What is USB Type-C? This is a question that many people are asking at the moment. Apple’s new MacBook has a USB Type-C connector. Google’s new Chromebook Pixel has 2 USB Type-C connectors, but what is this new connector and what impact will this have on new and existing technology?

What is USB Type-C?

USB Type-C is essentially a new USB connector. We’re all used to seeing USB Type-A connectors on your PC or laptop, but USB Type-C is a lot smaller and it can potentially do a lot more!

USB Type-C ties in closely with new standards, such as USB 3.1 (which provides faster speeds than USB 3) and USB power delivery (USB PD).

USB Type-C Connector

The new USB Type-C connector is a lot smaller than the USB Type-A connector that you are used to. The reason for this isn’t just so that it looks a lot nicer, but also because in the future it’ll be able to be integrated into a lot more devices. The reason mobile phones don’t have a full sized USB adapter on them is down to space. Putting a Type-C connector into a mobile phone is a lot easier and saves a lot of space, meaning that your smartphone can continue to be slim and attractive while reaping some great new benefits.

USB 3.1

USB 3.1 is the successor to USB 3. I know what you’re thinking, USB 3 is still a new technology that is still yet to be adapted by the masses. In a way, you’d be right. USB 3 offers a theoretical transfer speed of 5Gbps. USB 3.1, on the other hand, can provide a maximum transfer speed of 10Gbps making it twice as fast.

Don’t assume that your USB Type-C connector will provide you with USB 3.1 speeds though, as the connector is literally only the connector, the underlying technology may be USB 3 or even USB 2!

USB Power Delivery

USB Type-C is very closely related to the USB PD specification. A USB 2 connector can provide power to devices such as your mobile phone, but it’ll only provide that power at 2.5 watts. That limits the type of devices that can be charged by USB 2 in a reasonable amount of time. USB Power Delivery changes this though. The power that USB PD can provide is up to 100 watts, making it feasible to charge more powerful machines, such as laptops, within an acceptable timeframe.

Another thing to note here is that the power delivery is bi-directional, meaning that the device can either give or receive power, but what makes USB PD on USB Type-C even more amazing is that it can transfer power and data simultaneously.

Imagine the day when your external monitor has a USB PD port. You’d plug the monitor into the power socket as usual and connect your laptop to the monitor using the USB Type-C cable. This cable will provide the video output to the monitor while it receives power from the monitor, charging your laptop.

Note that both devices and cables will both need to support USB Power Delivery for this sort of functionality.

Backwards Compatibility

As you would imagine, you can’t plug a USB Type-C cable into a USB Type-A connector and vice versa. The sizes and shapes of the connectors are completely different, for a start.

Backwards compatibility is possible, however, using an adapter. This will allow you to plug your old USB Type-A peripherals into a USB Type-C connector without too much trouble.

Overview

Should you make the move to USB Type-C yet? Well, to be honest it is up to you. The market is going to take a while to catch up with USB Type-C, so you’ll still be seeing a lot of Type-A peripherals being manufactured for several years to come. If you do need a boost in speed when transferring data and you have devices with USB Type-C connectors, then start using them.

If you are in the market for a new laptop and want to take advantage then the new Chromebook Pixel contains two USB Type-C ports as well as your traditional Type-A ports, so this would be good as a transitioning device if a Chromebook suits your needs.

If you take a look at the new MacBook Pro you’ll notice it contains a single USB Type-C connector, but you can purchase an adapter or a hub to give you USB 2 functionality over Type-A connections to allow backwards compatibility. Apple is pushing hard with USB Type-C and making a bold statement by only including this connector, so if you’re an Apple fan then getting a MacBook Pro with a Type-C connector makes you future-proof.

Image Credit: Rob Pegoraro