Buying advice for USB-C cables: Not everyone can do everything

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When the USB-C connector standard (also USB Type C or USB Type C) was introduced, it promised to finally replace all previous standards including Micro-USB, USB-A, Lightning and so on. In theory, a single USB-C cable can be used with a USB-C docking station (comparison test) connect a notebook with monitor, internet, external hard drive, mouse, keyboard, internet and speakers and supply it with power at the same time. It transmits up to 100 W, 10 GBit / s, audio, video and much more at the same time.

Theoretically. Because in practice you have to be careful when buying the USB-C cable: the inexpensive representatives only charge a device. If you add a few euros, you not only get a charging cable, but can also transfer data quickly. If you want one for all, you need a fully wired USB-C cable with a second pair of wires. However, the awards given by the sellers are not always clear. We took a closer look at USB-C cables from different price ranges and manufacturers.

Advantages of the connector

The USB-C connector is narrow enough to fit into very slim devices. This can best be seen in the current Android smartphones (top 10 list of the best up to 200 euros), which almost all come with USB-C and are only 8 mm thick or even less. In addition, it is stable and can be plugged into the socket in any direction with full functionality.

Data transfer

Thanks to USB 3.1 Superspeed, USB-C enables data transfer rates of 5 GBit / s (Gen 1) or 10 GBit / s (Gen 2), with the new USB 3.2 standard (only USB-C on USB-C) even up to 20 GBit / s. Confusing: The new speed level is not called Gen 3, but Gen 2×2.

  • 5 GBit/s (Gen 1): Superspeed USB
  • 10 GBit/s (Gen 2): Superspeed USB 10 GBit / s (also: Superspeedplus 10 GBit / s)
  • 20 GBit/s (Gen 2×2): SuperSpeed USB 20 GBit/s

However, high data transfer rates depend on the device in question. In the worst case, USB 3.0 is not supported there, only USB 2.0, so the data transfer rate only reaches a maximum of 40 MByte / s (0.3 GBit / s).

Intel has the protocol specification from Thunderbolt passed to the USB-IF. As a result, manufacturers no longer have to pay license fees for suitable chips. In addition, the USB-IF uses the new expertise for the upcoming USB version 4, which will then deliver data transfer rates of up to 40 GBit / s. So far, Thunderbolt 3 functions have been mainly necessary to connect notebooks, tablets and smartphones to a monitor, power or the Internet via a USB-C dock. Our colleagues at c’t have a lot more information about the USB-C standard collected.

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thanks to USB-PD voltages significantly higher than 5 V are possible, limited to a maximum of 20 V at 5 A. This results in a remarkable output of 100 W. So far there are no plans to extend this upper limit. Not all cables support 100 W. Especially the cheaper ones are limited to 20 V at 3 A, which corresponds to a maximum output of 60 W. Usually the dealers write this in the product specifications. However, if you have purchased a fast charging cable in a pack with your mobile phone, you first have to test what the USB cable actually does.

Practical test

In order to test whether cheap USB-C to USB-C cables are also suitable, we got different copies from 6 euros to 19 euros. 19 euros is still far from the upper limit. At Apple, for example, a Thunderbolt 3 Type-C cable that is only 80 cm long costs a proud 45 euros. If you want, you can also spend well over 50 euros on USB-C cables.

We took a closer look at the following cables. Links to the cheapest dealers can be found under “Price” in the embedded price comparison.

CableTex anchor Pearl Inantek Ultra-HDTV Choetech PNY
19 17 10 10 15 6 14
200 94 150 108 100 50 100
15 13,5 15 12,5 12,5 137 13

If you want to buy a cable, you have to ask yourself what you want to use it for. There are three categories:

  1. Only load
  2. Charging & data transfer
  3. Charging, data transfer & more

1.) To check point 1, we used it as a USB-C charging cable and plugged it between a 15 inch Macbook Pro (2018) and the associated Apple power supply. Without bringing it to full load, all the cables did their job without any problems and charged the Macbook – also the cheapest in the bunch at 6 euros. However, since it is limited to 60 W, it can no longer supply the computer with sufficient energy under full load.

