Here comes USB-C

I am not too sure how long USB 3 has been around. My guess would be probably about three years. There are still brand new PCs you can buy that don't have a USB 3 port.

Well even before it gets up to full speed USB 3 is about to go the way of the 500GB hard disk because here comes USB-C.

The USB-C standard was ratified in the second half of 2014 and now Apple and Google are about to release notebooks that implement this latest USB connectivity standard. Microsoft's new Windows 10 operating system is reported to fully (whatever 'fully' means) support USB-C so it is likely that PCs released in co-ordination with the formal release of Windows 10 in October this year will have USB-C ports.

So I have done some digging around and here is what I can tell you about the latest and greatest USB standard:

  • The connector plug has no 'right way up'. It can be plugged in either side up. So, unlike USB-1, USB-2, USB-3, and micro-USB connectors you will never have to work out which way 'up' to plug in a USB-C connector.
  • The connector is just slightly larger than a micro-USB connector.
  • It can transfer data at twice the speed of USB-3. USB-3 has a maximum transfer rate approaching 5Gbps (5 gigabits per second) whereas USB-C can sustain a transfer rate of 10Gbps.
  • It can provide 100 watts of power to a connected device, more than sufficient to power a connected hard disk, or enough to charge up a connected tablet or smartphone with ease.
  • Depending on the implementation, USB-C can act as a PCIe bus connection which would allow PCIe interface devices to be connected via the USB-C port.
  • Both HDMI and DisplayPort devices can/could be connected via USB-C if you have the required conversion cable and that capability of USB-C has been implemented for the connector.
  • USB-C can provide Ethernet connectivity, again proving you have the required conversion cable and the vendor has enabled that capability on the port.
  • USB-C supports chaining. So, providing either the connecting device supports it or you have a cable that connects chained devices, you can use the one USB-C port on your notebook to connect two or three or more devices via the one port by chaining them. As an example you could chain your printer and scanner to the one USB-C port (assuming they both supported USB-C, which none of them currently do).
  • It provides sufficient bandwidth to support a 4K video stream, something that is not possible with USB 3.

The list above is what I have managed to glean from the ten of so articles I have looked at. It is possible that USB-C has even more tricks up its sleeve.

I can see some downsides here. It is likely that connecting devices will lag behind the implementation of USB-C on computers. This will mean we are going to need to buy connecting (converting) cables and dongles. If manufacturers of computers and tablets don't also put a standard USB port on their devices along with the USB-C port then one cable/dongle we are all probably going to need is a USB2/3 to USB-C dongle so we can continue to use our USB thumb-drives and USB portable hard disks.

On the upside:

  • In theory it would be possible for phone and tablet makers to only have just one port provided for all purposes, but this would be a huge pain if you wanted to listen to your headphones while charging; unless your headphones or charger supported chaining—even then it would probably still be highly inconvenient.
  • USB-C should make it easier and cheaper to 'dock' your tablet or notebook. You should be able to connect a normal keyboard, mouse, great sound, Ethernet, and a useful 1920x1200 (or even 2560x1600 [WQXGA]) computer monitor all by plugging into a single USB-C port.