A USB 2.0 cable will take about 65 seconds to transfer a 4GB file, while a USB 3.2/10Gbps rated cable should take about 4 seconds. If you value high-speed data transfers, you’ll definitely want to shop for a USB-C to USB-C cable that mentions USB 3.1 or USB 3.2, at speeds of 5Gbps or 10Gbps.
Some cable makers may throw in “20Gbps,” which is the most advanced USB speed. We often see that on 6.6-foot (2-meter) cables, even though the maximum speed of a 2-meter cable is technically limited to 10Gbps. Even if the claim is too good to be true, it probably means the cable has the additional wires to hit the 5Gbps or 10Gbps speeds, so it should outperform one that says it’s limited to 480Mbps.
There’s another family of technology that plugs into a standard USB-C port: Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4. Both are advanced connections developed by Intel that can do just about everything USB-C can do, and more. You won’t find them in any phone or Android or iOS tablet, only in Windows or Mac laptops.
A primary advantage of Thunderbolt over USB-C is higher speeds of up to 40Gbps. But just because your laptop has a Thunderbolt port doesn’t necessarily mean you need a Thunderbolt cable for it. For example, on Apple MacBooks, which have only Thunderbolt ports, the company provides a standard USB 2.0, USB-C charging cable. If all you want to do is charge your HP Spectre x360, Dell XPS 13, or MSI Prestige using its Thunderbolt 4 port, you can just buy a standard USB 2.0, USB-C charging cable.
You need a Thunderbolt cable if you are transferring data from a high-speed SSD and want to reach peak speeds of 40Gbps. You’ll also want the fastest Thunderbolt cable if you intend to connect the laptop to an external eGPU cabinet, which will take all the speed you can give it.
We have seen surprisingly good results using lower-cost, but higher-quality USB-C cables for Thunderbolt devices. Still, if you paid for that high-performance Thunderbolt device, you should pay a cable that gives you the full performance. Look for a Thunderbolt logo (a lightning bolt) and mention of 40Gbps to get the most out of it.
All others can generally skip the high expense of a Thunderbolt cable.
The last use most have for USB-C cables is to connect your laptop over its USB-C port to a monitor that also has a USB-C input for video. Most desktop monitors don’t, so you might actually be buying a USB-C to DisplayPort cable, for instance, to match whatever your monitor’s connection is. But if you have a portable monitor, or your desktop one uses a USB-C port for video, you need to have that capability in your cable.
That functionality actually uses the same wires that would normally be used for transferring data at USB 3.2 speeds of 5Gbps or 10Gbps. So, generally any cable that claims to support those speeds should work. For example, Amazon’s 6-foot Basic USB-C cable officially supports only 60-watt charging and USB 3.1/5Gbps transfer speeds. It doesn’t mention supporting displays over USB-C, but because it has the wires for the faster USB speeds, it worked with our 240Hz, 1080p panel without issue.
Certainly it’s better to have a cable maker explicitly say that it supports video output (and most do), but just know a standard cable that can hit higher speeds should work just fine.
One last item many of the cable vendors hawk is an e-Marker in the cable. This is a required ID chip embedded into some USB-C to USB-C cables that tells the device or charger it’s plugged into how fast it can charge, as well as how fast it can transmit data, and even how long the cable is.
Under the rules, for a standard USB-C to USB-C cable that charges at 60 watts/3 amps and transfers data at USB 2.0/480Mbps, there is no need for an e-Marker to be in the cable.
If the cable transfers data at higher than USB 2.0 or can reach 100 watts, the cable maker is required to embed an e-Marker in the cable. Some vendors on Amazon actually say the e-Marker helps smooth out the power, as a way to scare you into buying their product. As far as we know, that’s not true, and the e-Marker is nothing more than a gatekeeper. The quality of the wires and connectors do all the work.
So if you’re looking for a low-cost cable to charge at 60 watts or below and don’t need the high-speed, you can ignore the e-Marker claims.
One of the biggest questions we probably can’t answer for you is whether it’s OK to buy a no-name cable on a marketplace where thousands of vendors are all selling the same commodity part. While early USB-C cables got a bad rap for potentially being dangerous, most of that is behind us now. For most basic charging uses from a phone to a standard phone or tablet charger, most of the cables should work (as long as they support the feature you need).
We have to admit that when we went looking for 2-meter USB-C cables that would fail in performance or compatibility, we were surprised by how well they did. So, we do think if you heed the number of positive reviews a no-name cable has (at least 1,000 is a good sign), and heed what the manufacturer claims, you’ll be OK. With that said, that advice is mostly for data transfer or use with a monitor.
For charging, especially at high wattage rates, you may indeed want to stick with a known brand such as Apple, Belkin or Cable Matters. While a name brand doesn’t guarantee it’ll be better, you can imagine that Apple, Belkin and Cable Matters know that their reputations can get singed just as easily as a cable.