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OWC Releases Affordable Thunderbolt 4 Cables

I enjoyed working with Glenn Fleishman on “USBefuddled: Untangling the Rat’s Nest of USB-C Standards and Cables” (3 December 2021) because it brought together so many tiny bits of connectivity esoterica. But what if you don’t want to wallow in the geek glory that comes with understanding all the possible ports and protocols and cables? (Even I gave up trying to internalize every variable at some point.) If you would prefer to avoid all the uncertainty and be certain that whatever you plug in will “just work,” we suggested that you get a Thunderbolt 4 cable.

The biggest problem with our advice was cost. Thunderbolt 4 cables, which offer full backward compatibility with USB 3 and USB4 over USB-C connectors, can cost well over $100 from trusted manufacturers, including Apple.

Industry stalwart OWC has now entered the fray, making our recommendation financially feasible. The company has released Thunderbolt 4 cables in three lengths at prices well below those from Apple and other makers:

The real win here is the short cable for $24, which seems to be the cheapest Thunderbolt 4 cable available from any manufacturer. I’m getting a 0.7-meter cable just to have on hand so I can have a cable that’s guaranteed to work in any situation. If you need a 2-meter cable, it’s also nice to be able to pay less than half of what Apple’s charging.

OWC Thunderbolt 4 cable

With one of these Thunderbolt 4 cables, you can avoid the confusion that stems from the use of USB-C as the universal connector for Thunderbolt 3 and 4, USB4, and faster flavors of USB 3.1 and 3.2. With just USB and Thunderbolt, a given USB-C cable might support any one of five maximum data throughput rates, with different actual rates based on what devices are on each end of the connection. It’s easy to become boggled by all the specs and buy a cable without a key attribute that will throttle throughput now or cause compatibility consternation in the future. A Thunderbolt 4 cable eliminates all such worry.

That’s because a fully standards-compliant Thunderbolt 4 cable offers 40 Gbps throughput for Thunderbolt 3 and 4 and includes full support for USB 3.1 (up to 10 Gbps), USB 3.2 (up to 20 Gbps), and USB4 (up to 40 Gbps) over USB-C.

While I’m highlighting OWC for these new, affordable Thunderbolt 4 cables, I also want to caution you to pay attention if you’re considering cables from other manufacturers, particularly those offered by Apple at its site—and especially if you reach it via a Web search. Apple now sells three separate Thunderbolt cables, plus a USB-C charge cable that’s easily confused for the Thunderbolt cables in the field:

  • USB-C Charge Cable: Don’t buy this cable unless you’re certain you can dedicate it to charging. It’s cheap at $19, but it doesn’t support Thunderbolt at all and can move data at only USB 2.0 speeds (a poky 480 Mbps). Apple also ships this cable with the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, iPad mini, iPad Air, and iPad Pro, so be careful not to confuse it with a real Thunderbolt cable.
  • Apple Thunderbolt Cable: This cable has the Mini DisplayPort connector that’s part of Thunderbolt 1 and 2, found only on Macs introduced before 2015. You have to read the cable’s overview carefully to realize it’s a Thunderbolt 2 cable, not a Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 cable with USB-C connectors. It costs $29 for a 0.5-meter cable or $39 for a 2-meter cable.
  • Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) Cable: This cable has most of the right specs, except for explicit support for Thunderbolt 4. It’s $39 for a 0.8-meter cable.
  • Thunderbolt 4 Pro Cable: There’s nothing wrong with this 1.8-meter cable except the price—a whopping $129. Apple says it will soon release a 3-meter version for $159. I haven’t seen any other manufacturer offering a cable in that length, though Cable Matters lists a $350 10-meter fiber optic Thunderbolt 3 cable, although it’s out of stock.

$129 for a cable seems excessive; you could get a pair of AirPods for that. Happily, besides OWC, other reputable manufacturers like Cable Matters and CalDigit have stepped into the breach with significantly less expensive Thunderbolt 4 cables. But I would warn against ordering a cheap Thunderbolt 4 cable from one of the random companies that appear in an Amazon search because their quality control is unknown.

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Comments About OWC Releases Affordable Thunderbolt 4 Cables

Notable Replies

  1. Great to see more quality choices at low prices.

    I’ve been suggesting already for a while the Cable Matters collection of TB4 cables. Like OWC’s, these are certified TB4 at reasonable prices available in multiple lengths. They’ve been selling these for a while already on Amazon. The 2-m variant is an active cable.

    0.8m/2.6’ for $28 (this is ~ the length usually included with TB4 hubs/docks)
    1m/3.3’ for $33
    2m/6.6’ for $59

    It’s nice to see more competition here.

  2. And I’m really curious about the 10-meter fiber optic Thunderbolt 4 cable from Cable Matters. Seems theoretical at the moment, and I have no use for it, but it’s a neat option.

  3. Just an aside: I asked Apple Support what is the difference between the Thunderbolt 3 Pro cable and the Thunderbolt 4 Pro cable; the descriptions are practically the same. I understand from their explanation that it is basically down to Thunderbolt certification.

    It will be interesting to see if the Thunderbolt 3 Pro cable supports USB 3.2 Gen 2 20Gbps (which TB4 is supposed to support if I understand this correctly).

  4. It’s seemingly TB3 actually. And has been around some time.

    Their specs on it are very muddled and I didn’t receive a conclusive answer a year ago when I emailed them:

    Combination of 4 fiber cores and 7 copper cores, durable strain relief, and active Thunderbolt cable ends provides unmatched durability and performance across the full length of cable…

    “4 fibre cores and 7 copper cores” – my question to them was:
    Do the copper cores mean it can also power devices up to a certain wattage, or is the cable only fibre optic, so they’re only for strain relief or similar?

