Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C are difficult to distinguish between, but here’s how the ports differ…
Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C are frequently mentioned in the same breath, which can make understanding the difference between the two quite challenging for the average person.
By the time the USB-C port type showed up, both technologies were similar enough that Thunderbolt was designed to connect using only USB-C ports. So, we saw companies begin to add extra Thunderbolt 3 hardware to USB-C connections so that the USB-C ports could be used as Thunderbolt 3, essentially adding Thunderbolt capabilities to the new USB-C ports… Many USB-C ports don’t have Thunderbolt 3 capabilities, and only offer connections through the USB 3.1 (Gen 1/Gen 2) protocol. This is why, for the time being, ports have an awkward naming system that must explicitly state, “USB-C Thunderbolt 3” so people know it supports both options.
A Thunderbolt 3 port, by design, can also function as a USB-C port. There is no separate, special Thunderbolt 3 port, as there was for past versions of the Thunderbolt connection. However, there are special Thunderbolt 3 cables that are used to access the full capabilities of the connection, so keep that in mind when buying.
USB-C is far from a bad port: It’s much faster than past generations and very versatile, with the welcome ability to charge up accessory devices. So don’t feel like you have to get a Thunderbolt 3 port if you don’t actually need one. But yes, in a head-to-head comparison Thunderbolt 3 is better than USB-C in basically every way.
MacDailyNews Take: Back in 2017, Satechi published this helpful graphic: