People who lose their laptop chargers wonder whether they can use other cable types to charge their laptops. One commonly asked question is whether you can use thunderbolt cables to charge laptops.
You can charge your laptops (Macbooks/ Others) through thunderbolt cables. However, only thunderbolt versions 3, and 4 allow you to do this (provided your computer has a thunderbolt 3/ USB-C port). Thunderbolt versions 1 and 2 give too little power to charge laptops (Macs/ Otherwise).
In the rest of this article, I will discuss different types of thunderbolt cables and compare their effectiveness in charging laptops (MacBooks and other PCs). Later, I will discuss whether thunderbolt cables provide faster charging than USB-C cables.
What Are the Best Thunderbolt Cable Versions for Charging a Laptop?
Thunderbolt 4 is the best cable version for charging laptops and PCs because it also offers the highest data transmission rates. However, the Thunderbolt 3 has a similar wattage at 100 watts which is more than sufficient to power your Mac and compatible Windows laptops.
It helps to have a preliminary discussion about the different types of thunderbolt interfaces and their distinguishing features to understand why thunderbolt 3 and 4 are the best to charge laptops.
These clarifications are necessary because, many times, people talk about thunderbolt cables without mentioning which version they mean. And since each version differs in design and capability—especially, as we will see, across versions 2 and 3—a lot of confusion sparks.
Thunderbolt 1 (or Thunderbolt) Does Not Provide Sufficient Power for Charging Laptops
In 2011, Apple and Intel collaborated to create a new type of hardware interface based on Mini DisplayPort called Thunderbolt 1 or just “Thunderbolt.” The designers introduced the port to 2011’s MacBook Pro update as Apple and Intel’s solution to connectivity issues.
These issues would arise while users tried to maintain connections to high-resolution displays while demanding high-speed data transfers via a single port.
Examples of peripheral connections enabled by Thunderbolt 1 include additional displays, hard drives, ethernet connections, and more.
Thunderbolt 1 allows these connections to hold seamlessly through a single port and provides a data transfer speed of 10 GBps—which was pretty fast back in 2011 when Thunderbolt 1 first emerged.
In addition to being great at balancing high-resolution connections with high-data performance, Thunderbolt supports one unique feature that no other cable interface supports, the daisy chain.
Thunderbolt’s daisy chain feature allows several peripheral devices (up to 6) to be connected to your computer simultaneously through a single connection (a feat USB and other hardware interfaces still don’t support).
This feature was one of the significant reasons Thunderbolt cables got so much recognition in 2011.
As far as power supply goes, Thunderbolt 1 cables are copper—which means they supply power. However, this supply holds a cap of 10 Watts, which is insufficient to charge laptops (Macbooks or otherwise).
Thunderbolt 2 Does Not Provide Sufficient Power To Charge Laptops
Thunderbolt 2 came out in 2013 in Apple’s 2013 Macbook Pros. Physically speaking, there is no difference between a Thunderbolt 1 interface and a Thunderbolt 2 interface.
Both are based on the Mini DisplayPort and share the exact physical dimensions. Of course, this means that Thunderbolt 2 cables and Thunderbolt 1 ports are compatible with each other (and vice versa).
On a functional level, however, Thunderbolt 1 and 2 are pretty different. As with any updated version, Thunderbolt 2 does everything its predecessor does, but better. Most notably, Thunderbolt 2’s data transfer rate is twice that of Thunderbolt 1—hitting the mark at 20GBps.
This speed is because Thunderbolt 2 joins its two 10 GBps data transfer channels—allowing it to transfer more data with the same bandwidth.
Apart from improving the functionality of Thunderbolt 1, Thunderbolt 2 also comes with the added capacity to stream videos to 4K monitors.
As far as charging goes, Thunderbolt 2 is similar to its predecessor in this regard—its copper build allows it to supply power. Still, it caps out at 10 Watts, which is insufficient to charge any Laptop (Macbook or otherwise).
Thunderbolt 3 Can Charge Both Mac Computers and Compatible Windows PCs
Thunderbolt 3 is where things get interesting—and is probably the type of Thunderbolt cable you know best.
Thunderbolt 3 adopts an entirely different look compared to its two predecessors. Unlike them, Thunderbolt 3 doesn’t work on Mini DisplayPorts, but on the USB-C interface. This feature means that most Thunderbolt 3 cables are compatible with USB-C ports.
Apple introduced this interface in 2016 with Apple’s Macbook Pros, which hosted its ports.
This stage unlocked a new level of universalization for hardware interfaces users could use Thunderbolt cables could now be used for Thunderbolt (USB-C) or USB ports of both MacBooks and Windows PCs.
Besides adopting a more versatile interface form, Thunderbolt 3 brings many more improvements to Thunderbolt 2. This cable transfers data at twice the speed of Thunderbolt 2 and four times the speed of Thunderbolt 1—reaching a transfer rate of up to 40GBps.
Additionally, The cable includes the ability to support a single 8K monitor (or two separate 4K monitors at the same time).
Another reason Thunderbolt 3 is so different from its predecessors is that this cable can supply up to 100 Watts of power, which is more than sufficient to charge Laptops.
Plus, given that the thunderbolt 3’s interface is universal and compatible with USB-C, you can use it to charge both Mac and Windows PCs. Although, in the case of Windows PCs, this is only possible if the laptop has USB-C ports intended to take in power.
Adding to the connectivity of Thunderbolt 3 cables, you can also connect your Thunderbolt 2 devices to Thunderbolt 3 devices using a cable adapter.
I recommend getting Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter from Amazon.com. It will let you connect your Thunderbolt 2 devices to the Thunderbolt 3 ports on your Macbook Pro.
Thunderbolt 4 Charges Both Mac Computers and Compatible Windows PCs
Thunderbolt 4 came out in 2020 and is the latest version of the Thunderbolt hardware interface. However, this version is only slightly different from Thunderbolt 3.
Thunderbolt 4 is identical to Thunder concerning the physical dimensions of its interface, which means that it is compatible with thunderbolt 4, 3, and USB-C ports.
In addition, Thunderbolt 4 incorporates USB4 with PCI Express, translating into faster data transmission speeds. In more concrete terms, Thunderbolt 4 provides up to 40GBps of data transmission speed, 32GBps of PCIe transfer, and support for one 8k display (or two separate 4K displays).
Finally, as far as charging goes, Thunderbolt 4 cables hold the same power capacity as Thunderbolt 3 cables (100 Watts), meaning that they can charge almost all Macs and Windows laptops with USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) compatibility.
Which Thunderbolt Cable Version Provides the Fastest Charge?
Thunderbolt versions 3 and 4 will allow you to charge your laptop—and since their power capacity is 100 Watts, they will provide you with a similar charge speed.
You should, however, use a Thunderbolt 4 cable if you also want the fastest data transmission speeds. If not, you will do equally well with either of the two versions. This advantage holds for both Macs and Windows PCs that host USB-C ports.
As mentioned earlier, Thunderbolt versions 1 and 2 only provide up to 10 Watts of power, meaning they provide insufficient power to charge any laptop- Mac or otherwise.
Which Charges Faster: Thunderbolt or USB-C?
Thunderbolt and USB-C both offer a similar charging speed of 100 Watts. However, This is only true for Thunderbolt versions 3 and 4. The first two versions of Thunderbolt provide 10 Watts of power—which is too less to charge any laptop.
So, if your computer has a USB-C charging port, plug in either of the two cable types—both of them will bring your laptop to a full charge at similar rates.
Will My Laptop Charge Faster if I Plug In Its Charger and a Thunderbolt Cable?
Another question people often have regarding charging laptops is whether it is possible to connect two power cables, i.e., a Thunderbolt 3 cable alongside and a MagSafe charger, to their laptops at once to charge their laptops faster.
To their disappointment, this is not possible. When connected to two compatible power cables, your laptop (Mac or otherwise) will only pull power from one source—the cable which provides the most wattage. So, you won’t be saving time by connecting your device to two power sources.
To summarize, Thunderbolt is a hardware interface that allows you to connect peripheral devices, i.e., additional displays, to your laptop while supporting a high-quality resolution and high data transmission speeds.
There are four types of thunderbolt cables you will find today. Among these, only thunderbolt versions 3 and 4 can charge your Thunderbolt (USB-C) or USB-C compatible laptop, supplying up to 100 Watts.
However, the first two versions of Thunderbolt only can provide power up to 10 Watts, which is insufficient to charge any laptop.