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This is not an Apple thing, more like a common connector thing. Of course Apple chose to use these ports, but all manufacturers are moving towards the USB-C connector nowadays. On the Dell side, it's even worse. You can get a Dell Latitude with the same physical connector which supports 3 different types of dock:
  • USB-C
  • DisplayPort (also passes USB-C)
  • Thunderbolt 3 (also passes DP and USB-C)
At least Apple has narrowed it down to 2 (USB-C & TB3).

Additionally, when selecting different USB-C cables for charging my mom's MacBook and connecting a USB-C external SSD, I found that USB-C cables can support the following options (and probably more):
  • USB 2.0 only (rare)
  • USB 2.0 + Charging (common)
  • USB 3.x only (common)
  • USB 3.x + Charging (seems rare?)
And those options seem to be rarer or more common at different cable lengths. It was hard to find a USB 3.x only cable that was 3-6" long for my external SSD, and I bought 4 when I found one.
 


Now that the dust has settled a bit with the 2018 MacBook Pro, I weighed the options and made my decision - a 15"/i9/560X/32GB/2TB/grey is presently downloading purchased apps from the App Store on our slow rural connection. I'm setting it up "clean," so no Migration Assistant. I can't wait to do Adobe CS6 and Office 2016.

My current external drives are now over four years old, so it's time to refresh them, too. Already ordered a 2TB Samsung 860 EVO and Satechi External Enclosure (through Ric's Amazon link) that will be my CCC backup drive. Will also do a pair of 4 or 8TB spinners, one for media/large stuff, and one for Time Machine.

Thanks to those who already purchased a 2018 and shared your experiences above, they were most helpful.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Additionally, when selecting different USB-C cables for charging my mom's MacBook and connecting a USB-C external SSD, I found that USB-C cables can support the following options (and probably more):
  • USB 2.0 only (rare)
  • USB 2.0 + Charging (common)
  • USB 3.x only (common)
  • USB 3.x + Charging (seems rare?)
When we're talking about USB-C-to-USB-C cables, we have to answer the critical question about Thunderbolt 3 support (and at what speed), plus video support, not just what USB data rates and charging power it supports.

Bottom line, it looks like this $39 Apple cable covers most of the bases:
Apple said:
Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) Cable (0.8 m)
  • Transfer data at up to 40 Gbps
  • USB 3.1 Gen 2 data transfer at up to 10 Gbps
  • DisplayPort video output (HBR3)
  • Connect to Thunderbolt 3– or USB-C–enabled devices and displays
  • Up to 100 watts of power delivery
  • Etched Thunderbolt logo helps it stand out from other cables
 


Now that the dust has settled a bit with the 2018 MacBook Pro, I weighed the options and made my decision - a 15"/i9/560X/32GB/2TB/grey is presently downloading purchased apps from the App Store on our slow rural connection. I'm setting it up "clean," so no Migration Assistant. I can't wait to do Adobe CS6 and Office 2016. Thanks to those who already purchased a 2018 and shared your experiences above, they were most helpful.
I selected a very similar configuration, and brought it up from first principals, then added data using Migration Assistant. Worked great. I really like this machine. I find that Lightroom and Photoshop work just fine - very quick compared to the 2013 machine that was replaced. Battery life is also substantially better, doing the usual web/text editing sort of things. Bang on the processor with Lightroom when not plugged in, however, and you know that you're using all those cores!

So I'm happy. But my use case is pretty specific, and I knew what I was wanting. I do love the Touch ID for confirming my ID, although which installers, etc. actually use it seem wildly inconsistent. I don't use the feature as much, because I unlock with my Apple Watch (which is very fast). I really notice the speed of the SSD array.

So far: happy camper. I did buy a little USB/SD card hub thingie to read my image cards. I'll be traveling with that, plus a second (backup), in the field. And on the desktop, I plug into a Thunderbolt 2 dock using the dongle. That dongle gets warm, which surprised me.
 



