Best USB-C cables 2023: Get quality charging and data transfers
We bought 14 USB-C cables and put them through the wringer.
By Gordon Mah Ung
PCWorldOct 27, 2022 7:30 am PDT
Image: Gordon Mah Ung
It’s easy to think that all USB-C cables are the same, and that differences are just promotional gimmicks and a way to hike up prices. After all, it’s just a cable, right?
Despite this being a common belief, it’s actually wrong. We have tested numerous USB-C cables and we can say with certainty they are not all the same. In fact, we noticed huge performance differences among cables both in regards to charging devices and transferring data.
But with such a multitude of options available, how are you supposed to know which are the best USB-C cables? To figure this out, we tested 14 cables ranging from the biggest, most-recognizable brand-names to the cheapest of the cheap and put them through the wringer to test how they all stood up against one another. We identified some clear winners, which we have highlighted below to help make your purchasing decision easier.
We separated our picks into two groups: USB-C cables suitable for charging, and those suitable for both charging and fast data transfer. The distinction essentially comes down to the difference between USB-C 2.0 and 3.1. (Learn more in our guide on how to buy a USB-C cable on Amazon without losing your mind, and find out about how we tested these cables below our picks.)
The Javex USB-C to USB-C cable came to our attention over its claim of having met the stringent UL 9990 testing standards, which involves Underwriters Laboratory buying random samples of the cable from stores and rigorously testing them for performance and consistency.
As you can imagine, it’s probably not cheap to be in the program, especially when few are even aware of the value of a UL 9990 logo; which could explain why Javex is no longer listed as part of the program but still claims UL9990 “materials” are used.
Regardless, we do know that in our testing, the cable was top-notch in delivering higher voltage at both 60-watt and 100-watt loads. Like most brands we’ve never heard of, there’s confusing ad copy, with claims of just 5 volts at 3 amps (15 watts) and no mention of it supporting 20 volts at 5 amps (the 100 watts you need for a laptop). The ad copy also mentions a 56k ohm pull-up resistor “for safety.” That last part confuses us because that’s only required on a USB-C to USB-A cable—not USB-C to USB-C.
Despite this, we saw solid performance in both reaching 100-watt charge rates for a laptop, and very low resistance on its high-quality wires makes it our top pick for a 6-foot charging cable from a brand you haven’t heard of.
And while it lacks wires to support USB 3.1 speeds, that makes the cable very pliable and lightweight.
We’ll be honest, we didn’t know what to expect of the stock 6.6-foot Apple USB-C Charge Cable Apple includes with its MacBook laptops and sells as a replacement item. Yes, we’ve heard the stories and seen the pictures of the sleeving on many Apple cables that fall off if you look at them too hard.
In the end, Apple’s USB-C Charge Cable won us over and is actually our recommended cable for those who want a big name on the box and intend to use it for mostly charging. When we say the box, we mean it, because Apple oddly doesn’t include any branding on the cable itself, which is a mistake because you just might mix it up with a lousy cable.
In the end though, it’s what’s inside a cable that matters the most and the Apple USB-C cable has top-notch wiring materials that can deliver the most power to your laptop, phone, or tablet. Want to charge your laptop at 100 watts all day? That shouldn’t be a problem for the Apple USB-C Charge Cable.
Obviously, as a charge cable it’s terrible for data transfer and can’t drive Thunderbolt devices nor your monitor, but as a charging cable it’s excellent.
Another ding is its price of $19, but if you want a name-brand cable, it’s hard to beat this. Plus you can buy it from an Apple store or retailer so you know you’re actually getting what you paid for and not some counterfeit.
For most people the above cables are what you’re looking for: reliable and fast charging (when paired with a good power bank). For those who also want to transfer data or connect a monitor though, these are our picks:
Best USB-C cables for charging and transferring data
If you’re looking for a high-quality USB-C cable that will give you excellent performance, it’s hard to beat Cable Matters 6-foot USB-C cable. The cable can do it all and do it all well (well, almost) from charging at up to 100 watts, transferring data from your USB 3.1 SSD, or running a monitor. The only area where it doesn’t excel is in Thunderbolt performance, which is limited to 20Gbps. That’s not a ding in our book because that’s the tradeoff of a 6-foot cable. To hit 40Gbps, you’d have to step down to a shorter cable.
