USB-C explained: How to get the most from it (and why it still keeps getting better)

nowadays that you ’ re used to seeing co-workers, family, and strangers on planes use the oblong USB-C connection, it ’ sulfur clock time to see equitable what this promise standard is able of. As we approach its eighth birthday, the USB-C plug is now separate and parcel of most stream laptops, phones, and tablets. even MacBooks, iPads, and Chromebooks are moving to USB-C. In early words, we are well into the USB-C era, and the older rectangular USB Type-A plug we are indeed use to is lento going the way of the dinosaur. This evolution is happening faster in some arenas than others. For exercise, the latest Mac Studio background has no fewer than six USB-C ports, four of which are top-speed Thunderbolt 4 connections. On the other hand, Apple iPhones are stubbornly clinging to the company ’ south proprietary Lightning connection.

acer swift 1 right ports Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The USB-C port ( second gear from left ) is gradually replacing older USB-A ports ( one-third and one-fourth from left ) on laptops and other devices .

What is USB-C?

USB Type-C, normally referred to as USB-C, is becoming the standard connection for moving data and exponent to and from a broad variety of computing devices. Its harmonious purpose means it can be inserted either room — up or down — eliminating many of the frustrations of earlier USB ports and putting it on a par with Apple ’ s reversible Lightning fireplug. This alone makes it a hit for me. But USB-C continues to evolve toward faster datum transfers and the ability to push more power to devices. And it ’ s closely linked to several potent new technologies, including Thunderbolt and USB Power Delivery, that have the potential to change how we think about our gear and how we work in the office, on the road, and at home. There is a dark side, though. USB-C is fair the connection type ; it ’ mho built on the Universal Serial Bus specification, and that ’ s where things get messy. The four chief USB protocols in use nowadays are confusing, to say the least, creating an rudiment soup of standards that could muddle the most technical foul among us. here is a breakdown of the specifications :

  • Today, the most popular USB spec is the USB 3.2 Gen 1 protocol. It allows a maximum throughput of 5Gbps to travel over a single lane of data and can use an old-school Type-A rectangular plug or the oblong USB-C connector.
  • The next step up in speed bifurcates into two alternatives: the use of double speed lanes of data that abide by the old speed limit (USB 3.2 Gen 1×2) or a single lane that operates at twice the speed (USB 3.2 Gen 2×1). Either way, the result is 10Gbps peak throughput.
  • The most recent update is the USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 protocol, which uses two lanes of double-speed data traffic to top out at 20Gbps.

Confusing matters more, the USB 3.2 single-lane protocols are basically renamed USB 3.1 protocols, which you may however see on some devices. USB 3.1 Gen 1 is the like as USB 3.2 Gen 1, and USB Gen 3.1 Gen 2 is the lapp as USB 3.2 Gen 2×1. The USB Implementers Forum ( USB-IF ), the arrangement that develops and governs the USB standard, suggests that device makers use its “ SuperSpeed USB ” designations ( see table below ) to simplify market to consumers, but manufacturers don ’ thymine always heed this advice. bottom line : read the spectacles carefully.

What’s in a name? USB 3.2 specs and speeds

Spec Name SuperSpeed Rating Top Speed Single- or Dual-
Lane Flow
USB 3.2 Gen 1 SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps 5Gbps Single
USB 3.2 Gen 1×2 SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps 10Gbps Dual
USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps 10Gbps Single
USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps 20Gbps Dual

On the summation side, older devices do function with the newer specification. That two-year-old USB-C flash memory key will work with your newest laptop, although not always at top speed .

Fast data storage

The first genesis of USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 storage devices is available now, including the SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD. Aimed at storing the huge files that result from ultra-high-resolution photography, 4K video recording, or car determine files, the extreme Pro is on the bad side at 4.3 x 2.3 ten 0.4 inches, but it can hold up to 4TB of data and code files using the AES technique. The mileage you get from a up-to-date SSD like this depends on the organization you plug it into. For example, I tried the extreme Pro with my two-year-old HP 590 background personal computer running Windows 10 using StarTech.com ’ s USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 PCI-Express card Remove non-product link, and it delivered an average of 11.3Gbps on the Passmark PerformanceTest Disk Mark Throughput tests. That international relations and security network ’ thyroxine quite the 20Gbps SanDisk promises but is still quite impressive. And, to be fair, the slowdown might be the leave of my background personal computer ’ s older PCI-Express implementation. even with that caveat, this was a double improvement over the 2.9Gbps I got from the extreme Pro with my personal computer ’ s native USB 3.1 chip .usb c explained sandisk extreme pro ssd startech pci express card Brian Nadel/IDG

The SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD and StarTech.com ’ s USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 PCI-Express card both support the USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 specification .
While the 4TB extreme Pro driveway Remove non-product connection costs a startle $ 630, it ’ mho besides available in 1GB and 2GB sizes for $ 210 and $ 300 at publication time ( prices may vary ). There are other options in this category a well, including Samsung ‘s T7 Portable SSD Remove non-product liaison ( $ 115 for 1TB ), PNY Technologies 4TB X-Pro Portable SSD Remove non-product link ( $ 580 for 4TB ) and the WD Black P50 Game Drive SSD Remove non-product connect ( $ 140 for 500GB ). A good way to make indisputable your data moves at these higher speeds is to invest in high-quality cables. These will frequently have the SuperSpeed USB logo with a 5, 10, or 20 next to it denoting its top focal ratio. If you get the acme rush cable television, it will work with the slower specification, although it won ’ thymine boost the slower device ’ s speed likely. As we ’ ll go steady, the future generation of USB growth should consolidate cabling even further .