When we're talking about USB-C-to-USB-C cables, we have to answer the critical question about Thunderbolt 3 support (and at what speed), plus video support, not just what USB data rates and charging power it supports.
I think the important point here is that a "USB" cable will not support Thunderbolt, even if it has a C-type connector. But it would appear that a Thunderbolt 3 cable (using the same connector) should support everything.

Hopefully the Thunderbolt 3 cables are clearly indicated as such. Apple's product description says that this is the case (Thunderbolt icon on the molded connector). Hopefully this will be done by others, as well.

I think most of this confusion could be eliminated if computer and cable manufacturers would clearly label their ports. Put a USB or Thunderbolt logo on every connector and use the speed-specific USB-variant logos for the USB cables. But this seems to be the rare exception instead of the rule.

It seems to me that the USB and Thunderbolt standards bodies should be mandating something like this as a part of the certification process. I wonder if there is any place a non-member can write to make such a request.
 


... So, there's a big difference between "Apple USB-C Charge Cable" and "Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) Cable", even though they look alike and have the same connectors.
On PCs, PS/2 mini-DIN used green for mice and purple for keyboards. PCs use different colors for the audio in/out jacks. VGA cables have blue connectors, DVI cables have white. USB-3 jacks are blue.

The people who designed the USB-C cable spec should have included color codes or simple icons for the various uses.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Here's a bunch of important information about USB and Thunderbolt performance and compatibility:
CalDigit said:
USB 3.1 & Thunderbolt 3
Both USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt™ 3 offer a greater level of flexibility and performance compared to the iterations that came before them, but what are the major differences?

CalDigit Cable Selector
With the introduction of the Type-C connector it can be quite confusing to understand which cables are compatible with your Type-C device. All Type-C cables look similar but they can be a variety of different protocols such as USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt™ 3.
...
* We do not recommend using a USB 2.0 Type-C cable as it offers significantly reduced speeds.
** Directly connecting a Thunderbolt 3 Active cable to a USB-C (non-thunderbolt) device will result in reduced USB 2.0 speeds.
*** Directly connecting a Thunderbolt 3 Active cable to a Thunderbolt 3 Dock which has a USB 3.0 device connecting to it will still maintain USB 3.0 speeds for that USB device.
**** Apple USB-C charging cable is not compatible with any Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C 3.0 devices.
 


I think most of this confusion could be eliminated if computer and cable manufacturers would clearly label their ports. Put a USB or Thunderbolt logo on every connector and use the speed-specific USB-variant logos for the USB cables. But this seems to be the rare exception instead of the rule.
Good point, but the logos also need to be clear, readable and unambiguous. Even with markings, too darn many cables and ports are impossible to distinguish without turning a flashlight on them and contorting myself or moving the machine/cable so I can see them at the right angle to make the marking visible.
 



...{snip}...
I think most of this confusion could be eliminated if computer and cable manufacturers would clearly label their ports. Put a USB or Thunderbolt logo on every connector and use the speed-specific USB-variant logos for the USB cables. But this seems to be the rare exception instead of the rule. It seems to me that the USB and Thunderbolt standards bodies should be mandating something like this as a part of the certification process. I wonder if there is any place a non-member can write to make such a request.
The Chinese say "a picture is worth 10,000 words". Ah, but which one of those 10,000 words does that icon represent? Once you've clearly defined that, why even bother with an icon? Just print the darn word by the port and be done with it. Oh yeah, internationalization. What is clear in English is meaningless in Chinese.
 


... Even with markings, too darn many cables and ports are impossible to distinguish without turning a flashlight on them and contorting myself or moving the machine/cable so I can see them at the right angle to make the marking visible.
My favorite are embossed icons/text on dark plastic with no contrasting ink. My PowerBook 3400c has those, as well as many PC laptops I've encountered. Luckily my current three PC laptops have printing that contrasts with the case's color. I find Apple's gray on gray (on my 2008-2010 MacBook Pros) difficult to read.
 


...why even bother with an icon? Just print the darn word by the port and be done with it. Oh yeah, internationalization. What is clear in English is meaningless in Chinese.
For those of us who work with computers internationally, the value of this sort of standardization can't be overstated.

