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What is USB-C?

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What is USB-C?


The idea behind USB-C is a simple one. You have one type of cable, one type of port, and through them you connect everything you need.


Take a look at pretty much any laptop and you’ll see a range of different ports gracing the sides: USB, HDMI, power connections, and several others. This could soon be a thing of the past though as manufacturers such as Apple, Dell, HP, and Asus rapidly adopt a brand new universal standard, one that offers improved speed, functionality, and convenience. The age of USB-C is upon us and the future is looking very good.


What is USB-C? | One cable, many uses
The idea behind USB-C is a simple one. You have one type of cable, one type of port, and through them you connect everything you need. This means you can use the same lead for hard drives, monitors, audio interfaces, smartphones, tablets, and even for charging your laptop.
At the moment you’ll find that most peripherals plug into your PC via a USB-A connector. These are the rectangular versions that appear on USB flash drives, external keyboards, mice, hard drives, and almost everything else.
At the other end of the cable there will often be a different style of connector, say Micro USB that plugs into most smartphones, Mini USB for other gadgets, Micro USB-B that connects some storage devices, or the squarer USB-B that most printers use. The problem with this arrangement is that it requires you to pack the correct cables at all times, and you can’t guarantee that someone else will have a spare one if yours goes missing. They're also often darn fiddly.
USB-C looks to simplify this by instilling a single, standard format across all devices, and even the same connector at both ends of the cable.
The slim, oval shaped connector is smaller than previous USB iterations, and is also symmetrical/reversible - much like Apple’s Lightning connector - so the days of flipping over a cable to make it fit into your device (then flipping it back again because by some weird quirk of USB physics it was actually correct the first time) will soon be a distant memory.
In time USB-C looks set to become the single, universal port found on all devices, replacing the USB-A, USB-B, Micro USB, and Mini USB offerings that complicate life at the moment. Every cable will be the same and will fit any device.
Admittedly we’re not quite there yet, as most peripherals on the market still use the older connections, but with Apple releasing its new range fitted solely with USB-C ports, the Asus Zenbook 3 and adopting the same approach, and USB-C ports now a regular feature on many modern laptops and 2-in-1s, momentum is firmly behind the new platform.


What benefits does USB-C offer?
Of course changing the design of a connector and port is hardly a reason to upgrade all your existing peripherals, but that isn’t the only advantage USB-C offers. The new format also supports the very latest USB 3.1 communication protocols, which are faster and more versatile than the earlier versions you’ll find on USB-A style devices.
Actually USB 3.1 comes in two versions, Gen 1 still only delivers 5Gbbs, as per 3.0, and Gen 2 delivers 10Gb/s.
  • More powerful. These additional benefits include the ability to provide up to 100W of power to attached devices, easily enough to charge (almost) any laptop, smartphone, or tablet. The new format can deliver 4K resolutions to monitors and carry audio too.
  • More compact. The smaller size and flexibility of the ports mean they are now the staple fitting on ultra-slim laptops and Android smartphones such as the Google Pixel.
  • More flexible. This versatile nature opens up a number of a useful real-world scenarios. For instance, a user could plug their USB-C equipped laptop into a powered external display such as LG’s 27-inch 4K 27UD88-W and have the PC charge while simultaneously sending video content. If the monitor had other USB devices attached, say an external drive, then the PC would also be able to access them and transfer files.
When it is time to leave the office the laptop can be unplugged, and placed in a bag with the cable – the latter of which could then be used later to connect and charge a smartphone. All this can be done with just one USB-C cable.
USB-C specifications don’t allow for dongle adaptors between USB-A & USB-C, there must be a length of cable between the ends, so this should be tweaked to remove dongle.
In response to this need we’ve seen a number of interesting accessories appear, such as the (above and below) that offers not only three USB 3.0 ports but also HDMI, Gigabit ethernet, and various video options. The fact that it can drive all of this from one USB-C port shows the potential of the platform while also bringing a welcome expansion for laptops like Apple’s slimline 12-inch MacBook that houses only a single port.
In fact, there’s also an even faster form of USB-C now available that incorporates Thunderbolt 3.0 support into the mix. This means that devices such as the MacBook Pros, Dell’s XPS 13, and the HP Spectre  are capable of speeds up to 40Gb/s - four times that of USB 3.1.
With the increased data transfer rates available users could attach a USB-C cable to the aforementioned Targus Dock410 and run two external displays up to resolutions of 3840 x 2160 by connecting them to the DVI-D and HDMI ports on the dock. As the standard is so new, and  the specifications used by manufacturers varies from device to device, customers will need to confirm that accessories like the Dock410 are compatible with their intended laptop, but a quick call to Targus will bring the assurances they desire.
Reversible. Who doesn’t curse when trying to fit a fiddly Micro USB connector or even the standard USB connector end into a device. Apple’s Lightning connector can fit either way, and now so can USB-C. If you want a non-C reversible option see our .
USB Type-C received another big boost in the form of Thunderbolt 3. In June 2015, Intel revealed that its latest version of the port would piggyback on the new USB Type-C connector, giving it all the benefits and a new reversible look. It's not all smooth sailing though – as Thunderbolt requires circuitry in the cable itself, it won't be fully interoperable with Type-C.

What is the difference between USB-C and Thunderbolt 3?


USB Type-C, or USB-C, is a specification for connectors and cables. Some of the key features include:

  • Symmetrical and flip-able, or reversible. Both sides (top and bottom) can be inserted in the port in either direction, meaning that you no longer have to make sure a cable is inserted “right-side” up.
  • Delivery of up to 100W of power.
  • Supports alternate modes, such as DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, etc.

Thunderbolt 3 defines a superset of capabilities that runs on USB-C connectors and cables. In brief, Thunderbolt 3 brings Thunderbolt to USB-C. Here are the superset of features that Thunderbolt 3 provides:

  • At 40 Gbps, Thunderbolt 3 is the fastest connection available. By comparison, native USB 3.1 operates at 10 Gbps.
  • Thunderbolt 3 is bi-directional with four lanes of PCI Express Gen 3 and eight lanes of DisplayPort 1.2.
  • Now with a Thunderbolt 3 port, you can connect to any dock, device or display, including billions of USB devices.
OnePlus, the exciting young Chinese smartphone manufacturer, went with USB-C for its second flagship phone, the OnePlus 2, back in mid-2015. Google then implemented it into its latest flagship phones, the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X, towards the end of the year.
The latter is particularly telling, as Nexus phones typically act as reference designs for other Android manufacturers.
Sure enough, we've now seen a bevy of USB-C toting flagships, including the LG G5, the HTC 10, the Galaxy Note 7, and the Google Pixel. Pretty soon, it will be unusual to see a decent Android phone released without one.
Indeed, many were surprised when the Samsung Galaxy S7 arrived without USB-C support last year, but we'd imagine the Galaxy S8 will finally make the jump.
PC giant Intel's efforts to encourage the industry to abandon the trusty old 3.5mm connector we all use for our headphones. You've probably guessed what the suggested replacement would be. Yep, USB Type-C.
You might wonder what the problem is with the 3.5mm standard, and where it falls short of USB-C. In truth there are several issues.
For one thing, headphones jacks are bulky. Apple famously ditched the headphone jack in the iPhone 7, because it has long been seen as a key component that's holding phones back from getting even thinner. USB-C, by contrast, is helpfully flat.


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