The other cost of this quality is weight and pliability. The cable weighs almost 3.5 ounces, making it the the heaviest cable we tested outside of the 4-meter (13-foot) cable we looked at above. Those thicker gauge wires also mean you can’t roll up as easily or compactly as other cables, too.
And no surprise, high performance and high quality mean it’s not cheap. At $18, it’s among the more expensive cables here. But if performance and quality is your jam, the Cable Matters 6-foot USB-C cable will have you humming.
Cable Matters USB3 Cable is but 2.6-foot so it lacks the appeal of long cables. What appealed to us enough to buy the cable is its USB4 rating which promises high-performance.
And no surprise, the cable was able to charge our laptop at 100 watts, and offered the best voltage and lowest resistance thanks to the wires Cable Matters uses and its 2.6-foot length. That also translated into excellent USB 3.1 data transfer rates, monitor support and the only cable here capable of driving our Thunderbolt 3 SSD at a full 40Gbps data rates.
If you’re looking for high-performance in all things and don’t mind the length, the Cable Matters USB4 cable is our pick.
Its weaknesses are its stiff feel thanks to the higher-quality, thicker wires and construction Cable Matters uses, and its price. Looked at in dollars-per-foot, this $20 cable is about $8 per foot. With the Amazon Basics USB 3.1 USB-C cable below, you’re only paying $3.17 per foot.
That Amazon cable can’t match the Cable Matters USB4 in Thunderbolt performance, but few need it. That makes the cable best suited to niche areas but it’s fast nonetheless with excellent construction.
3. Amazon Basics 6-foot USB-C USB 3.1 Charging Cable
There’s a lot to like about the Amazon Basics USB 3.1 Gen 1 USB-C cable. This 6-foot cable features rubber sleeving and hefty wires that give it a substantive feel without the stiffness you get from some cables.
Its Amazon Basics logo helps prevent you from mixing up this cable with the generic cables you have laying around, and the SuperSpeed logo assures you it’s fast for data transfers.
In our testing, we were able to able to push the limits of our USB 3.2 10Gbps SSD and could also drive our 240Hz 1080p panel. It also was capable of driving our high-performance Thunderbolt 3 drive at its 20Gbps data rate but not at its 40Gbps data rate—which is expected of a 6-foot cable. And despite its USB 5Gbps rating, we could hit 10Gbps speeds anyway which says the cable’s signal integrity is good despite its length. Why not label it USB 10Gbps? Amazon is sticking to the rules which say a 10Gbps isn’t supposed to work on a 6 foot cable.
Also oddly, Amazon specifically claims there’s “no alt-mode” support for this cable so driving a monitor won’t work. Except it does just fine since the alt-mode on USB-C just uses the wires included for the higher-speed USB 3.1 data transfers to run the monitor. We could even drive our high-performance Thunderbolt drive at 20Gbps transfer rates so way to sell yourself short Amazon.
The only real disappointment with the cable is charging is limited to 3 amps which means it tops out at 60-watt charge rates. That’s fine for a Dell XPS 13 or MacBook Pro 13, but not enough for a Dell XPS 15 or MacBook Pro 16. In fact, that’s the primary reason we didn’t give the cable the nod for best brand-name cable pick.
It does carry Amazon’s name which has value to some, but at $19, it’s hardly a steal. With that said, this is a fine cable, but there are indeed ones with more capability too.
Compared to our picks above, we wouldn’t advise purchasing any of the other USB-C cables we tested. Why settle for something inferior? But we understand some will want to see which cables didn’t make the cut and why.
The Dockcase USB-C to USB-C cable is the worst value here if you only judge a cable by length and price. In capability though, this 8.5-inch cable is one of the better performers—a consequence of its short length. The shorter the cable, the less the resistance and, well, the better the performance, even with thin wires.
The Dockcase advertises a 100-watt charge rate, 4K video support, and even Thunderbolt 3 support. The company doesn’t mention it but that Thunderbolt 3 speed is limited to 20Gbps, not the full 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 users expect, so take note. It’s not practical, but we did charge our laptop at 100 watts with the Dockcase.
Physically, the cable is a flat design with a rubbery outer sheath. The strain relief where the cable connects to the housing is minimal, as well, which makes us question its durability over time.
Its length is best suited for an ultra-fast portable USB-C SSD, and can pinch hit for charging or running your monitor. We personally wouldn’t recommend it for use with a high-speed Thunderbolt drive or device though, given its aforementioned limitations with that spec.
