In fact, the new USB 3.1 standard and the Type-C connector should clear up the mess and put things in order. For everything about everything – a single cable: for data transmission, audio, video signal and power supply. The symmetrical Type-C connector is a real happiness for mobile device users entangled in wires. And the USB 3.1 standard allows, for example, playing video from a tablet on a TV while the mobile device is charging.
Just the transition to new specifications prepares additional difficulties for manufacturers, because of which sellers and buyers immediately become discouraged. You can’t blame the companies for not being interested: after the MacBook Pro (2015) hit the market, many manufacturers introduced products that support the new USB 3.1 standard with a Type-C connector, including devices such as motherboards, monitors, external drives and smartphones. So, LG G6 is equipped with a USB Type-C connector, as well as HTC 10 and Samsung Galaxy S8, which connects to the docking station via a universal connector, turning into a full-fledged personal computer. But a new form does not always mean new functions: for example, Type-C in the Huawei version does not support USB 3.1, and generally uses its own technology for fast charging.
Old devices are a hindrance to new standards
Technical breakthroughs always take a very long time if there is a large fund of old technology. Keyboards, mice, external drives, webcams, digital cameras, USB flash drives—millions of these devices still require support for older versions of USB. The problem could be temporarily solved by using universal adapters, but brand new devices with old USB ports are still being released.
And since it’s not so easy for a regular USB cable to distinguish between a host and a client device, it still requires two different types of connectors to this day. Therefore, external hard drives often come with Mini-A connectors, while printers come with the typical quad Type-B connectors. Sooner or later, USB Type-C should replace not only these connectors – using a cable, for example, it would be possible to connect peripheral devices to a PC without any problems. What’s more, Type-C can obliterate DisplayPort, HDMI, and even TRS jacks.
Not to be confused: Type-C is not USB 3.1
Since the USB consortium approved two other specifications at the same time as the Type-C connector, there is often some confusion in terms. Firstly, we have a new Type-C connector with a 2×12 mirrored pin layout, which makes the port insensitive to the orientation of the plug – which means that the problem of “how to plug in a USB Type-A plug the first time” will be very soon forget.
Secondly, along with the new connector, a new USB 3.1 standard has been introduced, which raises the data transfer rate ceiling to 10 Gb / s (gross).
Further, USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) is introduced in a new, second revision: it means accelerating the charging of connected devices by increasing the power (20 V, 5 A instead of the previous 5 V, 0.9 A). In other words, while USB Type-C, USB 3.1, and USB Power Delivery are often used interchangeably, they are not synonymous or synonymous. So, there is, for example, a USB 2.0 interface in Type-C format or a USB 3.1 port without support for Power Delivery fast charging.
But that’s not all. The consortium cannot be completely blamed for the mess, since it has gone from using the usual nomenclature: with the advent of USB 3.1, USB 3.0 has ceased to exist in the sense that this former version is now classified as USB 3.1 Gen 1, and the new technology is called USB 3.1 Gen 2. But many USB cables and devices are sold under the name USB 3.1, with no indication of which generation is meant.
The USB consortium, however, developed a logo system to identify USB Type-C connectors so that you can distinguish, for example, a Type-C plug with USB 3.1 Gen 1 support from a plug with USB 3.1 Gen 2 support or even the old USB 2.0, but first logos need to be carefully examined. Often you have to look into the manual to understand which version is being used – if, of course, detailed documentation is available. Not surprisingly, many manufacturers continue to use the former USB 3.0 name.
To all this diversity, we should add the Thunderbolt 3 interface, developed primarily by Intel and Apple. Thunderbolt from the third version also uses a Type-C connector, but is not quite compatible with USB 3.1. With active Thunderbolt 3 cables, throughput reaches 40 Gbps (gross), four times faster than USB 3.1. Not only does this provide very high data transfer rates, but it also allows multiple video streams of 4K content to be streamed over DisplayPort and even the use of external graphics cards. Sophisticated technologies require the use of active electronics in cables. USB devices can be connected to the Thunderbolt 3 port, but never the other way around.
Difficult cable selection
The confusion does not stop with standards and versions alone. While it was previously possible to limit the choice to one USB cable with the right connector types, with USB 3.1 and Type-C it will not be so easy. Here, as in the case of standards and versions, there is currently a huge lack of information: not all Type-C cables can transfer data, video, and supply power. In many cases, it is not clear to users whether the Type-C cable supports Power Delivery fast charging or an alternative mode for video transmission, because, as a rule, there are simply no logos and markings.
It is often impossible to tell if a cable supports USB 3.1 or just USB 2.0. On the Amazon website, there are often reviews from frustrated customers who, after purchasing, found that the purchased cable does not support the fast charging technology of their smartphones. Even the designation by some manufacturers, for example, Aukey, of a USB 3.1 Gen 1 cable with Type-C and Type-A ends as a “Type-C to USB 3.0 cable” does not help to get out of a difficult situation at all – this is fundamentally wrong.