It doesn't matter whether I'm in the US, Japan, or Indonesia--if I see a thunderbolt icon, I know what it means.

Somewhat amusingly, this is akin to characters in Asian logographic languages like Japanese or Chinese, where one symbol represents a word or concept, but they're universally intelligible even in languages with an alphabet.

That said, it's not usual for icons these days to incorporate Latin text (HDMI), and most computing protocol terms have been pretty thoroughly standardized, so it's pretty much standard to see terms like "USB 3.1" or "SCSI" even in purely Japanese, Chinese, or Russian text. This is, unfairly, probably easier to absorb for those of us who already use languages with a Latin alphabet.
 


FWIW, my MacBook Air got it right. There's a black icon next to every port - power, USB, headphone and Thunderbolt. I know immediately that the Thunderbolt port is not DisplayPort, because it has the lightning icon and not the round-rect-with-lines video icon.

The MacBook and MacBook Pro really should have done the same with the USB-C ports. The MacBook should have a USB icon next to its port. The MacBook Pro should have a Thunderbolt icon (or perhaps both Thunderbolt and USB) next to each of its four ports. Apple may argue that labeling is pointless because all the ports are the same, but it leads to confusion, especially for people who aren't intimately familiar with Apple's product offerings.

And there need to be matching icons on the cables - at very minimum, Apple needs to do it for all the cables they sell - including the "power" icon for their charge-only cable. Ideally, molded into the plastic housing and printed in a high-contrast color. This way, naïve users can simply match icon to icon and not be subject to unwanted surprises when they find everything running slowly or failing to connect altogether.
 


FWIW, my MacBook Air got it right. There's a black icon next to every port - power, USB, headphone and Thunderbolt. I know immediately that the Thunderbolt port is not DisplayPort, because it has the lightning icon and not the round-rect-with-lines video icon.
The current-gen iMacs do the same; the USB3 ports are labeled with the USB icon, the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports are labeled with a Thunderbolt icon (USB-C cross-compatibility is only implied), Ethernet has Ethernet, and the audio jack has a headphone icon. Only the SDXC card slot is, strangely, unlabeled.

The current (and previous) MacBook Pros don't have labels on their ports at all, although all of the ports can be any of 3 things: Thunderbolt 3, USB-C, or power for the computer. Basically, "if it fits, it works".

While Thunderbolt 3 is, by definition, cross-compatible with USB-C, the icon wouldn't indicate this to unfamiliar users, and it also doesn't indicate that they can be used to supply power. So, from that admittedly strained logic, not labeling it isn't wrong, in that unless and until another standard using the same connector is developed, they will simply work with anything that can be physically connected to them.

No headphone icon on the headphone jack doesn't benefit from that excuse though.

I can say that all Thunderbolt 3 cables I've seen have the icon on them, and I expect this will be consistent, since there's no other way for the manufacturers to differentiate them from non-Thunderbolt 3 USB-C cables, and people are paying enough that they're going to want you to know what you're holding.
 



The current (and previous) MacBook Pros don't have labels on their ports at all, (....) .
A note of information, my MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013) does have all the ports labeled, black ink on silver case, except for the SDXC slot.
 




2015 and earlier MacBook Pros:
Look at the port and know what it's for. Same for the cable.

2016 and later MacBook Pros:
Ports all look the same.
Cables all look the same.
Symbols on the cables -- so tiny you can barely see 'em, and do you remember what they mean?

2015 and earlier:
Plug-and-play.

2016 and later:
Plug-and-pray.

That's progress!
 



...
2016 and later MacBook Pros:
Ports all look the same.
Cables all look the same.
Symbols on the cables -- so tiny you can barely see 'em, and do you remember what they mean?
...
2016 and later:
Plug-and-pray.
That's progress!
The headphone jack aside, on the MacBook Pro 2016 and later, all the ports don't just look the same, they are the same. It isn't like two are USB-only Type-C and two are Thunderbolt Type-C. If you know it is a 2016+ MacBook Pro model, then you know what the ports are. They are all the same and are the only kind.