The Amazon Basics USB-C to USB-C USB 2.0 is the cable that epitomizes minimum effort. At 6-feet long, it will do its job to charge your phone or tablet, and even your laptop at up to 60 watts, and that’s about it. Since it’s a USB 2.0 cable, data transfers to or from your computer will be dog slow compared to a USB 3.1 cable. Moving a 1GB file might take a few seconds on a USB 3.1 cable and nearly a minute with the Amazon Basics USB-C Charging cable.
The cable itself is amazingly light. In fact, it’s probably too light, which means Amazon didn’t really use the thickest wires it could for this cable. That shows up with some of the highest resistance among the cables 6 feet or longer in this roundup, meaning less power delivered to your phone or tablet. Granted, we are talking about 2 percent lower wattage compared to the best of the longer cables here. But still, that’s like a school report card that says “present” as its main selling point.
It’s not all bad for the Amazon Basics cable. It does carry a big-name brand. And its lack of wires to support higher-speed USB 3.1 makes it relatively thin and light, and very pliable.
Would we use this cable to charge our laptop every day? Probably not, but for someone charging a phone or tablet, its lightweight feel can be be a plus.
This is Anker’s oldest Powerline cable but it’s still available alongside the Powerline II and Powerline III models. As its name tells you: This version is a USB 2.0 (480Mbps) cable, so transferring large files to your phone or tablet from your computer will be tedious at best.
It has a black plastic sleeve without the tacky rubbery feel some cables have. On the inside it’s about average, with actual charging performance somewhat better than the Amazon Basics USB 2.0 cable but not in the class of the Javex cable, which supports charge rates up to 100 watts instead of the Powerline’s 60 watts. Phones, tablets, and light-duty laptops are its best use cases.
Unfortunately, while it’s a decent cable for certain uses, its pricing hurts it. At its typical pricing of $12 it’s not worth it. We’ve seen it more recently for $8, which makes it slightly more attractive, but even at that price, we’d recommend you buy the Javex instead.
Among the small-brand cables that support all the features of a USB-C to USB-C cable, the Rampow ranked as probably the best. The 6.6-foot cable supports USB 3.1 10Gbps data transfer rates, up to 100-watt charge rates, and could run our high-refresh USB-C monitor. Although its USB drive performance was a few points off the faster cables here, it could run our high-performance Thunderbolt drive at 20Gbps just fine.
Are there better cables? Sure, obviously, for a charge-only cable we’d take the Javex over the Rampow, and the Cable Matters 6-foot USB-C cable is a better full-feature cable, as well.
But we know, you just like the way it looks. The fact that it’s not expensive at $14 doesn’t hurt either. For a small-brand cable, it’s not too bad and you could do worse.
How we test USB-C cables
For this roundup, we purchased retail USB-C cables for our testing. We physically measured and weighed each cable and examined each connector. A proper USB-C cable should use a one-piece shell rather than a folded shell with a visible seam in it. None of the cables we purchased used the lower-strength folded shells.
We do want to point out that weight does tend to matter. All cables are essentially tiny metallic wire strands bound together with insulation. Sure, the connector, housing, braiding, and outer shell all factors in its weight, but lighter-duty cables literally have fewer wires and are far lighter. For example, the Cable Matters high-performance USB 4 cable is 32-inches long and weighs more than the Amazon Basics low-performance USB 2.0 cable, which is more than twice as long.
That’s not always better though, as a cable with more wires that are a heavier gauge—or thicker—are less pliable and also take up more space in your bag.
Are they all wired correctly?
You’d think you could tell whether a cable is USB-C 2.0 cable by looking at the wires in the connector but that’s not the case. Some cables use connectors with pins that aren’t hooked up to anything.
To check each cable, we use a BitTradeOne USB Cable Checker 2.0 to first see what actual wires are inside of the cable and whether they are hooked up correctly and what they do. For example, a USB-C cable that is fine for charging but a dog in data transfer will show up as being wired only for USB-C 2.0, as you can see below by the green LEDs. The “CC” LED indicates the Cable Configuration channel is wired up correctly.
A full-featured USB-C cable has additional wires to carry higher-speed data and the USB Cable Checker 2.0 shows this Cable Matters USB 4 cable in the picture below with the correct wiring all available. The small LED display also tells us that the cable has an ID e-Marker chip, the shell is properly grounded to the cable, and it does a quick resistance test too. The cable tester also checks to see if the metal shell of the cable is grounded to the ground wire of the cable, which is required by spec. Every cable here was properly grounded.