If you decide to get a device with a Type-C connector, be sure to make sure that there is a cable in the package – only in this case, all requirements will surely be met. Computer equipment supplier Hama, for example, offers several Type-C cables with detailed specifications, but prices start at $1,000. Buying a Thunderbolt 3 cable will cost even more – you will need to pay about 2000 rubles. But here all the functions are provided. If this price is too high, then willy-nilly you will have to rummage through product descriptions and customer reviews about them in search of the right cable.
USB-C: balanced plug
Data transfer, power and dialogue between devices – each of the 24 pins of the Type-C plug performs a separate function. It is easy to see that their arrangement is symmetrical.
Displays, laptops and adapters
To transfer video in one of the alternative modes (DisplayPort or HDMI), that is, for example, from a laptop to a monitor, you should also pay attention to the technical requirements. There are currently several USB Type-C monitors on the market from LG, Eizo, Acer and HP (for example, the Envy 27, about 40,000 rubles). For video output, the DisplayPort standard is almost universally used, which really works quite reliably. But if we talk about fast charging, which makes special demands on the monitor’s power supply, then in many cases buyers have questions.
However, power supply from the monitor to the laptop is not always required. The portable 15-inch Asus MB169C+ monitor (about 15,000 rubles) receives power from a laptop through a fully used Type-C connector.
One way or another, nowadays it often happens that a laptop with a USB Type-C connector is connected to a monitor via an HDMI or DisplayPort port. In such cases, an adapter is required that converts the video signal and transmits it to the monitor using the desired standard. Such accessories can be bought from about 1000 rubles. Compared to other cables, choosing adapters is quite simple, because their task is only to convert the video signal without considering other features of USB 3.1.
For those interested in a Type-C laptop or tablet, the choice is currently limited but great. In addition to the MacBook (12 inches), there are Acer Aspire Switch 10 V hybrids (about 25,000 rubles) and Asus T100HA (about 18,000 rubles). And the young Google Pixel Chromebook is equipped with as many as two Type-C ports (though only USB 3.1 Gen 1), but it has not yet been officially sold in Russia.
It is unlikely that any user will dare to switch all their peripherals to Type-C at once, so most laptop owners will first need a USB 3.1 adapter to transfer data and video over a USB Type-A, HDMI or DisplayPort cable. Prices for recommended flexible models start at 2500 rubles, as, for example, on the Icy Box IB-DK4031. Club 3D SenseVision is more expensive – about 6500 rubles – but it includes HDMI, DVI, USB 3.0 Type-A, 4 USB 2.0 connectors, USB fast charging, and microphone and headphone jacks.
The choice for desktops is less rich at the moment: traditionally, motherboard manufacturers are introducing new standards in premium models. The only motherboard with four USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports (two each Type-A and Type-C) is the Asus Rampage V 10, which costs about 38,500 rubles. At the very least, an indication of a fast transfer of 10 Gb / s is also on the interface connector panel. One USB 3.1 option from the lower price point of desktops is the MSI X99A SLI (LGA 2011-3) with one Type-A port and one Type-C port for about 15,000 rubles.
The transition to computers with a Type-C connector will require an adapter for peripherals with different types of ports.
> Club 3D SenseVision (about 6500 rubles)
The adapter is relatively expensive, but it has a large number of ports, including HDMI, DVI, microphone and headphone jacks, as well as four USB 2.0 ports and a fast charging connector (USB 3.1 Gen 1)
> Icy Box IB-DK4031 (about 2500 rubles)
A simpler version of the adapter with a Type-A connector (USB 3.1 Gen 1), HDMI,
as well as a Type-C connector with Power Delivery for fast charging of external devices.
Benefits of external memory thanks to USB 3.1
Of course, NAS with a RAID configuration and external drives, primarily flash memory – solid state drives and USB flash drives, benefit from high data transfer rates over USB 3.1 Gen 2. But for the latter, the availability of USB 3.1 Gen 2 is currently zero. The proposed flash drives SanDisk, Kingston and Corsair, positioned as USB 3.1, transfer data at a speed of no more than 5 Gb / s, that is, they belong to the first generation. However, for most flash drives now this should be enough.
As for external solid state drives, Freecom (mSSD MAXX, about 8,000 rubles) and Adata (SE730, about 9,500 rubles) offer second-generation USB 3.1 drives. The first practical tests show that the high-speed interface does provide appreciably higher data transfer rates. Terramaster offers the D2-310 2-bay NAS enclosure (~$10,000) with USB 3.1 Gen 2 support, where high-speed SATA drives in a RAID array should also make a good impression.
It should be noted separately that memory manufacturers are the best at the task of specifying versions and standards and are the least likely to leave their customers halfway. The rest of the manufacturers must urgently supplement the documentation and properly implement the standards.
The transition from one generation of technology to another has always been a long and often confusing process, but since VHS and Betamax, there has never been such a turmoil as it is now. Someday, the USB 3.1 / Type-C configuration will really make life easier for everyone – especially for users, but for now, there are many difficulties to overcome.
PHOTO: CHIP Studios; freecom; touch; Club 3D; raidsonic; Acer; LG; asus; Sabrina Raschpichler