What is USB-C? Features, Performance & More!

In this article, we are going to discuss everything you should know about USB C.

In the world of personal technology, settling on an everyday normal to rule them all is an elusive target. At best, you end up in a format war, and one party emerges triumphant for a couple of years before it is wiped out by entirely new technology. VHS ate Betamax, then was replaced by DVD, which faded in front of Blu-ray, a norm which itself knocked off its chief competitor, HD DVD, and now faces its death at the hands of online streaming.

But this is distinct from USB-C. And maybe even it’s becoming as universal as its acronym (Universal Serial Bus) implies.

USB Type-C ports are now accessible from simple external hard drives to mobile charging cables on all devices. Each USB-C port looks the same, but not every single one provides the same capabilities. Everywhere, USB-C can appear, but it doesn’t serve the same functions everywhere.

Here’s a guide to all that USB-C can do, and which of its features you can look for when you purchase the next USB-C. 

What is USB C?

USB-C is a standard industry connector for transmitting data as well as power over a single cable. The USB-C connector was developed by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), a company community that, over the years, has developed, accredited the USB standard. The USB-IF has a membership of over 700 companies, including Apple, Dell, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Samsung.

This full acceptance is significant, as it’s part of why PC manufacturers have adopted USB-C so readily. Contrast this with the earlier Apple-fostered (and developed) Lightning and MagSafe connectors, which had minimal acceptance outside Apple products and are soon to be obsolete due to USB-C.

USB-C is the latest charging and data transfer standard. Right now, it’s used in things like the newest laptops, phones, and tablets, and, with time, it’s going to expand to pretty much all that the older, larger USB connector is used.

Though the USB-C specifications were first released in 2014, the technology has caught on only in the last year. Now it is shaping up to be a real substitute not only for older USB standards but also for other standards such as Thunderbolt and DisplayPort. Also, in the works, research is about creating a new USB audio format using USB-C as a possible substitute for the 3.5 mm audio port. USB-C is also closely related to other emerging standards — such as USB 3.1 for higher speeds and USB Power Delivery for increased power transfer over USB connections.

Performance of USB-c Pinout

  • It is very, very easy. The USB-C can send up to 10Gbps of data (gigabits per second) Or a whole feature-length high definition movie in just 30 seconds. That is twenty times faster than USB2.0.
  • More Power. USB-C cables can power almost anything with up to 100 watts, or three amps of power. And some printers, from laptops to big, high-resolution monitors.
  • The impression of a 4 K Ultra HD. Ultra-HD 4 K video resolution can be supplied to USB-C and HDMI displays via USB-C cables. That’s four times standard high definition resolution.

USB-C is not yet a new development. It is a new standard. It means that everything it promises can be extended to all kinds of devices — speed, ease of use, universality. With that great promise, USB-C has another advantage over existing USB cables: it will be around for a long time to come.

USB C  Features A New Connector Shape

USB Type-C has a new, tiny physical connector — approximately the size of a USB micro connector. The USB-C connector itself will support various innovative new USB specifications, such as USB 3.1 and USB power (USB PD) transmission.

The primary USB connector with which you are most familiar is USB Type-A. While we have progressed from USB 1 to USB 2 and on to new USB 3 devices, the connector has remained the same. It’s as big as ever, and it just fits in one direction (which naturally never is the direction you first try to plug it). But those big USB ports just didn’t suit as devices got smaller and thinner. It gave rise to many other types of USB connectors, such as the “micro” and “mini” connectors.

This cumbersome series of variously formed connectors for devices of varying sizes is gradually coming to a close. USB Type-C provides a new, tiny standard connector. It is around a third of the size of an old Type-A USB plug. It is a regular single connector that every computer should be able to use. If you are connecting an external hard drive to your laptop or charging your mobile from a USB adapter, you will only need one cable. The one tiny connector is small enough to fit into a super-thin mobile device but still strong enough to connect to your laptop all the peripherals you want. At both ends, the cable itself has USB Type-C connections-it’s just one connection.

