If you have bought a new device like MacBook, Google Pixel or MacBook Pro, then you must have seen the USB Type-C (or USB-C) port in it. The new specification of USB-C is going to change the old ways of connection-creation among peripherals.
Current perception about USBs is – ‘if it fits, it should work’. But, the same concept is not going to work anymore as emergence of USB-C and thunderbolt has changed the whole scenario. It means that if you judge the cable and port by shape only, then it may bring troubles.
Mini USB, Micro USB, USB 3 or high-power chargers will all work but on the same port but you’ll need to pick right adapter to make it work.
Article will talk about the game-changing features of USB Type-C and Thunderbolt, along with the complex compatibility rules and issues.
What is USB Type-C or USB-C?
USB Type-C is the latest connector, invented to eliminate the need of multiple cables for multiple devices. It is fully a USB 3.1 connector – compact, reversible and speedy.
USB-C ports are being deployed by many manufacturers due to its excellent features. In the years to come, it is probable that we’ll see them in most of the laptops, hubs, printers, mobile phones and other future devices.
Main Features of USB-C
- Symmetrical cable, which is reversible as well as flip-able – If you have devices, supporting USB-C, then you can insert any end of the cable in any of the two devices e.g. phone, laptop, etc as it’s reversible.
Both sides, up and down, are symmetric and work the same. So, if you will flip the cable and insert it in the port – it will still work.
- Uniform bi-directional power supply, up to 100W – You can charge your notebook, mobile phone or laptop using the same charger and cable.
- Audio Adapter Accessory Mode – This specification is used for transmitting analog audio signals through USB type-C interface, replacing the 3.5mm audio jack. It supports to 4 standard audio signals i.e. left, right, mic, and GND.
- Supporting up to 10 Gbps data transfer speed (theoretical), it offers the highest rate of data transmission achieved among peripherals.
There are many issues which may be faced by the buyers due to difficult-to-understand rule. But at the end, it gives the best performance among all available USBs. Before we move to thunderbolt, learn what are the compatibility issues and problems you may face with USB-C.
USB-C – Compatibility Equations
The Type-c cable allows many modes and signals work with it successfully. Here’s what you should know –
- It is backwards-compatible with old standards USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 (provided – you use appropriate adapter to make it work)
- USB-C will help the connectors to utilize Non-USB or Alternate Mode protocols, like HDMI, DisplayPort, MHL and Thunderbolt (discussed later) using the right adapters.
USB-C Compatible Mobile Devices
Smart phones are all set to leverage the potential of USB-C’s features. Huawei Nexus 6P, OnePlus2, LG Nexus 5X, Xiaomi Mi 4C, Gionee S6, Vivo Xplay5 Elite, Meizu MX6, Nubia Z11 and HTC 10, Samsung A5 – 2017 are some smart phones, compatible with the newest specification. Many other phones are also coming up with the USB-C support, but providing all names will be beyond the scope of this article. So, here’s the list.
USB-C Compatible Laptops
Some cool laptop devices, which support USB-C includes MB169B+ Portable monitor – 15.6″, Dell XPS 13, LG gram-15Z960-A.AA75U1, RAZER BLADE STEALTH Ultrabook and Lenevo ThinkPad Yoga 2-in-1, Lenovo Y 720 & 520. You can find more such amazing laptops here.
Problems with USB-C
You need to be very careful about cable selection, otherwise, you’ll end up buying the wrong cable –
- If you are using cables in compatibility mode, the power supply mode is not bidirectional but host-to-peripheral, as it was for older cable configurations.
- Even more problematic thing is – You may harm your device or neutralize your port if you are using a wrong cable.
Thunderbolt 3 – A Solution for all USB-C devices
Thunderbolt-3 combines the enormous capabilities of USB-C and thunderbolt technologies. It’s able to do everything, which USB-C can do (but in a better way and with more capacity).
Operating at a theoretic speed of 40 Gbps, it has quadruple potential than USB-C. You can use it for connecting any dock, device or display ports.
The new version of Thunderbolt (i.e. Thunderbolt 3) is very different from its old versions, which uses Mini DisplayPort as their port type. Previously being considered as a replacement for USB-C, it has changed many things for the manufacturers and users.
Thunderbolt 3 is attaining popularity due to Intel’s announcement which says that it’ll use the same port as USB-C. It simply means that every USB-C or Thunderbolt port will work for both cables, allowing the manufacturers to provide the similar port for every device. However, the capabilities of thunderbolt 3 can be fully utilized with a thunderbolt port only.