Speed, power, and video delivery

A big bonus is that on many newer laptops and desktops, the USB-C specification besides supports Intel ’ s Thunderbolt 3 data-transfer technology. In other words, a USB-C port on a calculator equipped with Thunderbolt 3 can push data speeds to a theoretical restrict of 40Gbps. Those increased data-transfer speeds make it possible to push video over the lapp connection. USB-C’s Alternate Mode ( or “ Alt Mode ” for short ) for video recording enables adapters to output video from that like USB-C port to HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, and other types of video connectors on displays, TVs, and projectors. This can pay huge dividends for the ultramobile among us by allowing us to plug many recent phones and tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy S22 and Tab S8 systems, immediately into a admonisher at home or a projector in the office. Of course, you need the right adapter cable or a USB-C hub to make that joining. What ’ s more, USB-C supports the USB Power Delivery ( USB PD ) specification. A USB 2.0 port can deliver good 2.5 watts of power, about enough to slowly charge a call. USB 3.1 ups this to about 15 watts. But USB PD can deliver up to 100 watts of might, more than six times what USB 3.1 can do. This opens up a brave newly world of laptop-powered projectors based on USB-C, but today it is by and large being used for high-power chargers and external barrage packs.

Next up: USB4

USB is just getting started. immediately that USB-C has been accepted as the de facto connection, the adjacent step is USB4, which increases the speed and world power delivery ( but loses the space between “ USB ” and the version number ). USB4 can move up to 40Gbps, provide at least 15 watt of power for accessories, and feed video to a pair of 4K displays or a single 8K expose. thankfully, USB4 will not entirely continue to use the small oblong connection that USB-C brought to the party, but requires it. It will work with existing devices, including USB 2.0 ones, although — you guessed it — you ’ ll need the correct adapter. Behind the scenes, USB4 uses aspects of the Thunderbolt 4 spec. It can set up two bidirectional lanes of traffic at either 10Gbps or 20Gbps for a clear amphetamine of 40Gbps. That should be batch for things like videoconferencing, which require bipartisan data flow to prevent congestion and data jams. In summation to extra security to prevent a hack attack, Thunderbolt 4 will be compatible with Thunderbolt 3 devices, like docking stations and External Graphics Processing Units ( eGPUs ). It includes active data menstruation that dynamically adjusts the menstruate to suit the devices, indeed older devices won ’ t slow down newer ones. You will need a Thunderbolt 4 cable to make all this exploit, but there ’ s a electric potential bonus with that : all Thunderbolt 4 cables will be compatible with anything from USB 2 ( with arranger ) through USB4 systems. This will make this cable as close to a cosmopolitan data cable as exists nowadays. Most of these cables will be available in up to 2-meter lengths ( about 6.6 feet ), which is more than twice the standard 0.8-meter ( 31-inch ) length of current USB-C cables. That said, Apple has a new 3-meter ( 9.8-foot ) Thunderbolt 4 cable Remove non-product liaison coming. At $ 159, it ’ s a lot to pay for a cable, but it might be worth it for the length alone. While Thunderbolt 4 will have the specification ’ s iconic lightning rigidly and the phone number 4, USB4 will have a boastfully “ 20 Gbps ” or “ 40 Gbps ” ( depending on the implementation ) next to the example of a cable and chew. For exponent, this will be housed in a battery reap. look for the beginning USB4 products in late 2022 or early 2023.

Making USB-C work for you

To get the most out of these new spectacles, you ’ ll need to make some changes and buy some accessories. Your old USB gear should all even bring, though, even if it can ’ triiodothyronine take advantage of the newly speeds. I will help ease the transition by showing you what you can do with USB-C and what you ’ ll need to make it ferment. Be careful, because not all USB-C devices support all the latest USB-C spectacles. For exemplify, just about every USB-C flash drive sold today supports the earlier USB 3.1/3.2 Gen 1 protocol, and some tablets and phones don ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate digest Alt Mode video. It ’ randomness best to read the specification sheet carefully so you know what you ’ rhenium getting before you buy. here are some tools, tips, and DIY projects that will help you get the most out of USB-C .