Resistance is futile
The resistance check from our cable checker is quick and dirty, so we augmented that by also measuring the resistance of the cable’s ground wire and vbus wire using a milli-ohm meter connected via a pair of USB-C breakout boards. The breakout boards at both ends add about 30 mohms to the total. By spec, a USB-C cable should not exceed 83 mohms on the ground wires and 167 mohms on the voltage bus.
Many of the cables we tested were within spec or close enough that it didn’t matter, since there’s likely even more resistance we’re not able to account for with our method. We definitely could tell which cables used heavier-gauge or thick wires with less resistance to restrict the flow of electricity, and which ones cheaped out.
What did the e-Marker say?
Since each of the more advanced cables carries an e-Marker that tells the computer what the cable can do, we noted that and the validity of the e-Marker’s claims. All but one of the cables met those claims, but the one that was wrong was way, way wrong. It claimed USB 3.2 10Gbps transfer speeds and a 1-meter length, when it literally didn’t have the wires for the faster transfer speeds and was actually 2 meters long.
We then looked at how fast the cable would charge and transfer data, and whether it supported an alternate mode to run a monitor, using real-world hardware.
For charging speeds we recorded the maximum wattage at which the cable could charge an Asus ROG Strix 15 gaming laptop over its USB-C port using USB-Power Delivery with an Aukey 100 watt USB-PD charger as the source while the laptop was under load. USB-PD today is limited to 100 watts (with a 240-watt spec on the way). Any USB-C to USB-C cable should handle 3 amps at 20 volts, or 60 watts. All of the USB-C to USB-C cables fell into the standard 60-watt or 100-watt camps.
We didn’t test the temperature of each cable’s housing, but we did test the cheapest cable by running it at 5 amps and 20 volts for an hour. The housing heated up by 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cable itself became relatively warm (see the thermal image below). Not ideal, but it did this without failure. We subjected other cables to two-hour loads without failure, as well.
For one final charge test, we tasked each cable with a 20 volt, 3 amp and 20 volt 5 amp load (for the 5-amp rated cables) and measured the voltage delivered at the end of the cable using our CT-3 meter.
The cables with the thinnest-gauge wires add more resistance, which in turn reduces the voltage delivered to your laptop, tablet, or phone.
For data transfer, we measured the speed using Crystal Disk Mark 8 while plugged into the USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 port of an MSI Prestige 14 Evo laptop. Since the cables can also be used to transfer data from a Thunderbolt storage drive, we measured how fast that happened using a high-speed SSD-based SanDisk Professional Thunderbolt G-Drive. We found three transfer modes among the cables tested: Thunderbolt 20Gbps performance, Thunderbolt 40Gbps performance, or zero performance because the cable would not work at all with a Thunderbolt drive.
Our last test looked at each cable’s capability running an Asus ROG Strix 17.3-inch portable gaming monitor. The monitor is a high-performance gaming monitor with a resolution of 1920×1080 and refresh rate of 240Hz—which is basically the same bandwidth requirements of a standard 4K 60Hz display.
What are the different types of USB-C Cables?
There are a number of different types of USB-C cables including: USB 2.0, USB 3.1 Gen 1, USB 3.1 Gen 2, and Thunderbolt 4.
The main difference between all of these is their data transfer rates. Older versions such as USB 2.0 have data transfer rates of 480Mbps while the latest Thunderbolt 4 has screaming-fast data transfer rates of 40Gbps.
Also, Thunderbolt 4 is distinctive in the fact that it also allows for video-out DisplayPort signals, meaning you can use it to connect to an external display. All other USB-C ports do not allow for this video-out capability.
What are USB-C cables used for?
USB-C cables are mainly used for both data transfer and charging. The speed of data transfer and relative charging power are dependent upon the version of USB-C cable and port you are connecting with.
If your USB-C cable is a Thunderbolt 4—marked with a lighting bolt icon on the connector—then you are also able to connect it to an external monitor to send video-out signals.
What is the difference between a Type A and Type C cable?
There are a few key differences between the two. The first is the size and shape of the cable. A USB-A cable connector will be rectangular in shape with a 4-pin connector. A USB-C cable on the other hand, will be much smaller and thinner with rounded edges.
There are different versions of both USB-A and USB-C, which support different data transfer rates. Typically, USB-C will be faster both for data transfer and power charging.