When there are multiple sockets and multiple cables, then you have to find the right one. With Type-C, if you have the cable that is appropriate to connect "to" the MacBook Pro, then any empty socket will/should work.

Some people had a presumption that if things went to a "universal" socket (one format to rule them all) then magically a universal cable would come along with it. Physics gets in the way of that. A short copper wire(s) perhaps, but as you get longer, that isn't going to work in all cases.

(And the headphone jack being the lone outlier isn't all the hard to distinguish. That is almost quintessentially the "round hole and square peg" problem - or square hole and round peg one.)

For the cables, what's is on the "other side" from what will be plugged into the computer can help. A USB Type-A, DisplayPort, or anything besides USB type-C basically tells you what the cable is, without looking at symbols. If you leave a special Type-C-to-type-C cable attached to its special external device, then looking at the 'opposite' end has the same effect (e.g., power delivery cable attached to power brick). If you only buy higher quality, "universal coverage" short cables, then you don't have to look (as long as you're dealing with your own cables).

Random Type C-to-Type C cables that you encounter are still left, but most day-to-day usage with common contexts shouldn't be much of a problem. Some cables aren't going to be well marked, because they never passed the compliance tests. As long as some folks are out to get the cheapest cables, "plug and pray" is still going to be around to some extent (if handed a random cable).
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
... If you know it is a 2016+ MacBook Pro model, then you know what the ports are. They are all the same and are the only kind....
Actually, that's not quite true (as I'm sure you already know), because there were some differences in throughput/bandwidth between different Thunderbolt 3 ports on some 2016 MacBook Pro models.
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports) supports Thunderbolt 3 at full performance using the two left-hand ports. The two right-hand ports deliver Thunderbolt 3 functionality, but have reduced PCI Express bandwidth.
Another issue is that the 12" MacBook and the 2016+ MacBook Pro have identical-appearing Type C ports with no markings (e.g. see here), yet they have radically different capabilities (USB 3-only vs. Thunderbolt 3).

Great wrap-up, otherwise, though! :-)
 


The 2018 MacBook Pro supplemental update posted today is a 1.31GB (!) direct download… who knows how much of that is frameworks and whatnot that just came along for the ride vs. actual changed code. I'm running the Mojave beta, so no update for me today.

I'm still gradually installing apps and migrating preferences on my new Core i9, which is mostly going smoothly. Even Office 2016 and Adobe CS6 installed without issues, having deactivated both on my iMac prior to installing. I used the "fake Java folder" trick for CS6 to avoid having to install a very old, insecure version of Java. I have not noticed any speaker crackling issues. I like the Touch ID feature, but as Adam noted above, it's very hit or miss whether you can "touch" or have to resort to typing.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
The 2018 MacBook Pro supplemental update posted today is a 1.31GB (!) direct download… who knows how much of that is frameworks and whatnot that just came along for the ride vs. actual changed code.
I downloaded it (though it doesn't apply to me) and looked at it with Pacifist. There's a massive amount of stuff in there, including some really interesting things, eg.
  • macOSBrain [atomicupdatetool]
  • Bluetooth File Exchange.app
  • TouchID.profileDomainPlugin
  • RAID Utility.app
  • NowPlayingTouchUI
  • SecurityAgentPlugins
  • Setup Assistant.app
  • boot.efi.j...
  • cloudpaird
  • CryptoTokenKit
  • afpfs.kext
  • hfs.fs
  • PrivateFrameworks
  • SecureBoot.bundle
  • FirmwareUpdatePkg
  • MRT.app
  • AppleVNCServer.bundle
  • RemoteManagement
  • XProtect.bundle
  • ScreensharingAgent.bundle
  • /private/var/db/gkopaque.bundle
  • Safari.app
and much, much more....
 


