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What is the proper name/number of the proper cable to get the fastest charging and data transfer for the new MacBook Pro?

Obviously it came with a wall charger and a cable but I am looking to purchase a 3rd party cable/adapter and I am finding it very confusing between all the USB-3, USB-C, USB 2.0 Type-C, Thunderbolt 3...

Which cable and wall charger is the right kind/type to get the fastest charging and data transfer? If you could recommend or link to some it would be appreciated.

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    Thunderbolt 3 will offer fastest transfer (something like 40Gbps)
    – NoahL
    Jan 9 '17 at 2:00
  • Thanks. So that would be "Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 3," correct? And what is the next down the line? Isn't there one that does about 5Gbps? What is a USB 2.0 Type-C Male to Male? Or USB-C 3.0? I can't make sense of it all!!!
    – Sizzle
    Jan 9 '17 at 2:12
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    @NoahL is correct if, and only if you are connecting to a Thunderbolt device. If you are connecting to USB, your max throughput will be 10Gbs if USB 3.1 and 5Gbs if USB 3.0, I've written a good primer on USB-C/Thunderbolt on this site for a different question. Please review.
    – Allan
    Jan 9 '17 at 2:46
  • Sizzle, you're confusing terms. USB: USB-A is the classic connector and has a few different protocols including: 2.0,3.0,3.1. USB-C is the new version of USB. It uses THE SAME PORT as Thunderbolt 3. However, Thunderbolt is not the same as USB. USB-C has a transfer rate of 10 Gbps. Thunderbolt 3 has a 40Gbps transfer rate. Let me know if you have any questions.
    – NoahL
    Jan 9 '17 at 4:25
  • One wire says "USB-C 2.0 Type-C Male to Male"...is that referring simply to the data speeds?
    – Sizzle
    Jan 9 '17 at 15:34
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What is the proper name/number of the proper cable to get the fastest charging and data transfer for the new MacBook Pro?

Charging

Charging has more to do with the adapter than it does with the cable.

The new MacBook Pro uses an 87W/61W (15" and 13" MacBook Pro respectively) power adapter. So, if you use a 60W power adapter it will charge, but slowly regardless of the cable. To get the maximum speed, you need a charger equal to or greater than the specified power adapter rating.

As of the time of this writing, there are no USB-C power adapter greater than 61W available. Unfortunately, you have to use the Apple supplied power adapter until 3rd party adapters are released onto the market. That said, the 87W power adapter will work just fine on the MacBook Pro 13" (61W).

Any USB-C cable will be able to handle up to 100W of power. My recommendation is to get a good cable from a reputable manufacturer. I have always had good results with Anker products

Data Transfers

If you have a USB-C cable (it conforms to the USB 3.1 specification) it will handle transfer speeds of 10Gbs. Period. If it's a USB-C cable, that's the maximum you will get.

If you have a Thunderbolt device (storage) then you need to get a Thunderbolt 3 cable. Belkin makes a high quality Thunderbolt 3 cable. The data transfer rate is 40Gbs. While it uses a USB-C connector, and carries the USB signal, unlike a USB cable, it also carries the Thunderbolt signal thus the price difference.

Important: You will not get higher data transfer rates by plugging in a USB-C type Thunderbolt cable into a USB-C device. You will get USB-C speeds of 10Gbs

What cable do you get?

The question is, what are you connecting?

If you are connecting a USB device, then get the USB cable. If you are connecting a Thunderbolt device, then get a Thunderbolt cable. Regardless, both cables will charge at whatever rate your power adapter can deliver and will transfer data only as fast as your device will allow.

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  • According to Apple: The Apple 61W (for 13-inch models) or 87W (for 15-inch models) USB-C Power Adapter
    – Sizzle
    Jan 9 '17 at 2:59
  • I was using the 15" model specs...but I also can't find a charger with greater than 60W with USB. Leave it to Apple to come up with a requirement 1W above what's on the market.
    – Allan
    Jan 9 '17 at 3:07
  • "Any USB-C cable will be able to handle up to 100W of power" is not a true statement. There are plenty of USB-C cables that are only rated for 3 amps.
    – Wavy Crab
    Jan 31 '17 at 21:00
  • @WavyCrab - You are incorrect. USB-C implements the USB 3.1 specification which calls for up to 20V, 5A and 100W for power and charging. If you have a USB-C cable (not a charging cable with USB-C connectors - big, big difference), you have a cable that conforms to USB 3.1 Specs which means - it will handle up to 100W.
    – Allan
    Jan 31 '17 at 21:14
  • Interesting. I've seen several USB-C to USB-C cables that advertise as 3.1 speeds but only support 3 amps. Are these just non-complaint cable? Example amazon.com/Belkin-USB-IF-Certified-USB-C-Meters/dp/B00WJSPCSG ("This USB-C cable supports up to 60W/3A of power and can be used for charging and powering USB-C devices")
    – Wavy Crab
    Feb 1 '17 at 15:58
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When it comes to USB-C cables it's fast, long, cheap, pick two.