USB-C gives plenty to like. It is reversible, so you won’t have to turn the connector around at least three times trying for the correct orientation anymore. It is a single USB connector shape that should be followed by all users, so you won’t have to hold tons of different USB cables with varying forms of connectors for your various devices. And on ever thinner apps, you won’t have any more huge ports taking up an enormous amount of space.

Using “alternate modes,” USB Type-C ports can also support several different protocols, allowing you to have adapters that can output HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort, or other types of connections from that single USB port. Apple’s USB-C Digital Multiport Adapter is a perfect example of this, providing an adapter that lets you connect a single port to HDMI, VGA, larger USB Type-A connectors, and smaller USB Type-C connectors. On modern laptops, the mess of USB, HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, and power ports can be condensed into one single port form.

Is USB C Like Micro USB?

At first glance, the USB-C connector looks identical to a micro USB connector, but its best feature is more oval and slightly thicker to accommodate: unflappability.

The USB-C port, like Lightning and MagSafe, has no up- or down orientation. Form the connector correctly, and you never have to turn it over to plug it in; it’s just up the “right way.” At both ends, the cables always have the same connector, so you don’t have to find out which end goes where. It was not the case for all the USB cables that we have been using for the past 20 years. Some of the time, each end has different connectors.

USB C and USB 3.1

The default protocol used for the USB-C port is USB 3.1, which is twice as fast as USB 3.0 at 10Gbps, technically. The slight wrinkle is that the original, more significant form of USB 3.1 ports may also exist; such ports (the rectangles we all know) are called USB 3.1 Type-A. But apart from on desktops, looking at USB 3.1 ports with physical USB-C connectors is far more accessible.

The USB-IF described the standard USB 3.1 Gen 1 as meeting the same interface and data-signaling speeds as USB 3.0. So when you see USB 3.1 Gen 1, it operates primarily at the same maximum speeds of 5Gbps as USB 3.0. USB 3.1 Gen 2, on the other hand, refers to data transmission rates of up to 10Gbps, double those of USB 3.0, and matching single-channel Thunderbolt peak theoretical speeds. (To meet the Gen 2 standard, it needs both the system and the port but to reach certain speed heights.)

However, the jargon around USB 3 is going to get much more complicated going forward. The upcoming USB 3.2 standard, which will also be a replacement for all current nomenclature, will consume all prior 3.x specifications. That means the older USB 3.0 standard, which offers speeds of 5Gbps, is now called USB 3.2 Gen 1. While the USB 3.1 10Gbps is rebranded as USB 3.2 Gen 2.

Already on the horizon: USB 3.2 ports will, in some situations, be capable of full 20Gbps speeds, and the port version will be called USB 3.2 Gen 2×2. The USB-IF has selected “2×2,” as the current standard doubles the data lanes within a USB-C cable to reach the transfer speed of 20Gbps. Later this year, the first USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 ports will appear on smartphones.

Underlying Support: The Many Roles Of USB-C

You might simply think of your old USB Type-A port as a data port for connecting drives or peripherals such as mice. Yet USB-C will do a lot more, depending on the design of the specific port.

Support for simultaneous transmission of video signals and power streams via USB-C means you will be able to link to and power a native DisplayPort, MHL or HDMI unit, or link to almost anything else, provided you have the correct adapter and cables. (See below for more on Adapters.) USB-C spec also has audio transmission factors over the interface, but it has not replaced the 3.5 mm headphone jack on computers as it has on certain Android phones so far.

Check the specs on every PC you’re looking to purchase because not all USB-C ports are alike. All we have seen up to now supports both data transfer and power transmission over USB-C. But although the USB-C standard supports the connection of DisplayPort and HDMI displays to an adapter, not every PC manufacturer has wired the ports to the graphics hardware of each device. Many USB-C ports on a device may allow access to the video out, while others may not, or none can. We must look at the details.