Actually, that's not quite true (as I'm sure you already know), because there were some differences in throughput/bandwidth between different Thunderbolt 3 ports on some 2016 MacBook Pro models.
There is no industry standard label for "we designed ourselves into a corner and gimped this system".

What is goofy is that there is actually more unassigned PCI-e v3 bandwidth inside of the MacBook Pro 13", because it doesn't have a discrete GPU like the MacBook Pro 15".

They managed to hook up the 15" with even ports on both sides, but not the MacBook Pro 13" (where there are more baseline resources!). That doesn't need a label on the inside; it just needs to get fixed in the next iteration. It smells of a contrived, Scrooge McDuck market segmentation gimmick. (Apple may have run out of room for the traces because the MacBook Pro 13" main logic board is much smaller, but they created that problem themselves. But, given that the 2018 logic board is basically the same size, I suspect this was a gimmick.)
Another issue is that the 12" MacBook and the 2016+ MacBook Pro have identical-appearing Type C ports with no markings (e.g. see here), yet they have radically different capabilities (USB 3-only vs. Thunderbolt 3).
If you "know what system you have", they are different. But yes....
Another "designed ourselves into a corner" issue that is of their own internal creation: there is no Thunderbolt because there is no room for the Thunderbolt controller. The MacBook basic design got laid down in 2015, and they haven't done an "oops we goofed' next iteration on design.

It only took the MacBook Air from 2008 to 2010 to get to the next basic iteration on the design. The MacBook 2015-2017 didn't move at all and may yet again land in the same original place. (The keyboard probably will get plastic inserts.) However, if the corner were a bit bigger, they could make the new Mac line-up uniform.
 


My wife needs to replace the handed-down 2009 vintage 17" MacBook Pro she has been using, as the hinge is giving out and OS support is likely going away completely.

In researching replacements, I am a little shocked to find that 2015 vintage 13.3-inch MacBook Pros (her preferred size) available from parties such as OWC are only slightly less in price than Apple refurbished 2017 models, comparably configured.

I can imagine this would be partially due to people disliking the new "get less for your money" Apple port/power supply situation. Her needs are such that she can deal with that, and would enjoy the "as new" warranty. However, I am pausing because I am concerned that the flaky keyboard situation may be a more important factor.

I'm halfway disgruntled enough to consider a Windows product but hope to be put back on the true path one way or another by someone who might weigh in on the contingencies we face. Sheesh, why can't buying a new machine be "just works" fun any more?
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
I'm halfway disgruntled enough to consider a Windows product but hope to be put back on the true path one way or another by someone who might weigh in on the contingencies we face.
I chose last year to buy a 2015 MacBook Pro instead of a newer model, though I paid Apple's outrageous price for it. Needing what it provided, I've been happy with my decision but mad about the price and the closed, proprietary nature of the design (vs. alternative Windows products).

You already know some problems with the newer MacBook Pros, but I'll list some concerns:
  • defective keyboard design
  • instances of sudden total failure (apparently not too common)
  • dependence on macOS 10.13 and incompatibility with older OS X versions
  • abandonment of MagSafe
  • the requirement for dongles for any peripheral
  • concerns about T2 issues (and proprietary Apple SSDs)
  • lack of access and upgradability
  • Their oversized trackpad seemed like it could be a real problem.
  • Apple added a $300 premium for the touchbar.
I didn't get a discrete GPU with my 2015 model, because Apple was no longer selling one, and also because I was concerned about problems with that (considering Apple's horrible history in that area).

I paid exhorbitantly to get a 1TB SSD, but I'd do things differently this time and buy Apple's smallest SSD and then do a third-party upgrade.

On the plus side for the MacBook Pro 2016 and later, Thunderbolt 3 is a game-changer and it's reaching critical mass now. (Interestingly, some very good Windows laptops also offer it, at prices well below $1000.) For USB, the new Type-C ports are twice as fast as previous USB ports: 10 Gbps (equivalent to Thunderbolt 1).

The fingerprint reader also has garnered praise on MacInTouch. And the new models are stunningly thin and small, as well as significantly faster in the latest iterations.
 


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