USB C vs Thunderbolt vs Lightning Cables [Differences]

Nowadays, data transfer and charging can be performed in a single port with a single cable. Connectivity ports have advanced to such an extent and are progressing towards higher speeds with respect to charging and data transfer rates.

The advent of USB-C, Thunderbolt, and lightning cables has provided more sophistication to the user. You can use one cable for all devices you have without any degradation in performance. Especially, the USB C and Thunderbolt have become universal and are easily interchangeable.

But what are the differences between all these interfaces? Is a USB C more advantageous than a Lightning Cable? Or is a Thunderbolt better than USB C and Lightning? Let us find out the differences between these three in this article.

USB C vs Thunderbolt vs Lightning Cables

USB C vs Thunderbolt vs Lightning Cables

  USB C Thunderbolt Lightning
Year 2014 First edition 2011, Latest edition 2020 2012
Port Design Oval Shaped hollow plug and jack Same as USB C Oval shaped solid plug thinner than USB C
Connectivity Method Plugging ends are Reversible Plugging ends are Reversible Plugging ends are Reversible
Compatibility USB C cables can be used with Thunderbolt 3 and 4 ports Thunderbolt 3 and 4 cables can be used with USB C ports Only compatible with Lightning Cables and Ports
Charging Capacity Supports 2.5W to 100W power delivery Thunderbolt 3 supports 15W to 100W Supports 12W only
Data Transfer Rate Supports up to 20GB/s with USB C 3.2 version Supports up to 40GB/s with the Thunderbolt 3 Supports up to 480Mb/s
Durability Lasts longer and compatible with future gen ports Lasts longer and compatible with future gen ports Slightly less durable than USB C and Thunderbolt
Device Compatibility Compatible with all brands and platform including Apple due to the compatibility with thunderbolt 3 Compatible with All brands and platforms including Apple Only compatible with Apple brand products and devices
Special Features It can be used interchangeably with Thunderbolt 3 and 4 ports Supports two 4K external monitors or one 8K monitor connectivity  

USB C, Thunderbolt, Lightning – Which is better?

To be honest, USB C and Thunderbolt are way better than Lightning. Because Lightning ports are slower with respect to all features and Apple is also planning to change their ports to USB C in the coming days for all devices.

As you would have witnessed in the comparison table, the data transfer rate and charging capacity are very low in lightning cables. But if you look at USB C and Thunderbolt, they are way faster and more efficient in data transfer as well as charging.

Lightning cables are only present with Apple products and it has developed much in the way of fast charging or faster data transfers. Some Apple products have USB C but most of them use the lightning cable which is still considered inefficient.

If you don’t own an Apple product, you don’t have to worry about Lightning cables. Your consideration goes to the USB C and Thunderbolt.

Also Read: Adding Thunderbolt 4 on Your Computer

USB C vs Thunderbolt

Between USB C and Thunderbolt, there aren’t many physical differences. But thunderbolt is faster and more efficient than USB C. You can find the Thunderbolt to transfer data at 40Gb/s while USB C is just half of it.

At the same time, many devices come with USB C and you can find certain Apple products with Thunderbolt. Unless there is a specific use case, you will not have the necessity to use a Thunderbolt connectivity.

For example, if you are a content creator and do a lot of video edits, you might need a faster data transfer medium that can instantly move data from one drive to an external drive. In such a scenario, you will definitely need Thunderbolt support to perform it.

On the other hand, if you don’t have such humongous data transfers, then you can suffice with a USB C since many devices can support it and you can get the full potential from it if you use a USB C cable.

The charging capacity is the same for both type C and thunderbolt. Therefore, if you aren’t particularly transferring a large amount of data or connecting 4K monitors to your system, then you can go with the USB C itself.

So, in reality, there isn’t much difference between these two interfaces and you can choose either according to your necessity.

Read: Do you need a DisplayPort cable for 144Hz?

Popular Devices Using these Tech Cables

Devices using USB C

All popular Android Smartphone brands like Samsung, ASUS, OnePlus, Oppo, Nokia, Vivo, Redmi, Xiaomi, etc. use USB C for charging and Data transfers.

Also, you can find all Windows-based desktop and Laptop manufacturers like Lenovo, Dell, MSI, Razer, ASUS, etc. use USB C for charging and provide one or two ports for data transfers or external device connectivity.

Apart from these, there are some peripherals like mouse and keyboards that are starting to use USB C as their mode of connection.

Devices using Thunderbolt

Apple products such as MacBook Pro and Mac Studio are using Thunderbolt as their primary connectivity, charging, and data transfer port. iMac and MacBook Air can also be found to use Thunderbolt for their connectivity.

Many laptop brands provide Thunderbolt connectivity for their premium devices. You can find Gaming laptops like ASUS ROG, Alienware, Razer, etc. to have this provision. Also, laptops designed for media and content creation will provide a couple of thunderbolt ports for faster data transfer.

Devices using the Lightning cable

Only Apple products are found with this connectivity. And except for MacBook Pro, iMac, Mac Studio, Mac Mini, and some models of iPad, you can find all the Apple products use Lightning cables.

You can find iPhones and iWatch to use lightning cables for charging and data transfer. Apart from them, no device is found to use this mode of connectivity.

Read: How do I use MHL Micro USB to HDMI?


We have now understood the primary differences and similarities between the three popular modes of connectivity. Especially the upcoming USB C and Thunderbolt 4 have many similarities and it can be quite difficult to tell them apart without looking at the user manual. We hope you can now choose the right type of interface for your use case.

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