Below video of C/Net can help to understand the concept of USB C and Thunderbolt more clearly.
Special Features of Thunderbolt 3
- Offers best single cable docking
You can use the same cable for data transfer, video transfer, and charging.
- Extremely Efficient External Graphics Capabilities
You can plug-in the external graphics to your notebook device and enjoy ultimate uninterrupted gaming experience without hassles.
- 4K Video Features
You can transfer a complete 4K movie in less than 30 seconds with thunderbolt 3.
- Ideal for daisy chaining
Offers super fast file transfer for devices, workgroups, and other peer-to-peer connections. It can chain up to 6 devices together due to its excellent bandwidth. Sensitive audio and video equipments, multiple monitors and printers – all such devices can be chained together.
Technological Specifications of Thunderbolt 3
- Works with Thunderbolt, DisplayPort, USB-C and USB on using appropriate connector.
- Small reversible cable, which delivers same functionality on flipping
- Bi-directional connector, which can be connected with 4 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3 or 8 lanes of DisplayPort 1.2
- Power supply – up to 100 W, based on the USB type and compatibility.
- On DisplayPort (with adapter), it supports two 4K displays (4096 X 2160) at 60 Hz (30 bits per pixel)
- DVI, HDMI, and VGA Displays can be connected through the adapters
- It will work with billions of docks, devices or displays which have thunderbolt or USB_C port.
- Thunderbolt’s exclusive features are chipped off when it’s plugged to a USB-C port. So, you will be only using USB-C’s functions with thunderbolt if its plugged in to a USB-C port.
- It can achieve the most video bandwidth, possible through any single cable in the devices with required compatibility. It offers four times more video bandwidth than HDMI 1.4, supporting two 4K displays simultaneously.
Types of Thunderbolt 3 Cables –
There are two variants available in the market.
- Cable length is 0.5 meter (or less) so the speed of 40 Gbps is achievable.
- The other variant is a passive cable with one-meter length if you want a cheaper alternative with 20 Gbps speed.
However, these speed calculations are theoretic and unachievable but the truth is – Thunderbolt 3 is the fastest connectivity option, available to the buyers. You can transfer a year’s worth of MP3’s in just 5 minutes with thunderbolt.
Thunderbolt-enabled Devices with USB-C Port
Though it will take some time for manufacturing companies to adapt this revolutionary change, but it has already won confidence of many leading manufacturers. Some devices with thunderbolt 3 support are MacBook Pro, Dell XP 13, Acer Aspire Switch 12S, HP Elite X2, HP Spectre X2, Dell Alienware 13, Asus Transformer 3 Pro, Razer Blade Stealth, HP Folio and HP Spectre x360.
There are dozens of laptops which feature Thunderbolt 3. Some are listed above and others can be checked from the list. It’s just a beginning and we’ll definitely see more in the near future.
To check your USB port number or version in Mac, you can simply enter your computer’s serial number in search box of Tech Specs Page of Apple support website, read the technical specification about your product.
In windows PC, you can check the manual or look for relevant logo ( Thunderbolt sign). or Do a right click on “This PC” then manage < Device manager. You will see Universal serial bus there, expand it and know USB type of your PC or laptop.
Have you check out Apple’s iPhone 7?
It is obviously disadvantageous provide single port as you cannot charge your phone and listen to music simultaneously until you try this alternate method. But do you think manufacturing 2 ports will be a good deigning strategy? Obviously, no!
Also, the fact that transfer speed of USB-C (i.e. 10 Gbps) is far better than older versions, including USB 2.0 (480 Mbps) and USB 3.0 (5 Gbps) may push you to accept the above drawback without complaining.
So, if you are an early adopter to the USB-C technology, you may either feel overwhelmed due to its exciting capabilities or annoyed due to the limited support, problems & numerous compatibility issues it have with the old devices.
However, it’s the first step of Intel towards single port-single cable specifications. So, we can expect that the future of these technologies will be far better than their present. As more manufacturers will adopt the USB-C & thunderbolt specifications, more devices will have these amazing ports. It will end all the hassles of carrying multiple cables and embedding multiple ports. It is going to revolutionize the data transfer, communication and charging methods altogether, simplifying the way we deal with our devices.
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