 8K@60Hz VIDEO: The USB 4.0 Type C to USB C monitor cable supports an image resolution of 8K@60HZ on a monitor...
  • FAST CHARGING: Supports Quick Charge 3.0 and Power Delivery up to 100 watts (20 V / 5 A) with compatible systems ...
  • DATA TRANSFER: Ultra-fast data transfer according to USB 4 standard up to 40 Gbit/s (40 Gigabit Gbps) Full-Featured DP ...
Nimaso Thunderbolt 3 Cable(1M),USB Type C to USB C Thunderbolt 3 Cable 40 Gbit/s...
  • 🚀【40Gbps fast data transfer】 The data transfer speed of the Thunderbolt 3 cable is up to ...
  • ⚡【100W Fast Charging】Deliver up to 100W (5A/20V) of power delivery to charge your laptop. Secure...
  • 🖥 【Single 5K or Dual 4K Display】 Supports dual full 4K @ 60 Hz (4096x2160) displays or even a 5K (5120 x ...
ORICO cable for Thunderbolt 4, compatible with Thunderbolt 3/USB4, transfer rate 40Gbps, 8k@60Hz...
  • 【Cable for Thunderbolt 4】:Thunderbolt 4 has a maximum speed of 40 Gbps (20 Gbps x 2) and ...
  • 【Ultra high speed】: Thunderbolt 4 is fully compatible with the Thunderbolt 3 transfer protocol ...
  • 【Video experience in Ultra HD cinema quality】: This TB4 supports display on a single screen at ...

If you have had good experiences with a cable, I would be happy to receive your cable tip.

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The page contains affiliate links / images: Amazon.de

2 comments

  1. Mr. Timo T Geyer says:

    Hello Jens, it's good that you published this article today, because it occurs to me again that I need a plug connection that doesn't seem to exist at the moment. I have an infrared camera (FlirOne) for my iPhone twelve mini with a Lightning connection. I would like to use this on the iPad at the same time (problem: USB C connection). Do you perhaps know a solution? All the adapters I've bought so far don't work. It is always only possible to load (not always) but apparently not data transfer. Thank you for your effort and best regards from Mannheim, Timo

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hello Timo! I'm afraid that I can't recommend an adapter either. The problem should not lie with the adapter, but rather with the iPadOS, which does not recognize the FlirOne. It was the same with external monitors. You could also technically stick it to the iPad, but they didn't show anything. This has only been possible since one of the last iPadOS updates. So the only hope left is that the OS will be able or willing to do it at some point.

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