The USB-C ports on your Mac may all look the same, but are sometimes built differently. USB-C ports, in particular, have different data transfer rates and power delivery rates. If your Mac has multiple USB-C ports, you may find that one port transfers data (or charges your phone) faster than the others.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to check USB-C port specifications and how to identify the fastest USB port on your Mac.
USB-C and Thunderbolt USB-C: what’s different
Apple uses both regular USB-C and Thunderbolt USB-C ports on MacBooks. As mentioned above, these connectivity interfaces can have different configurations. But because they look the same, it’s often hard to tell which USB-C port is the normal one and which one uses the Thunderbolt standard.
Some laptop manufacturers differentiate these two interfaces by labeling Thunderbolt ports with a “lightning bolt” icon. Regular USB-C ports, on the other hand, usually have a USB label. However, some manufacturers also leave USB-C ports unlabeled.
Apple doesn’t label ports on next-generation MacBooks, so it’s nearly impossible to tell USB-C ports apart with a simple visual inspection. In the next section, we’ll show you how to identify your Mac’s USB-C ports and their data transfer speeds.
If you don’t know the whole discussion between USB-C and Thunderbolt USB-C, or would like to know their differences, check out this in-depth coverage of the Thunderbolt standard.
What ports does your Mac have?
When buying a new Mac, you should see the port configurations on the datasheet included in the box. Some MacBook models also have the screen size, year of manufacture and port configurations suffixed to the product name. So when you see “MacBook Pro 13-inch (Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports, 2020)”, it tells you the type and number of ports on the Mac.
But what if you’ve disposed of your Mac packaging? Or, your Mac doesn’t have port specs in the model name? Apple has a dedicated resource page that can help identify the ports on your Mac. Alternatively, check the online user manual or specifications for your MacBook model.
Click the Apple logo on the menu bar and go to About this Mac > Support and select User manual or Specifications. A new browser window will open and redirect you to a web page where you can check your Mac’s port configurations.
How to check USB-C speed on Mac
macOS has a built-in tool that allows you to check the status of your Mac’s hardware, software, and network components.
Follow the steps below to use the macOS System Information tool to check the speed of devices connected to USB-C ports. This will give you an idea of which port is fastest on your Mac.
1. Press and hold Option button and click Apple logo on the menu bar.
2. Without releasing the Option key, select System information.
An alternative way to access the System Information tool is to click Apple logoTo select About this Mac and click System report on the Overview tab.
3. Expand the Hardware section.
4. Scroll down the left sidebar and click USB.
In the USB device tree in the section, you will find your Mac’s USB-C ports listed according to their versions. You will also find detailed information on the USB devices connected to your Mac.
Connect a device to any port and click on the device name to check how fast the device or port is capable. Repeat the steps for the other ports to check their speed.
Note: If your device does not appear in the USB device tree, close and reopen the System Information window and check again.
If there is a Lightning option on the left sidebar, this means that some (or all) of your Mac’s ports support the Thunderbolt standard.
To select Lightning on the left sidebar and check the Speed section for ports and devices in the list.
USB-C speeds and what they mean
The speed information on the USB device tree page indicates the version and specification of your Mac’s USB-C port. This can help you find the fastest USB-C port on your Mac. Here’s what they mean:
1. Up to 1.5 Mb / sec: A USB-C port or device with this speed indicates a USB 1 connection type.
2. Up to 12 Mb / sec: USB 1.1 capable ports and devices have this speed.
3. Up to 480 Mb / sec: This tells you that the USB-C device or port is capable of supporting USB 2.0 speeds.
4. Up to 5 Gb / s: The connected device supports USB 3.1 (Gen 1) speeds.
5. Up to 10 Gb / s: Describes the USB 3.1 (Gen 2) and USB 4 connectivity standard; are currently the fastest USB-C ports on any Mac.
For optimal transmission speeds, USB devices and the USB-C cable must also support the same USB standard as the port. So, to enjoy USB 4 speed (up to 10GB / s), your Mac, USB-C device, and USB-C cable must everything supports USB 4 standard. Take note of this when purchasing USB-C accessories and peripherals. Also, refer to our explanation of USB cable types to learn more.
A USB-C hub (or adapter) can also slow down the potential data transfer speed between your Mac and USB-C devices. Make sure the USB adapter or hub supports your Mac’s USB-C standard. Otherwise, the connected devices will be limited to the speed of the USB adapter.
For context, if you connect a USB 2.0 hub to your Mac, the devices connected to the hub will be limited to USB 2.0 speeds. For the best experience, connect the devices directly to your Mac or use compatible accessories.
USB-C: Thunderbolt 3 vs Thunderbolt 4 on Mac
MacBooks are equipped with Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 2, Thunderbolt 3, and Thunderbolt 4 ports. However, only the Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 standards use the USB-C interface. They are backward compatible high-speed ports that work with all USB-C specifications / generations. Both standards also have the same maximum data transfer rate of 40 Gbps, but Thunderbolt 4 is superior.
Thunderbolt 4 offers increased security and improved support for video data transfer. For context, a Thunderbolt 4 USB-C connector can transmit video signals to one 8K display or two 4K displays. Thunderbolt 3, on the other hand, can only handle one 4K display. Currently, only the latest M1-powered Macs introduced in 2020 are equipped with Thunderbolt 4 or USB-4 ports. Future versions will certainly use the Thunderbolt 4 standard as well.
Still not grasping the whole concept of USB-C and Thunderbolt connectivity? Or maybe you have unanswered questions? Leave a comment below and we’ll try to give you some answers.