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2.) For point 2, we connected a Sandisk Extreme Portable 1 TB SSD and copied a 5 GB film file from the external to the internal SSD of a Dell XPS 15 (2019). With the supplied USB-C to USB-C cable, which is only about 10 cm long, the external SSD required 12.5 s for the transfer. Some of the cables tested achieved this speed, others needed up to 15 s in some cases.The 6-euro cable from Choetech failed the test with a full 137 s. This shows that affordable cables do not even support the USB 3.1 (Gen 1) super speed standard. If you value it, you should pay attention to the appropriate dealer information when buying.

3.) To check the Thunderbolt 3 suitability, we connect a Dell XPS 15 (2019) to an Elgato Thunderbolt 3 Pro Dock (test report) via the cables. This is where the wheat is separated from the chaff. The cheapest cable, which supports the monitor with a resolution of 5,120 × 1,440 pixels, LAN, USB devices, audio, mouse, keyboard and of course power, is the cable from PNY for 14 euros. This is surprising in that PNY does not specify any image transmission standards for the cable. However, the model currently seems sold out, here it goes to the manufacturer’s website.

That leaves the cables from Anker and Cabletex for 17 and 19 euros, respectively. Both can do everything and are priced close together. Nevertheless, despite the Anker brand name, we tend towards the Cabletex. Because it is the only cable with docking functionality in the test, which is 2 m long and has a fabric sheathing and metal plugs. This alone makes it look much higher quality and should last longer in operation.

Adapter, magnetic connection and extension

For some applications, conventional cables up to three meters in length are not sufficient. In other cases the standard plugs are unsuitable and you need them angled connector or one Adapter to convert from USB-A to USB-C or vice versa to come. Anyone who uses such adapters or extension cables must also pay attention to the exact specifications here so that the component does not become a bottleneck and slow down or even prevent the data flow or the current strength.

extension cable From five meters up are therefore equipped with one or more so-called signal amplifier modules. The following picture shows a ten meter long USB extension cablewhich is declared as USB 3.1. The throughput is 5.1 GBit / s and the maximum current is 2A.

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The same goes for the Cable with magnetic connectors. Experience has shown that the magnetic adapters are very practical for all devices that have to be plugged in and unplugged frequently – they are still primarily suitable as charging cables due to the low throughput. Apart from the convenient handling, the adapters take the strain off the USB port. Anyone who opts for such a cable should check the specifications for data throughput and current strength in advance, as well as the availability of additional magnetic adapters.

Cheap cables often come to customers with three different adapters (USB-C, Micro-USB, Lightning), but this is usually not enough. If you want to connect several devices with the same USB port to the magnetic cable end (e.g. iPhone, iPad and headphones), you should check whether the Magnetadapter there are also individually for the specific cable. In practice, the adapters from the various manufacturers differ. The following picture shows one such USB cable including adapters with a throughput of at least 3A and 480 MB / s.



Buying a USB-C cable is more complicated than you might think. Because even cables that are similar in price sometimes offer a different range of functions. The manufacturers are still divided on the functional specifications. No wonder, there are always new standards. Different names for the same standard are also not uncommon. That makes it particularly difficult for the buyer.

Depending on the application, we recommend different cables. If you want the egg-laying woolly milk pig under the USB-C cables, you can safely use the Cabletex linked in the price comparison, which offers a good price-performance ratio. 19 euros for the 2 meter long, fabric-coated all-rounder are fair.

If you only want to load and exchange data, cheaper representatives will do the same. We especially like the look and workmanship of the Inantek cable, which costs around 10 euros. If only charging is required, a very cheap cable such as the 6-euro Choetech is sufficient. However, we recommend putting a few more euros on the table so that at least the data transfer rate of 10 GBit / s is achieved. After all, you never know whether you might need the cable for more than just charging.

When using adapters, extensions or cables with a magnetic interface, you should pay close attention to their specifications so that they do not become a bottleneck in terms of data throughput and current strength. For charging with a maximum of 2 A, inexpensive models also do the job.

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