    Corning released around the same time their own unpowered optical TB3 ones up to 50m, and their 10m one was ~$400. So I never understood Cable Matters cheaper pricing either.

  5. Compared to TB3 copper cables, all copper TB4 cables are non-active from my understanding as they don’t need to be – despite marketing/packaging mentioning the term to aid sales.

    The interesting question is whether Apple are using a special type (active?) for their seemingly exclusive 3m length $160 one that’s “coming soon” (or their expensive 2m $130 one, for that matter)?

    They originally advertised a “Pro” 3m TB3 coming with the last Mac Pro release back in late 2019, that subtly disappeared just before the MP finally arrived:

    There seems to be a lot of hidden ‘industry only’ information with Thunderbolt cable specs, from what I’ve seen.

    EDIT: re. Active vs. Passive. According to a recent Wikipedia edit (but without citation), seemingly copper TB4 cables >1m have to be active, for “signal conditioning circuitry”. No idea if that’s true, as all the connectors on copper TB4 cables are exactly the same size (smaller than the 2m TB3 ones).

  6. Not a great bargain and my experience with OWC has been awful and resulted in significant data loss.

    From Amazon:
    [6.6Ft] USB4 Compatible with Thunderbolt 4 Cable, Maxonar TB4 Cable 40Gbp with 100W Charging and [email protected] [email protected] or Dual 4K Video Compatible with MacBook Pro 2021, Apple Studio Display and More
    4.6 out of 5 stars
    $38.99

  7. Bought a T4 cable (Cable Matters) already back in mid-august - 0.8m for ca. $25 … .

  8. Good to know, thanks.
    But can anyone sympathise with or shed light on this situation? While I am looking at M1 laptops now, my last big Apple upgrade was when Thunderbolt 2 was the best and fastest connection.
    So, I still have two important devices (an OWC JBOD array for 2ary. backup and a Universal Audio interface) which are T2. They still work fine with the Apple adapter and I hope they will continue to work with newer T4.
    It has been surprising though, that of the many multiport desktop hubs offering expansion for laptops with only a T3 or T4 connection, that, while some offer a dozen different ports and sockets, none of them offer a Thunderbolt 2 port for our ‘legacy’ devices.
    I don’t suppose this is going to change now, but:

    1. Any idea why this should be?
    2. Are there any alternatives to the Apple adapter?
    3. Do we believe it will offer the same adapter function for T4 to T2?

    Thanks!

  9. T4 includes T3 plus USB-C, and some extra features. Your TB3 → TB2 dongle will still work.

  10. ^This. Apple’s TB3-TB2 (or TB1) Adapter works the same for TB4-TB2 (or TB1) adaptation. So if you need a dock, buy one with say at least one downstream TB4 port (the one upstream TB4 port goes into the Mac), and use them with the Apple adapter as required.

    AFAIR, there have never been any TB3 docks that offered TB1/2 ports on them (only Mini-DP). Also, Apple’s TB3-TB2 adapter has always offered the best stability, so maybe that might be the reason no third-party brand bothered, as users could simply use Apple’s adapter to get from their extra TB3 ports to TB1/2 cables.

  11. Thanks both, for confirming my understating and expectations.

  12. Excuse my ignorance, but are you recommending the TB4 cable to use for charging also? or just if one is connecting TB drives?

  13. Most copper TB4 cables do everything now (fast data+protocols like DP1.4 via ‘alt modes’) up to 100W power delivery (TB3 ones are sometimes more limited to certain wattages and functionalities).

    While vanilla USB-C (non-TB) ones can sometimes do charge and lower connection speeds than top USB 3.x speeds, and are more often rated by wattage – the best PD 3.0 ones doing 100W.

    A few may soon do up to 240W (UK/Europe highest wattage), as PD 3.1 comes along – like the MBP16 2021 uses for its proprietary MagSafe 3 cable to deliver up to 140W via its GaN brick.

  14. I’m a little confused, so any help is appreciated. I have a few USB3 external drives, and a USB A to USB C dongle from Apple to allow me to connect to my iMac Pro. Does a USB 4 cable offer any improvements (other than needing a different adapter to connect to the drive’s only port?

  15. What are those external USB drives, what does their bridge/case offer in terms of ports?
    • if they’re HDDs (and most SATA-based SSDs) then you’re fine with just vanilla USB3 (5 Gbps)
    • if they’re PCIe-based/NVMe SSDs (and perhaps high-end SATA-based SSDs) you’ll likely prefer USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps)

    The latter you will want to connect straight to your iMac Pro’s TB3 ports (they support 3.1 Gen 2) using the appropriate cable. See above as to why a TB4 cable might be most suitable for that.

    The former you can connect like you are doing with a simple A-C dongle (or you connect straight to your iMac’s USB-A ports). Unless that dongle is complete junk it should be fine. Most dongles aren’t spec’ed for 10 Gbps and higher, but they should do 5 Gbps just fine. That said, a more elegant/robust solution is to simply swap the cable you use to connect the drive. Depending on its output, you’ll be choosing from cables such as these.

  16. Hi folks, to add some experience…
    I ordered a 70cm OWC Thunderbolf 4 cable as suggested. So far so good.
    Since then I experience unexplained unmounting of my two different LaCie Silverdisk external HD (5TB and 2TB). Back to the cable which came with the HD…

    Cheers, Rolf

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