What is this "Thunderbolt" thing that I keep encountering when browsing for new gadgets?
Developed by Intel in partnership with Apple, Thunderbolt is a brand name given to a type of hardware interface technology that is used to connect a device to a PC. Thunderbolt has been around since 2011, and we are currently on our 4th iteration of the connectivity technology.
Early versions of Thunderbolt used an MDP (Mini Display Port) connector. Now, they utilise USB-C, which is the universal standard for connectivity.
They are interchangeable - you can use either cable to charge or transfer data. Every Thunderbolt 3 port will also work as a USB-C port and every Thunderbolt 3 cable will work as a USB-C cable.
So how is Thunderbolt any different to a standard USB-C cable?
Thunderbolt can transfer data at 40GB/s, which is twice as fast as standard USB-C.
With this ability to push power and transfer a large amount of information, Thunderbolt can support two 4k displays. Due to its greater bandwidth and high speed data transfer, Thunderbolt is superior to HDMI.
Thunderbolt offers significant advantage over USB-C for connecting to ultra high resolution displays and external GPU's, or transferring large files from external drives.
For everything else, and for most people in most cases, USB-C will suffice.
As the premium product, Thunderbolt is more expensive than other connections.
Whilst the cables and the ports look the same, you will need a Thunderbolt compatible cable, and the devices that you are connecting will need to have Thunderbolt compatible ports.
Most products have the Thunderbolt emblem, or are labelled as Thunderbolt compatible. This isn't always the case. Some devices, such as the MacBook Pro and Surface Laptop, are unmarked. In such cases, you'll have to check the product specifications.
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