USB C Vs. Thunderbolt

The most useful protocol that a USB-C port will support is probably Thunderbolt 3. It provides support for a throughput of up to 40Gbps, along with decreased power consumption and the ability to transfer up to 100 watts of power over the network.

A USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3 support ensures that a single cable is all you need to move power and transfer a vast amount of information (up to and including two 60Hz 4 K displays) to and from a complicated device such as a tablet, something many laptop manufacturers have been easy to exploit. For example, the top-of-the-line version of Apple’s MacBook Pro includes four of these connectors, which is as many as we’ve seen to date and gives you more room for expansion than you’ve ever had with earlier USB releases.

Now, as with DisplayPort over USB-C, not every USB-C port that you see automatically supports Thunderbolt 3. (Look for a little lightning bolt next to the port.) But with the new USB 4 model, that will change. For example, USB 4 ports will allow Thunderbolt 3 speeds while remaining USB 3 backward compatible. Most future devices would potentially have USB 4 and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 ports, all of which will take advantage of USB-C’s physical connector type.

Plugging removable flash disk memory into laptop USB slot

Adaptors And Cables

USB-C is electrically compatible with older USB 3.0 ports, and is entirely compliant with USB 3.1 ports, as discussed above. But because of the new port design, if you want to connect something that does not have the USB-C plug, adapters or cables with both of the correct plugs are also needed.

Often a new laptop comes along with these; in other situations, you may have to purchase them separately. For example, Apple is selling a range of USB cables and adapters to connect USB-C to other devices, such as Lightning or Ethernet. If you visit online stores, you can find a variety of these for PCs too. Some even support older or more obscure protocols that will function on today’s hardware to ensure a system you have from years ago. For example, finding USB-C-to-DVI adapters is simple, but we also encountered some that split into two serial RS-232 connections.

However, the good news is that if you invest in a couple of standard USB-C cables (they are now widely available for less than $10), they’ll work with anything and anything that supports USB-C. That is a huge step up from the recent past situation where pulling a mini USB cable out of your bag to charge your smartphone with a micro USB port was almost as pointless as grabbing a Nokia Pop-Up or Sony Ericsson charger.

Plus, USB-C is now commonly integrated with newer Laptop docks. There’s no issue with just one USB-C port: you can find USB-C docking solutions available from PC manufacturers such as Dell and HP, as well as from third-party adapter manufacturers such as Belkin and OWC. These docks will recharge your laptop, give you access to additional ports (including Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, and VGA), and add multi-monitor support.

Do You Need USB C?

While purchasing a PC, the inclusion (or absence) of a USB-C port is becoming a concern increasingly. When you buy an ultrathin laptop, it will most likely have at least one USB-C port, which will immediately catapult you into the ecosystem. If you’re more of a laptop fan, you’re sure to consider the ports there too, with at least one on the I / O panel on the motherboard side and potentially more on high-end and gaming desktops.

Even if you don’t need a USB-C right now — and because even power users don’t have a lot of hardware that can figure it out entirely, particularly where Thunderbolt 3 is involved — you’ll be going to do so soon. We are just scratching the surface of what USB-C can do. Still, one thing is sure: The next generation of cross-platform connectors is quickly replacing the old guard just as the initial USB model replaced Apple Desktop Bus (ADB), FireWire, PS/2, parallel, SCSI, as well as serial ports on Macs and PCs. USB-C is just one port for all of them to run, and its reign has just started.

Your Data On The Go With USB-C Apple

Of those who want to take their data with them, there’s no shortage of USB-C flash drives. The best thing is that all you do is mount the machine, and its power is available after it has been given a machine address. Most USB-C drives, however, also depend on older hardware USB 3.1 Rev 1. It means that while they are a step up from earlier flash drives, they do not entirely exploit the latest USB-C protocol capabilities.

