All You Need To Know about USB Type-C: What is it? What does it do?

Editorial
USB‑C port on the MacBook 2015

Since Apple revealed its new 12-inch MacBook on March 9 there has been a lot of talk about the new USB Type-C or the USB-C connector. Like the new Apple Macbook, the 2015 ChromeBook Pixel and the Nokia N1 tablet also use the USB Type-C connector. These are some of the early adopters of the USB Type-C, but USB Type-C is expected to spread like wildfire to everything that currently uses any earlier generation of USB connectors.

USB Type-C is a new, tiny physical connector. The connector itself can support various exciting new USB standard like USB 3.1 and USB power delivery (USB PD). To be clear, USB Type-C isn’t a same thing as the USB 3.1. USB Type-C is just a connector shape, and the underlying technology could just be USB 2 or USB 3.0. In fact, Nokia’s N1 Android tablet uses a USB Type-C connector, but underneath it’s all USB 2.0 — not even USB 3.0.

It’s Reversible
Unlike other USB connectors, USB Type-C is reversible. If you have ever used a USB cable you have likely had to readjust and realign it in order to just connect it. The USB Type-C, like the Apple’s Lightening Connector, is indeed reversible.

It will still be a while until all your USB devices are upgraded to USB Type-C, meanwhile, you can use the Ryo Adapter, available on the Kickstarter, to make any USB connector reversible.

It Charges Your Device
The new USB Type-C standard supports 100-watt USB Power Delivery. For comparison, a USB 2.0 connection only offers up to 2.5 watts of energy, which is good enough for charging your smartphone, but a laptop could require up to 60 watts. Apple’s new MacBook and Google’s new Chromebook Pixel both use their USB Type-C ports as their charging ports.

Potentially, with USB Type-C, you could plug your laptop into a monitor connected to a power cable, and the monitor would charge your laptop as you used it as an external display. However, both the device and the cable have to support USB Power Delivery in order for this to work.

It is Fast
USB Type-C supports the 3.1 SuperSpeed standard, meaning that files can be transferred at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second. Meanwhile, USB 3.0 transfers data at speeds up to only 5 gigabits per second. USB 2.0 transfers at up to 480 megabits per second. Basically, file and data transfers will be at their fastest with the USB Type-C. Similar to the power charging, both parties involved (the cable and the device) would have to support USB 3.1 SuperSpeed in order for faster transfers to occur.

Faulty Backward Compatability
The physical USB Type-C connector isn’t backwards compatible, but the underlying USB standard is. You can’t plug older USB devices into a modern, tiny USB Type-C port, nor can you connect a USB Type-C connector into an older, larger USB port. But that doesn’t mean you have to discard all your old peripherals. USB 3.1 is still backwards-compatible with older versions of USB, so you just need a physical adapter with a USB Type-C connector on one and a larger, older-style USB port on the other. You can then plug your older devices directly into a USB Type-C port.

There are already a couple of adapters out there like Apple’s USB-C Digital Multiport Adapter that allow you to connect an HDMI or VGA output, larger USB Type-A connector or smaller USB Type-C connector via a single port, but it costs $79.00. After buying an expensive $1299 MacBook, you will need to buy an expensive adapter with it, that also adds up to the bulk.

USB Type-C despite all the flaws, is a worthy upgrade. USB Type-C is expected to replace the lightning port on the next iPhones and micro-USB on upcoming Android devices. In all, USB Type-C is a new connector shape, that is compatible of transfer of data, audio, video and power, which will become an industry standard in the coming years to replace variety of wires.

Aditya Gupta

A compassionate supporter of gadgets and dedicated to informing those around him. Aditya Gupta is a high school science student from Jaipur, Rajasthan. He covers the topics which he feels are not covered anywhere else so that more people get involved in the world he loves so much. After graduating from high school in 2016, he plans to start his under-grad studies in Computer Science. Follow: @TheBrainyGeek

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