5 things to know about the MacBook Pro's Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports

The new MacBook Pros have Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports for charging, plugging in peripherals and connectivity. Here are some of the many uses for this versatile connector.

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
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Patrick Holland
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Today, Apple announced a new MacBook Pro. The svelte new 13- and 15-inch laptops have fully adopted Thunderbolt 3 ports utilizing the USB-C connector.

These ports are the Swiss Army knife of connectivity and are capable of a bunch of functions. Here's what you need to know about Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) as it starts invading your new Macs.

All the ports are both Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C

Think of the USB-C connector kind of like a duplex. It has a USB-side and a Thunderbolt 3-side. Thunderbolt 3 allows you to connect your Mac to displays, transfer data quickly between computers and hard drives; as well as, daisy chain external devices using just one connection. The new Macs have all these features available via the USB-C connector.

Watch this: The new MacBook Pro: How Apple added touch without a touchscreen

It's backwards compatible

For years, Macs have had USB and Thunderbolt ports. They were separate.

We used USB, to connect mouses, printers , displays and other peripherals to our computers. That type of USB is called USB-A. USB-C is backwards compatible and will support devices that use USB-A. So that's a plus.

Thunderbolt 3 is equally backwards compatible -- to Thunderbolt 2. The downside for connecting older USB or Thunderbolt devices is that you'll need an adapter to do so. That's because USB-C is physically a different port than USB-A or Thunderbolt 2.

USB-C means no more second guessing if the USC cable is right-side up when you plug it in.

Screenshot by Patrick Holland/CNET

No need to worry about plugging it in upside-down

How many times have you gone to plug in a USB cable and forgotten which side is up? Well, you won't have to do the USB flip dance any more. USB-C is reversible and there is no right side up!

It's super fast

Thunderbolt 3 allows for connection speeds up to 40 gigabits per second. While the new MacBook Pros have Thunderbolt 3, you might have peripherals (hard drives, keyboards, etc.) that don't use Thunderbolt. And that's okay.

With transfer speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second (USB 3.1 Gen 2), USB-C is pretty fast on it's own. This means if you're using a USB-C equipped external hard drive, that your files will still transfer pretty fast. And that's good news for all those photos and videos you're taking with your new iPhone 7 Plus.

It can do a lot

Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) allows you to connect to monitors , charge your Mac, charge your phone from your Mac, transfer data -- all in one physical connector.

While the USB-C connector is undoubtedly the future path for connectivity, there lies an awkward transition ahead. This transition involves adapters and dongles to connect older devices that don't have a USB-C connector built-in. Though eventually over time, the convenience, power and versatility of USB-C will be widespread and everyone will be happy.

Want to know even more about Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C? Take look at this deeper dive on both.