These micro drives come in all shapes and sizes, but my favourite is the SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive because there are versions that can store up to 256 GB, and its switchblade-like tab allows you to toggle between a USB-C plug and a Type-A USB 3.0 one.

Between $13 to $80, it will set you back anywhere, depending on power. It still uses the older USB 3.1 Rev 1 spec on the downside, and can only record data speeds of 150Mbps, according to the company.

Enjoy Powerplay With USB-C Pinout

USB-C support for the USB PD specification is an enormous step towards charging your computers. Instead of being limited to 2.5 watts such as USB 2.0 or about 15 watts such as USB 3.1, USB PD can dole out at 20 volts up to about 100 watts, quickly enough to charge a laptop and more. That means a portable USB-C adapter compatible with USB PD technology can hold your computer and mobile devices rejoiced at all times and ready to go.

I’m spending a lot of time working out of my car and having a $10 RavPower 24-watt Car Charger tucked into the cigarette lighter outlet in the front seat compartment. It has a USB-C power port for charging my Note 8 phone or Tab Pro S as well as a standard USB 3 port. A versatile travel buddy, it weighs less than an ounce but can dole out up to 4.8 amps in total. When it works, the adapter’s LEDs glow blue.

The PowerCore+ has a pair of USB 3 ports as well as a USB-C port. Plug it into a laptop, phone, or tablet, and the battery icon on the device indicates it is loaded. The PowerCore+ fuelled my Tab Pro S tablet on top of the 4 hours usually get with the system’s internal battery for an extra 9 hours of work — enough for a trip to Asia or a day spent working in coffee shops and office lobbies.

The benefit for me is that the PowerCore+ battery uses the Fast Charge 3 technology provided by Qualcomm to maximize the device’s power flow. In 92 minutes, it charged my Note 8 tablet, more than half an hour faster than a RavPower RP-P819 battery pack, which lacks the Quick Charge 3.

USB-C Devices Power Delivery

The USB PD specification is also closely interwoven with USB Type-C. A USB 2.0 connection usually offers up to 2.5 watts of power — enough to charge your phone or laptop, but that’s about it. USB-C-supported USB PD specification upsets this power delivery to 100 watts. It is bidirectional, so either a system can send or receive power. And that power can be transmitted simultaneously as the computer transmits data across the link. This kind of power supply might even allow you to charge a laptop, which usually needs up to 60 watts.

New MacBook from Apple and the new Chromebook Pixel from Google also use their USB-C ports as charging ports. USB-C could mean the end of all those proprietary laptops charging cables, with a regular USB link charging everything. Perhaps one of those portable battery packs you charge your smartphones and other portable devices from today could charge your laptop. You could plug your laptop into an external display that is connected to a power cable. That external display will charge your laptop as you used it as an external display — all via the one tiny USB Type C connection.

USB-C  Macbook Compatibility 

The physical USB-C interface is not backward compatible, but the USB standard that underlies it is. You cannot plug older USB devices into a new, tiny USB-C port, nor can you connect a more former, larger USB port to a USB-C connector. Yet this does not mean that you will delete all your old peripherals. USB 3.1 is also backward compatible with earlier USB models, and you only need a small adapter with a USB-C connector at one end and a bigger, older USB port at the other. You can then directly plug the older devices into a Type-C USB socket.

Realistically, for the near future, many machines should have both USB Type-C ports and bigger USB Type-A ports — like Google’s Chromebook Pixel. For USB Type-C ports, you will be able to migrate from your old computers to new peripherals slowly. Even if you have a device that only has USB Type-C ports, such as the latest MacBook from Apple, adapters, and hubs, fill the void.

USB-C Amazon Features And Power

This latest pin configuration has implications for both data transmission and power delivery rates. In terms of speeds, USB Type-C was designed to offer the same speeds as USB 3.1/Gen2, reaching data transfers up to 10 Gbit / s. That is twice as fast as a regular USB 3.0 port providing 5 Gbit / s and more than 20x faster data rates than the USB 2.0 480 Mbit / s.