Passive cables are going to be the least expensive. By being passive they avoid expensive electronics but they also put limits on length and bandwidth. The faster the cable the shorter it must be. Unrelated to the length of the cable is it's capability to carry current. There are two current ratings for USB-C cables, 3 amps and 5 amps. All USB-C compliant cables must be able to carry 3 amps safely. Those rated for 5 amps must be "tagged" electronically to tell the charger and device it is capable of carrying 5 amps. Even though they will have a electronics in them to indicate this current carrying capability they can still be considered "passive" because they do not have any electronics on the data carrying conductors.

There is no easy way to tell a 3 amp cable from a 5 amp cable. The difference in thickness of the conductors that carry the current is quite small and so it is easily disguised by the insulating jacket which can have considerable variance in thickness depending on the composition and quality. Simply, a 5 amp cable is not necessarily thicker than a 3 amp cable.

What are commonly called "charge only" USB-C cables are in fact USB 2.0 cables. These are often relatively inexpensive because they have no active circuitry except perhaps the 5 amp "tag". There's three ways I am aware of for USB-PD devices to negotiate power delivery over a cable, and a USB-C charging cable will have to support all three to be considered USB-C and USB-PD compliant. One is to negotiate power on the USB 2.0 data lines. Another is to use the configuration channel pins to negotiate power. The third means uses communications on the Vbus lines. Because USB 2.0 communications is an option for USB-PD negotiation these cables can be used for connecting devices at 480 Mbps even though they are advertised as "charge only". Also because they must adhere to the USB 2.0 specification for communications they cannot be longer than USB 2.0 allows. This length limit for a passive USB 2.0 cable is 5 meters, but I have yet to actually see a passive USB-C cable that is this long, 2 or 3 meters will be far more common. There are of course USB 2.0 cables longer than 5 meters but they do this with a data repeater in the middle, these are not passive cables and they are not cheap.

Passive USB-C cables for 5, 10, or 20 Gbps will be limited to 1 meter or less. As a matter of keeping these inexpensive they will often also be limited to 3 amps so as to avoid having the electronic tag and heavier power conductors. Passive 40 Gbps Thunderbolt and USB4 cables will be noticeably less than 1 meter, they will be advertised as 0.8, 0.7, 0.5, or something in length. Passive cables by their nature of being just a bundle of wires will work just as well (or poorly) for Thunderbolt, USB, DisplayPort, HDMI, or any alternate mode as any other.

Active cables are not limited in length like passive cables. Because they have active electronics in them they will have some limits on the protocols they support, and they will be much more expensive than a passive cable of the same length.

How can anyone tell these cables apart? One way is by the markings on the ends of the cables. It's not illegal to make a cable that does not comply with the USB-C spec. It is illegal to make a non-compliant cable and put trademarked USB iconography on the cable. The same goes for Thunderbolt. The people behind USB and Thunderbolt will defend those symbols because their income depends on people trusting those symbols.

To know how much bandwidth a cable supports look for the icon. The standard USB "trident" means it supports USB 2.0. The USB trident with the stylized "SS" means it supports at least 5 Gbps, cables that support 10 Gbps will have a 10 next to the trident, and you can guess what it means if you see 20 or 40. Thunderbolt cables will have the Thunderbolt icon, and those that support Thunderbolt 3 often have a little 3 next to the symbol.

You likely won't much care if you have an active or passive cable. I went through that discussion so as to explain why you might see a 1 meter cable cost twice as much as a 0.8 meter cable, and a 2 meter cable only a few dollars more than a 1 meter cable. It will also explain why one 2 meter cable will make your external drive work real fast and another will make it work real slow.

So far I've been able to keep my USB-C cables apart by buying only passive cables. I know my 2 meter cables are 5 amp and 480 Mbps, and my 1 meter cables are 3 amp and 10 Gbps. If I need an active cable in the future then I'll try to make it distinctive by getting it in a unique color or I'll have to pay closer attention to the markings on the cable ends.

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