Understanding the Difference Between Mac USB and Thunderbolt Ports

It is easy to be confused by the different types of ports on Maca, especially then names like USB and Thunderbolt are sometimes uses interchangably. Learn the differences between these kinds of ports and how to avoid confusion when talking about them.

Comments: 10 Responses to “Understanding the Difference Between Mac USB and Thunderbolt Ports”

    Howard Brazee
    3 weeks ago

    My wife has a 2017 iMac, and I have an adaptor allowing her to connect to Thunderbolt-1 devices. But I haven’t found an adapter that allows my 2013 iMac to connect to Thunderbolt-3 devices. I do have a SSD that comes with USB and Thunderbolt cables.

    (I am planning on buying a ARM iMac after one 32-bit program gets updated—we’ll see which comes first)

    3 weeks ago

    Howard: You can’t connect a Thunderbolt 2 Mac to a Thunderbolt 3 device. The Mac was built before Thunderbolt 3 existed and it simply isn’t compatible with it.

    Dana Stevens
    3 weeks ago

    Gary, I have a Mac mini (Late 2014) with Thunderbolt 2 ports connected to an OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock using a Thunderbolt 2 cable with an Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter. The Thunderbolt 3 Dock works fine. Apple says about the adapter “As a bidirectional adapter, it can also connect new Thunderbolt 3 devices to a Mac with a Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 port and macOS Sierra or later.” This seems to say that older Macs should be able to connect to Thunderbolt 3 devices.

    3 weeks ago

    Dana: So that Dock is a Thunderbolt 1/2/3 device. That would work fine, but at Thunderbolt 2 speeds. But if it were a Thunderbolt 3-only device, it wouldn’t work.

    Cameron C. Cook
    3 weeks ago

    I have a new Macbook Pro with USB-C ports. I’m looking to buy an external hard drive. My question is whether I should look for a USB-C drive if it is a non solid state drive? I can see when using an SSD drive USB-C would be preferable but a regular drive is much slower so would there be any benefit to USB-C?

    3 weeks ago

    Cameron: Spinning drives have two advantages over SSDs: price and size. This makes them ideal for things like backups or storing archives of old projects and such. So it still makes sense to get spinning drives that are USB 3.1 (the port type is irrelevant) in those cases.

    Laverne LaChapelle
    3 weeks ago

    No question; just a thanks. Terrific video setting out all the various “flavors” of cables and how they work together.

    Will
    3 weeks ago

    Great Video. I expect to refer back to it several times.

    Lencho Cazador
    3 weeks ago

    Is there a reason you skipped covering quality issues? Especially Apple MFI Certified. Excellent info at paracable.com. Is this no longer an issue? It seems that with the increases of speed and, especially power, quality becomes ever more important. A melted cable could ruin someone’s entire day.

    3 weeks ago

    Lencho: A discussion on quality isn’t what I was going for here — but an understanding of the types of ports and cables. The best USB cable in the world doesn’t help if what you need is Thunderbolt, etc.

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