Test: Plugable Thunderbolt 3 cable & USB-C to SATA adapter

Plugable is well-known for its inexpensive — if not cheap — products of well above average quality. After a few nasty experiences with Thunderbolt 3 cables and a USB 3.2 Gen. 2 C-type to SATA adapter by a company who charges a hefty premium for its products, I decided to see if Plugable’s products are any better.

I tested an 80cm Plugable Thunderbolt 3 cable ($26.95), capable of 40Gbps and 60W power first. Then I turned my attention to the Plugable USB-C to SATA adapter ($29.99) and compared it with the Angelbird equivalent.

The Thunderbolt 3 cable was a passive one. Below 1m, Thunderbolt 3 cables can be either passive or active. The active cables contain a processor in each connector to guarantee the 40Gbps performance, compatibility with a large number of devices, including Thunderbolt monitors, and the 60W power charge capability. Below 1m, these processors are not needed and as they’re expensive components, most manufacturers leave them out. The Plugable is no exception.

That doesn’t mean the cable doesn’t perform, quite on the contrary. So far, the best Thunderbolt 3 cables I’ve come across are those made by Apple and CalDigit. Both are more expensive than the Plugable, but, in this case, the cheapest is just as good as the most expensive. The Plugable cable performed well when used with a large number of devices.

I did my best to get my hands on a Thunderbolt 3 monitor to test it with a display as well, but no vendor was willing to send me a loan unit, so I am sad to say that, even after two months, I can’t try it out.

Other than this, I can only say the Plugable Thunderbolt 3 cable of 80cm is well-built with connectors made from one solid piece of metal — cheap ones usually have this metal component made of two shells. A nice detail is that the cable has a label on one end with all its specs.

USB-C to SATA converter

The Plugable USB-C to SATA converter is a no-frills thing. It’s a short cable with a USB-C connector at one end and a SATA head at the other. There are no ports for powering the SATA end. The whole thing is assembled, meaning the cable itself cannot be separated from the SATA interface. My previous experiences with such adapters are the Angelbird adapter which looked very promising but proved to be useless for connecting anything more than a 2.5inch disk drive, despite being advertised as a dual-drive capable adapter due to the power port on the SATA end.

Despite the comments I got afterwards from the vendor, the power adapter tip you need cannot be purchased from any online or brick store. Perhaps that has changed now that we are a year later, but back then the thing was useless for 3.5inch drives.

The much uglier Delock USB 3 (not USB-C type) adapter I got later on did what it promised. It’s an adapter with a separate SATA part that has a power port, a separate USB 3 cable and a power adapter with the proper power tip. With this adapter, you can use 2.5in as well as 3.5in disk drives. The downside is that it’s bulky and easily breaks due to the components all separate from each other.

The Plugable is advertised as 2.5inch drive only. It’s very lightweight and very strong. Granted, it does not power your 3.5in drives, but the company explicitly warns you upfront it will not work with anything else than 2.5in drives. For those, including SATA-connected SSDs, you will have a hard time finding a better solution than the Plugable.

As with all Plugable devices I’ve tested so far, both products are well made and robust, and they’re dirt cheap when compared to other brands.