USB-C: Everything You Need To Know
1 November 2016
USB has become a very popular and handy tool for people to store, connect and transfer data from computers to electronic devices. Since its wide adoption into consumer products in the mid-1990s, USB has been progressively improved with different versions and types. USB Type-C, or USB-C, is the latest innovation in this product category and is predicted to be the new connection standard for devices in the future.
Let’s have a closer look at USB-C to see what makes it better than its predecessors and why you should give it a try.
What is USB-C?
USB-C, also called USB Type-C, is the newest USB connector that offers faster speed, powerful cabling with the reversible design developed by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), a group of industry leaders such as Intel, Apple, Belkin, HP, Samsung, Microsoft and Dell. With this great support, USB-C has been widely adopted by a majority of tech manufacturers, namely some like Apple’s the new MacBook, Google’s Pixel and HTC 10. Being accompanied with the latest version USB 3.1, this cutting-edge USB Type-C port is predicted to gradually replace its predecessors including USB-A, USB-B, micro and miniUSB.
USB-C cable is designed to solve one key problem: to replace all different physical connectors into one universal standard. Imagine if you go travelling with 5 different devices including a mobile phone, a digital camera, a tablet, a laptop and a smartwatch, you may need to carry up to 4 or 5 different cables and 4 or 5 different chargers. That’s a real problem! This frustrating concern can be solved with the USB-C connector, a simple industry standard fitting any devices to transfer and sync data at the maximum speed. No need to figure out which cable belongs to which device.
Key benefits of USB-C
- Reversible design: no longer have to spin your USB three times to check whether you plug it in the right way or not. With this user-friendly USB-C plug, you can connect whichever direction you want.
- Smaller and slimmer design: this feature is essential because new devices nowadays become slimmer day by day and, thus, only has limited space for cabling chargers.
- Faster speed: up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps), which is roughly 20 times faster than the 480 Megabits per second (Mbps) of USB 2.0 – the previous USB version.
- Powerful charger: up to 20 Volts and 100 Watts, way enough capacity to power and charge a laptop, a printer or even a high-resolution monitor.
- Better audio and video quality: USB-C cables are capable of delivering sharper and clearer images for 4k Ultra-HD video resolution, which provides the most extraordinary image quality in the market
- Backwards compatible: USB-C can also work with previous USB variants through adapters and cables.
The Changes of USB
To have a better understand how USB Type-C replaces both ends of the cables (the host and the client), it is very important to know the changing history of USB versions and USB types. Let briefly summarise it here.
In the USB world, it is a bit complicated to discuss its range of versions and types. Generally speaking, while the versions refer to the speed and the feature improvement of USB cables, the types are all about the physical shape and the wiring of the plugs. Theoretically, the versions can be used in any physical types as long as the computer and the device are connected. From normal users’ perspective, people usually pay attention to the physical connection (ie. the types) of the USB cables or plugs to see whether it fits the USB port of the devices (eg. laptops, mobile phones and printers).
When talking about USB-C, it refers to the USB types – its physical shape.
- USB 1.1: released in 1998, USB 1.1 is the first USB version being widely adopted into consumer products, regardless the former invention of USB 1.0. This USB 1.1 carries 12Mbps as its top speed and 100mA for maximum power draw.
- USB 2.0: released in 2000, it provides a massive boost with 480Mbps maximum data and increases its power draw to 1.8A.
- USB 3.0 (sometimes called USB 3.1 Gen 1): released in 2008, this version which is often coloured blue in its connector adds extra to speed up to 5Gbps and delivers 5V at 2.8A power. USB 3.0 is backwards compatible with USB 2.0.
- USB 3.1 (sometimes called USB 3.1 Gen 2): released in 2013, USB 3.1 provides double speed compared to USB 3.0 to 10Gbps and deliver 20V at 5A power draw. USB 3.1 is backwards compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0. This USB 3.1 is mostly used in USB Type-C connectors.
Note that USB 3.1 Gen 1 and USB 3.1 Gen 2 are different, even though their names technically sound the same. The data speed of USB 3.1 Gen 1 is actually not much different with that of USB 3.0. So, although there are some USB 3.0 Type-C and USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C in the market, the speed of these USB cables are not as fast as USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C.
Designed in a flat rectangular shape, USB Type-A, also named USB-A or Type-A male, is known as the USB standard plug at the host of the USB cable (i.e to plug into the computer).
Although there are a number of changes to accommodate different USB versions, the design of USB Type-A plugs remains the same. In other words, any USB Type-A plug can fit any Type-A port of the device, even the device and the host use different USB versions. For example, a USB Type-A memory stick carrying USB 3.0 version is still able to connect with a USB Type-A port using USB 2.0, and vice versa.
Although Type-A also has some variations including mini Type-A and micro Type-A, these variations are not popularly used.
USB-B, or also Type B-male, is typically known as the other end of the standard USB cable to handle the client port (i.e. to plug into the peripheral devices like phones, laptops and printers).
USB Type-B has a number of variations with different shapes and sizes, depending on the port design of the peripheral devices. Currently, there are 5 popular Type-B plugs including:
- Mini-B USB
- Micro-B USB
- Micro-B USB 3.0
- Standard-B USB 3.0
Physically, the size of USB-C connectors and ports is as small as Micro-B USB ones. With only around 8.4 by 2.6mm, Type-C can fit into the smallest peripheral devices. This type of USB aims to replace both ends (i.e. the host and the client devices) of the cable of USB Type-A and USB Type-B.
Reversibility is the headline feature of Type-C, which means people can plug the USB-C cables whichever direction they want, no need to spin the cable the right way around.
Type-C is small enough for modern peripheral devices, so it does not come up with any variations like mini or micro ones.
In term of the power and speed standard, USB 3.1 Gen 2 is particularly accompanied with USB Type-C. In other words, most of the devices that support USB 3.1 Gen 2 use the USB Type-C port.
Which options do I have?
As mentioned above, USB Type-C and USB 3.1 are all backwards compatible with USB 2.0 and USB 3.0, which means you do not have to replace all of your existing devices.
All you need is to find the correct USB-C cable or adapter to connect your devices (tablets, smartphones, laptops, printer, etc.).
Belkin, one of the leading brands providing USB-IF certified USB-C cables, offers a great range of USB-C cable and adapter options for you to choose, including:
- 3.1 USB-C to Micro-B Cable
- 3.1 USB-C to USB-C Cable
- 3.1 USB-A to USB-C Cable
- 3.0 USB-C to USB-A Adapter
- 2.0 USB-C to Micro USB Charge Cable
- 2.0 USB-A to USB-C Charge Cable
- 2.0 USB-C to Mini-B Charge Cable
- 2.0 USB-C to USB-B Printer Cable