USB-C is as truly universal as its acronym (Universal Serial Bus) suggests. USB Type-C ports are now found on all manner of devices, from simple external hard drives to high-end laptops and the latest smartphones.
While every USB-C port looks the same, not every one puts up equal level capabilities. USB type C, though is spreading like wild harmattan fire into gadgets and accessories, it doesn’t serve the same functions everywhere.
USB Type-C rules are only for the physical connections — data speeds are covered by other rules. You can think of USB-C as a set of rules that only exist to make smarter USB plugs, cables, and connectors.
So just because a cable bear USB Type C doesn’t mean that it works with every standard, it just means it plugs in with a Type C connector.
That said, here’s a guide to everything you need to know and USB-C can do, and which of its features you should look for when buying your next USB-C device.
What Is USB-C?
USB-C is a universal-standard connector for transmitting both data and power on a single cable. The USB-C connector was developed by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the group of companies that has developed, certified, and shepherded the USB standard over the years. The USB-IF counts more than 700 companies in its membership, among them Apple, Dell, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Samsung.
Gx smartwatch review 2020: secrets you must know before buying it. Ensure you read it.
This membership thereby offered wider acceptance making it also accepted by PC manufacturers. Contrast this with the earlier Apple-promoted (and developed) Lightning and MagSafe connectors, which had limited acceptance beyond Apple products, and became obsolete. Also think of micro USB cable. All these are gradually making ways for USB type C.
What is the difference between USB-C and Micro USB cables?
The USB-C connector looks similar to a micro USB connector at first glance, though it’s more oval in shape and slightly thicker to accommodate its best feature: flippability.
Like Lightning and MagSafe, the USB-C connector has no up or down orientation. Line up the connector properly, and you never have to flip it over to plug it in; the “right way” is always up. The standard cables also have the same connector on both ends, so you don’t have to figure out which end goes where. That has not been the case with all the USB cables we’ve been using for the past 20 years. Most of the time, you have different connectors at each end.
USB-C and The Numbers Beneath the Port
Where USB-C gets tricky is in the numbers that get attached to the ports. The most common speed that USB-C connectors are rated for is 10Gbps. (That 10Gbps is theoretically twice as fast as original USB 3.0.) USB-C ports that support this peak speed are called “USB 3.2 Gen 1×2.”
The minor wrinkle is that USB ports with 10Gbps speeds can also exist in the original, larger shape (the USB Type-A rectangles we all know), and are dubbed USB 3.2 Gen 2×1. With the exception of some desktops, though, it’s more common to see 10Gbps-speed USB ports with Type-C physical connectors. Note: Some older USB-C ports support just 5Gbps maximum speeds, so it’s important to look for a “USB 3.2 Gen 1×2” or “10Gbps” designation to verify that a given USB-C port supports 10Gbps transfers. That said, all of these ports are backward-compatible, just at the speed of the slowest element.
Further complicating matters: The number scheme around USB 3 has been in flux since 2019, which has made references to these ports something of a swamp. Until last year, many USB-C ports carried the USB 3.1 label (“USB 3.2” was not yet a thing) in Gen 1 and Gen 2 flavors, and some spec sheets continue to reference the older name, along with SuperSpeed branding. In a confusing twist, the USB-IF decided to eliminate the use of “USB 3.1” in favor of these various flavors of USB 3.2.
As you can see above, the newest and fastest USB-C ports use the USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 specification, with maximum speeds of 20GBps. The USB-IF decided on “2×2” because the new standard doubles the data lanes within a USB-C cable to achieve the 20Gbps transfer speed. These latest ports are not yet widely available, though PC builders and upgraders can find them on some high-end desktop motherboards.
Underlying Support: The Many Roles of USB-C
You might think of your old USB Type-A port simply as a data port for connecting drives or peripherals like microphone. But USB-C, depending on the specific port’s implementation, can do much more. One of USB-C’s most useful skills, when designed thus, is delivering enough power to charge the host device, such as laptop or smartphone. In fact, many lightweight laptops that have USB-C ports use them in place of a traditional barrel-style connector as the only option for attaching an AC adapter.
USB-C’s support for sending simultaneous video signals and power means that you might be able to connect to and power a native DisplayPort, MHL, or HDMI device, or connect to almost anything else, assuming you have the proper adapter and cables. The USB-C spec even factors in audio transmissions over the interface, but so far it has not replaced the 3.5mm headphone jack on computers to the same degree as it has on phones and tablets.
Make sure to check the specs on any PC you’re thinking of buying, because not all USB-C ports are alike. So far, every one we’ve seen supports both data transfers and connected-device power delivery over USB-C (though not necessarily charging of the host device). But while the USB-C standard supports connecting DisplayPort and/or HDMI displays with an adapter (via the DisplayPort-over-USB protocol), not every PC maker has connected the ports to every system’s graphics hardware. Some USB-C ports on a system may support video-out connectivity, while others may not; or none may. Looking at the details is important.
Thunderbolt 3: Layering More Speed on USB-C
Perhaps the most useful protocol that a USB-C port can support is Thunderbolt 3. This adds support for up to 40Gbps of throughput, alongside reduced power consumption and the ability to move as much as 100 watts of power over the interface.
A USB-C port with support for Thunderbolt 3 means that a single cable is all you need to push power and transfer a large amount of information (up to and including video data for two 60Hz 4K displays) to and from even a complex device like a computer, something many laptop manufacturers have been quick to take advantage of. Some models of Apple’s MacBook Pro boast four of these connectors, which is as many as we’ve seen to date, and it gives you more expansion potential than you ever had with earlier versions of USB.