This complicated situation would have been solved by switching to USB Type-C, ensuring that all new gadgets run at the highest speed possible. Nonetheless, due to demands for backward compatibility, only fully integrated USB Type-C ports and cables support USB 3.1 data speeds, and there are a range of devices out there that can only offer USB 2.0 data speeds over this new connector. Note also that if you connect via a converter cable to backward-compatible ports (such as Type-C to Type-A), you will be limited to the slower speed of the older port.

In addition to providing info, the USB Type-C is built to power all our gadgets and not just the portable ones. The connector is rated as delivering and receiving up to 100W of power, making it suitable for laptop charging and more. However, things get a little complicated here, as many different standards and protocols can be used to power USB devices.

By default, up to 5V, 0.5A of power, and 3.0 ports expand this to 5V, 0.9A is provided by USB 2.0. USB Type-C drives power distribution, even more, when linking two of the ports together, with current-value choices of 1.5A and 3.0A.

Again, there are no promises about the exact power level you’ll get from any specific port just by looking at the plug. Still, potentially, Type-C provides higher out-of-the-box charging speeds than other alternatives.

Type-C devices can be completely compliant with USB Power Delivery requirements, in addition to the default power options. It can be used to increase the standard charging options up to 100W, with even higher power output. Nevertheless, when connected to Type-A or other connectors that also follow the optional feature, Power Delivery is not limited to Type-C devices and still works.

The bottom line is that USB Type-C systems can allow data transfers and charging times quicker than previous models do. The exact requirements, therefore, depend on what the manufacturers want to introduce and are not necessarily related to the type of port.

In addition to power and data, USB Type-C is also designed to accommodate a wide range of different modes and specifications, allowing it for several technologies as a one-size-fits-all solution. It supports a variety of audio and video modes, positioning the connector to become a substitute for the 3.5 mm headphone jack and the HDMI cable.

For audio, the connector supports digital audio by USB Audio Class specification, the current version of which is version 3.0. The Audio Adapter Accessory Mode also supports analog headsets over the connector, which repurposes the SBU and CC pins for left, right, and microphone connections in the tube.

Video over the connector can come in various ways, including HDMI, superMHL, and DisplayPort formats. These are allowed for use with other standards via Alternate Mode, which frees the SBU and high-speed data pins. HDMI Alt Mode is available via a converter cable, allowing the playback of content up to 4 K resolution, surround sound, and even 3D.

Display port over USB-C is supported by USB 2.0, 3.1 and Thunderbolt style connectors with up to 4 K 60Hz 24-bit HDR playback, up to 8 K resolution, as well as multi-channel audio. Finally, superMHL operates over the Type-C connector again with USB 2.0 and 3.1 speeds, with 4 K and 8 K resolutions enabled on large enough setups at up to 60fps. It integrates Dolby Atmos surround sound, as is backward compatible with current MHL requirements.

Although USB-C iPhone is the standard’s official name, everyday use sometimes drops down to just USB C. You’ll probably hear a bit of both on several posts on the Android Authority and all over the web. No way is wrong yet again, while USB Type-C is technically more reliable.

Although this wide variety of choices is part of the standard’s appeal, customer perception of this is also by far the most complicated connector. A single connector with several features sounds fantastic, but the optional nature of the support makes it difficult to tell just by looking at it what a port or cable is capable of. Consumers’ level of testing needed to ensure they purchase the right USB Type-C devices and cables is higher than for their predecessors, and that is not a positive thing.

USB Type-C is much more than just a reversible connector, but it’s probably that feature alone that makes the cable so appealing to portable consumer electronics, funnily enough.

As you can see from the above, USB Type-C is a complex connector and not just in its physical designs. The standard provides a broader variety of potential implementations than ever, from higher data and power rates to additional optional multimedia features.

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