With the launch of the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro/Max a few weeks ago, Apple made the definitive leap to the USB-C connector. That has caused the company to also launch some new cables, and one of them, the 1.8-meter Thunderbolt 4 cable (with USB-C connector), costs no less than 149 euros. It seems like an exaggerated price, but someone has taken the trouble to analyze this cable with a unique CT scan and that explains a lot of things.
Industrial tomographies. Lumafield is a company dedicated to the development of computed tomography scanners for industrial applications. The technology used is identical to that used in medical applications, but Lumafield instruments help development departments analyze their designs, improve them and find possible defects before those problems worsen.
This is a connector inside. Precisely one of its product managers, Jon Bruner, explained in a thread on Twitter how they had analyzed Apple’s Thunderbolt 4 cable with USB-C connector. In its analysis – which can be explored in 3D detail in its web tool – it revealed how the connector is a PCBA (Printed Circuit Board Assembly) with nine layers and a remarkable set of internal components. By the way: another version of that same cable was already “dismembered” months ago to also show its internal construction.
“A work of art”. The complexity of the design makes this cable “a work of art” according to this engineer, who showed how the cable has 20 independent wires, 10 of them coaxially shielded. In addition, each of the cables and their shielding are soldered to the printed circuit separately, and to avoid problems Apple integrates a “strain relief mechanism that is crimped in eight different directions.” The connector’s 24 pins also complicate the internal design.
Comparisons. To better understand this complexity, Lumafield decided to do the same analysis of three other much cheaper cables that used a USB-C connector but not with a Thunderbolt 4 interface, but rather an (old) USB 2 interface. It is a somewhat unfair comparison, and perhaps It would have been a good idea to also compare that cable with a cheaper alternative that also offered Thunderbolt 4 support.
Cheaper, simpler. Obviously these designs are much simpler, and for example in the case of Amazon’s USB-C cable it was seen how they only used 12 pins instead of the 24 of the TB4 connector, but besides those pins were not independently connected to the PCBA. In the Amazon connector the pins connect directly to the cables, and there is hardly any strain relief mechanism. Despite this, Bruner assures, the cable is relatively complex: has five wires, two of which have hollow cores. They are also screened to better protect them.
The cheap can be expensive. Things get complicated with cheap cables: the NiceTQ one had no shielding of any kind and the pins and connector protector were “floating” in the outer plastic. There were 8 pins, and only four They were connected to something: although the cable was sold as if it supported USB 3.1 Gen 2 and 10 Gbps, in reality this analysis reveals that it only supports USB 2.0 and 480 Mbps. ATYFUER’s last cable was a charging cable, and despite being the cheapest, is “much more sophisticated” than NiceQT.
The more technology, the more cost. In the conclusions of this unique study, those responsible for Lumafield revealed that in the end “we buy cables that fit our data and current transmission needs”, and that makes each investment a world worth it. Still, the scans make it clear that “there is a lot of room for clever engineering and efficient manufacturing.” The Apple cable still seems expensive, but now it seems a little less expensive, don’t you think?
Image | Lumafield | Manzana