Why Apple’s 3-Meter Thunderbolt 4 Pro Cable Costs So Much

The twist is that it doesn’t cost much more than the competition

  • Apple’s $159 three-meter Thunderbolt 4 cable is just about your only option, size-wise.
  • Thunderbolt’s high performance makes it hard to manufacture on the cheap.
  • Thunderbolt is almost absurdly reliable.
Someone plugging a cable into a computer monitor.

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Q: When does a $159 computer monitor cable seem like a bargain?

 A: When it’s Apple’s three-meter Thunderbolt 4 Pro Cable. 

Apple’s computers are a good deal when compared to the direct competition in the PC world, but there’s no doubt that Apple gouges us on the prices of accessories: $99 for a braided watch strap, $29 for a USB-C iPhone charging cable, and so on. It doesn't help that Apple’s cables are junk and usually split and fray in no time at all. But this three-meter (ten-foot) Thunderbolt cable appears to take things to another level and compared to other options, $159 starts to look like a steal.

"The active technology that contributes to the quality and performance of Thunderbolt cables also makes it pricey. Thunderbolt cables offer much faster data transfer speeds than other types of cables, and they can be used with a wide range of devices," technology writer Joy Therese Gomez told Lifewire via email. 

Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt seems like an impossibly capable protocol. It lets external drives transfer data faster than internal drives of only a few years ago. It can pump enough pixels, 30 times a second, to keep even a 5K Retina display running smoothly. And it can do many of these things simultaneously, allowing that monitor to have its own set of USB-C ports, all while powering the connected computer at up to 100 Watts. 

In short, Thunderbolt is so fast that it effectively makes external peripherals act like internal components. 

Take a look inside a Thunderbolt cable, and you’ll see thick wires, copious electromagnetic shielding against interference, plus several chips that allow this all to function. Intel—the inventor of Thunderbolt—certifies cables to make sure they meet the minimum specs required. Unlike all those cheap USB-C cables on Amazon, which are built to a price, Thunderbolt cables are precision peripherals. Yes, they’re cables, but they’re not just cables. 

Thunderbolt’s tight manufacturing tolerances make the cables expensive, and when you extend the cables to three meters, the tolerances are even more important. So it seems that high Thunderbolt prices are the norm and aren’t ever going to drop by much. 

Reliable

And you know what? That’s fine. Cheap USB cables have their place—frustrating users, contributing to e-waste, etc,—but if you do any kind of pro-level work with your computer, Thunderbolt has one massive advantage. Reliability. My CalDigit TS3+ dock has most of its ports full, including one connected to a high-quality 7-port USB 3.0 hub. This setup is so rock solid it’s like everything is plugged directly into the computer. I can even use a USB audio interface on that second USB hub, and it works like a charm. 

A thunderbolt cable.

Apple

For many people, this reliability makes Thunderbolt worth the price. You just set things up, and never worry about them again. 

Then we add in Apple’s famous fit and finish. These Thunderbolt cables have a braided sleeve and are reassuringly thick. This makes them(hopefully) longer lasting than the cables that ship with iPhones. 

The real test is how these compare to the competition, but that’s not so easy. Apple’s cable is Thunderbolt 4, and most other 3-meter cables are Thunderbolt 3, which allows less power, and less speed for some connections. Instead, let’s compare Apple’s 1.8 meter (six-foot) version, which costs $129.

An Amazon search shows us that Belkin’s 2-meter Thunderbolt 4 cable is currently $80. CalDigit’s older Thunderbolt 2 cable (2 meters) costs $109. There are a few no-name cables on there too, but those are not Intel-certified, and therefore may as well be USB-C cables. 

"Thunderbolt cables offer much faster data transfer speeds than other types of cables, and they can be used with a wide range of devices."

"While Apple's Thunderbolt 4 Pro cables are certainly nice and premium, there are less expensive options available. Most notably, OWC sells Thunderbolt 4 cables in three different sizes, and they are consistently less expensive than Apple's option,” Brandon Wilkes marketing manager for The Big Phone Store told Lifewire via email.

Apple’s cables are, as expected, more expensive than other manufacturers. But as we have seen, Thunderbolt accessories, in general, are way more expensive than we’re used to. If you want a long three-meter cable that can connect at full speeds, then Apple’s is currently the only game in town. With even the cheaper, shorter options coming in at $60+, that purchase is going to hurt, but in the end, it’s totally worth it.

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