Make a USB-C travel kit

The good newsworthiness is that USB-C ports can be used with older USB 2, 3.0, and 3.1 accessories. The bad news is that you ’ ll need a drawer wide of adapters and cables. therefore far, I haven ’ thyroxine seen anything conclusion to a complete ready-made kit. so, I ’ ve made my own USB-C survival kit out with six cardinal cables and adapters in a zip up case. here ’ s what ’ s inside :

  • Two small male USB-C to female USB Type-A adapters for connecting to older devices, such as flash drives.
  • A short adapter cable with a USB Type-A male plug on one end and a male USB-C on the other.
  • A USB-C AC adapter.
  • A USB-C male-to-male cable for using accessories.
  • A USB-C Ethernet adapter for when a wired connection is available.
  • An HDMI adapter for connecting two cables together.
  • A Baseus 8-in-1 USB C Hub Docking Station Remove non-product connect that has three old-school Type-A USB 3.0 ports and one USB-C connector that can deliver up to 100 watts of power. The $40 hub also has a gigabit per second wired Ethernet port, slots for full-size SD cards and micro-SD cards, and an HDMI port that can feed 4K video to a display.
  • A small microfiber cloth for screen cleaning.

usb c explained travel kit Brian Nadel/IDG

A pack USB-C change of location kit out with a variety of adapters comes in mighty handy on the road .
There ’ s one extra adapter I ’ ve found utilitarian at dwelling and on the road because, sadly, many Android phones and tablets now lack a earphone jack. I have USB-C earbuds but normally can ’ thymine find them when I need them. When that happens, I use a earphone jack arranger so I can use any cheap wired headphones with my Samsung Galaxy Note 20 telephone. They cost about $ 10 each .

Make an inexpensive homemade SSD drive

There ’ s one more thing I take on the road : a homemade SSD drive that ’ s smaller than the SanDisk Extreme Pro but just as fast. I built it using the SIIG USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C 20G NVMe SSD Enclosure Remove non-product connection, which has a name that ’ s a taste but at 4.9 x 1.7 adam 0.5 inches fits well in my travel cup of tea. Using it to build my own drive was an excellent hack for a mobile storage system. here ’ s how I did it, sans tools. 1. Start with the drive, enclosure, and included cable .usb c explained homemade ssd step 1 Brian Nadel/IDG 2. Open the two thumbscrews at the enclosure ’ south end with the USB-C port and remove the black goal plate .usb c explained homemade ssd step 2 Brian Nadel/IDG 3. Slide the enclosure ’ s cover off .usb c explained homemade ssd step 3 Brian Nadel/IDG 4. Align the SSD card with the enclosure ’ s connections, insert it, and slide the lever at the end to hold the module in target .usb c explained homemade ssd step 4 Brian Nadel/IDG 5. Install the included thermal launching pad, close the device improving, and replace the two thumbscrews. Plug it into the calculator, and the device ’ s modest green LED lights up to show it ’ s connected .usb c explained homemade ssd step 5 Brian Nadel/IDG Mine delivered an average of 11.3Gbps using my HP 590 background, according to PassMark PerformanceTest ’ sulfur Disk Mark Throughput benchmark. not badly for three minutes of make .

Set up a dock

nothing says “ welcome home ” like a docking station on your desk that connects your laptop — and in some cases a pill or telephone — to your network connection, external drives, mouse and keyboard, and peripherals — all while charging your system. A good dock place can not merely send video to a display but often create a multi-display array with two or three screens. While some manufacturers sell docking stations that are made for a specific calculator model or syndicate, they are becoming a rarity. An alternative is to get a generic dock, like the $ 350 Anker 777 Thunderbolt Docking Station Remove non-product link. Based on Thunderbolt 4, it provides a sneak preview of what to expect in the future from USB4 .usb c explained anker 777 thunderbolt dock Anker

Anker ’ s Thunderbolt 4 dock can connect a Mac or Windows laptop to an align of peripherals — and tear it .
The dock comes with a big ability arranger and a Thunderbolt 4 cable television. I was please that it connected without a problem with my Samsung Galaxy Book Pro. It offers a multitude of connection options, from a pair of HDMI 2.0 ports to USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 ports that can deliver up to 90 watts of might to two USB 3.1 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and gigabit per second Ethernet. Using the dock, the extreme Pro repel, and the PassMark PerformanceTest Disk Mark Throughput benchmark, the device delivered 5.6Gbps. That ’ s about a 3 % lower data speed compared to the 5.8Gbps my notebook delivered on its own. I think that ’ s a small price to pay for all the connections the dock makes. Another choice : If you ’ ve always wanted to ditch the laptop and sincerely travel sparkle, now ’ s your casual. Samsung ’ s DeX technology is included on its flagship Galaxy mobile gear and can create a full desktop environment when it ’ s connected to an external display.

many of the earliest DeX models, like the Galaxy S8, S9, and Note 8, required a hardware bobtail, but the newer Note 9, Note 10, S10, and S20 phones can use a USB-C hub with an HDMI port to connect to a display. This simplifies the hardware requirements for this mobile rig enormously. ( From the Galaxy Note 20 and Tab S7 on, the phone or pad can connect wirelessly, letting me ditch the cable. It connects to late Sony, LG, TCL, and Samsung TVs or a display that ’ mho connected to a Miracast receiver. But that, of course, doesn ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate involve USB-C. ) careless of how you connect to the display, once DeX is on-line, the phone can still take or make calls, commit and receive textbook, and even act as a big touchpad to control the on-screen arrow .

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