Time to learn your USB C’s

We’ve all been there: we realize our phone is low on battery and we’ve forgotten our charger at home, or if we have to present something from our laptops, the common problem of not having the right cable or adapter is a universal one. However, this problem may soon be a piece of the past with USB C. So what exactly is USB C? Well, many of you probably already know what USB is, that rectangular port that never goes in the right way the first time.

While that may have been the most commonly used type of plug and jack, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 both have a plethora of ports, which can get very frustrating when you just can’t find the right cable or adapter.

USB C aims to solve this problem by implementing only a single type of jack and port:

While previous ports were used for different purposes on different machines, USB C aims to replace all of them for every purpose. In fact, USB itself stands for Universal Serial Bus, and may finally be fulfilling the Universal part of its name. You may have noticed this appearing on your Android smartphones, and while Apple still uses their lightning cable on their iPhones, their new Macbooks only feature USB C ports.

So is that it? It’s just a new shape that will be replacing everything? Well, not quite. In addition to it being much smaller than previous iterations, which allows for it’s use on slimmer devices, it’s also REVERSIBLE, meaning no more having to plug in that USB cable 3 times.

However, the real reason that USB C can replace all the other ports is that USB 3.1, while retaining the ability to transfer power like it’s predecessors, can also transfer up to 10 Gb/s, twice as fast as USB 3.0’s 5 Gb/s, which in turn was already much faster than USB 2.0’s 480 Mb/s. This means that USB 3.1 is now a viable option for things that require a faster transfer rate, such as 4k display.

Additionally, 3.1 can deliver up to 100 watts/20 volts of power, which is why you also notice your smart phones and laptops charging a lot faster now.

Wait, USB 3.1? I thought we were talking about USB C.

Well, we still are. However, while previous USB generations were directly coupled with the new ports that came along to support their new functionality, USB 3.1 and USB C has decoupled them. USB 3.1 refers to the performance standard, while USB C refers to the port type. What this does is allows companies to opt for using a USB C port on their products, but do not necessarily have to implement the more expensive USB 3.1 performance, allowing people to still use their USB C cables if they wish.

So how does USB 3.1 compare to Apple’s Lightning or Intel’s Thunderbolt? While USB 3.1 has reached Thunderbolt 1's data transmission of 10 Gb/s, Thunderbolt 3 is now up to 40 Gb/s. However, new Thunderbolt 3 cables are using the USB C port. Meanwhile, while Lightning’s 12W power transfer and 480 Mb/s data transfer pales in comparison to USB 3.1, Apple is still sticking with their Lightning technology on their iPhones probably due to their obsession with keeping it as slim as possible, but have started implementing them in their new iPad Pro and Macbooks. Whether we will eventually see them in the iPhones, time will tell.

USB C is no longer the new cutting edge technology that it was when introduced several years ago, but we are finally coming around to the time where we are finally seeing it be widely adapted. While data transfer and power needs continue to grow, hopefully the port standard will remain and rummaging through adapters and cables will be a thing of the past.