The Thunderbolt standard is one of the more confusing elements of tech these days. Here’s the short history: Intel created a standard called Thunderbolt to use faster data transferring speeds. Today, though, Thunderbolt 3 looks exactly like USB-C: in fact, any Thunderbolt 3 cable can use a USB-C port. But regular, non-Thunderbolt USB-C cables won’t deliver enough power to charge a Thunderbolt 3 gadget. It’s all very frustrating. Here’s what you need to know about USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 chargers.
You can think of Thunderbolt 3 as a supercharged USB-C…which happens to look exactly like USB-C, and is even compatible with it. Thunderbolt 3 can deliver way more data, way faster, than a regular USB-C cable, which makes it great for not just charging, but displaying video, too. It’s both a power cable and a replacement for HDMI.
USB-C comes in more variations than just Thunderbolt 3, though. Many modern computers, smartphones, gaming systems and other gadgets use USB-C, but have varying power requirements. That means you should always look for a high-powered USB-C charger; at worst, you’ll be charging your gadgets a little bit faster than usual. If you skimp out, your charger may not have enough power to charge your gadget at all—even though the cables are all the right size and shape.
Make sure to use the right port on multi-port chargers. Typically, they’ll have only one high-power port, delivering enough juice to charge your thirsty gadgets like laptops. The other one will work fine for less demanding devices like smartphones, headphones and speakers, but may not be strong enough for the big boys.