Now, like with DisplayPort over USB-C, not every USB-C port you see necessarily has Thunderbolt 3 support. Check a device’s spec sheet or documentation for the Thunderbolt 3 label to be sure. Some devices may have more than one USB-C port, with only some supporting the Thunderbolt 3 spec.
That Thunderbolt uncertainty will change with the upcoming USB 4 standard. USB 4 ports will support Thunderbolt 3 speeds by default, while remaining backward-compatible with USB 3. Some new devices will likely have both USB 4 and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 ports, both of which will make use of the physical connector shape of USB-C. Mainstream devices with USB 4 ports aren’t on the market yet, however.
Adapters and Cables
USB-C is electrically compatible with older USB 3.0 ports. But because of the new shape of port, adapters or cables with appropriate plugs are indeed required if you want to connect anything that doesn’t have the USB-C oval shape.
Sometimes a new laptop will come with these; in other cases, you may have to purchase them separately. Apple, for instance, sells a variety of USB cables and adapters for connecting USB-C to other technologies such as Lightning or Ethernet. You can also find a variety of these for PCs if you browse online retailers. Some even support older or more esoteric protocols, to ensure a device you have from years ago will work on today’s hardware. It’s easy to find USB-C-to-DVI adapters, for example, but we’ve also come across some that split to two RS-232 serial connections.
The good news, though, is that if you invest in a couple of normal USB-C cables, they will work with anything and everything that supports USB-C, regardless of generation.
Plus, newer docks for PCs and docks for Macs have now widely integrated USB-C. Having only one USB-C port is not a problem: You can find USB-C docking solutions available, both from PC manufacturers like Dell and HP, and from third-party accessory makers like Belkin and OWC. These docks can recharge your laptop, give you access to extra ports (including Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, and VGA), and add support for multiple monitors.
The need for USB-C port on devices
The presence (or absence) of a USB-C port is increasingly becoming a consideration when buying a PC and smartphones. If you buy an ultrathin laptop, it will almost certainly have at least one USB-C port, which will catapult you into the ecosystem automatically. If you’re more of a lover of desktops, you’re certain to find the ports there, too, with at least one on the motherboard-side I/O panel and likely more on high-end and gaming desktops. Some desktops and aftermarket PC cases are putting one on the front panel, too.
Even if you don’t need USB-C now, you will before long. We’re only scratching the surface of what USB-C can do, but one thing is certain: The next generation of cross-platform connectors is quickly replacing the old guard just as the original USB standard replaced Apple Desktop Bus (ADB), FireWire, parallel, PS/2, SCSI, and serial ports on Macs and PCs. USB-C truly is one port to rule them all.
Do you need the best USB-C cable?
USB-C cables were once something that you had to be extra-sure of before you bought, back when the USB-C standard was first announced in 2014, but these days USB-C cables have reached a safe, stable standard (for the most part). Whether you need a USB-A port on the other end or you’ve gone full USB-C to USB-C, there are great, safe USB-C cables to be had out there without spending an arm and a leg!
When buying a USB-C cable or thunderbolt 3 cable, there are various things you must consider, namely; price, cable length, durability, data transfer speed, charging speed and, potentially, warranty. Below are a list USB C cables for you to make your choice:
USB-C TO USB-C
Anker Powerline II
If you want the latest spec and the highest data speeds, you want USB 3.1 Gen 2, which can support up to 10Gbps data speeds and up to 100W charging speeds. It is very nice for charging but if you need faster speed of data transfer, you may need to check elsewhere.
Cable Matters 10 Gbps Gen 2 USB C to USB C Cable
This unassuming black or white cable boasts the 3.2 Gen 2 spec, so it too can support 10Gbps data speeds at a slightly lower cost than the Anker
Dark and durable:
UGREEN USB-C Cable
Sporting the same USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 standard, this cable comes in the shorter ranges of 1.5-3 feet, making it good for using on a desk or with power banks.
This cable may not be as fast with data or power as the Powerline II, but it’s a more durable double-braided nylon that can charge at up to 60W.
Many sizes and colors:
AmazonBasics USB 3.1 Gen 1 USB-C Cable
AmazonBasics sells a USB 3.1 Gen 2 cable, but since Gen 1 is available in more colors and sizes while still being fast enough for most phones.
All the colors of the charge:
WiRoTech USB-C Fast Charging Cable
Available in 19 color combinations from 1-10 feet, no matter your taste, you can get the size and shade you want for your 15W charging cable
USB-A to USB-C
For the whole family
AUKEY CB-CMD2 USB-C Braided Cable (5-Pack)
This 5-Pack has C-to-A cables in lengths from 1-6.6 feet, so you can stash a short cable in the car and a long cable in the bedroom.
Available in 3 and 6-foot lengths, Powerline+ cables should last until your migration from USB-C to USB-A chargers in the next few years.
Best for OnePlus:
OnePlus Warp Charge Type-C Cable
If you want a cable that will work with the Warp Charger your OnePlus phone came with, you have to grab the snazzy red official cable from OnePlus.
Colorful and reliable:
Monoprice Palette Series
Monoprice makes electronic accessories of every shape and size, and its USB-C cables come in eight colors, ranging from 6 inches to 6 feet in length.
All the right angles
:AUKEY USB-C Cable Right Angle (2-Pack)
This two-pack is right-angled on both ends, double-braided nylon in the middle, and all awesome. Right-angle cables are great in the car or on the go
Durable and quick
RAMPOW USB 3.0 USB-C Cable
This 6-foot cable can charge your phone quickly and the double braided nylon sheathing should help keep the cable from snagging during day-to-day use.
Frequently asked questions
USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 cable buying advice
To some extent your choice of USB-C cable is going to come down to whether you need both ends to be USB-C, or if the device you want to hook up has a USB-A, Micro-USB, Lightning or Thunderbolt 3 port. But there is more you should take into account before purchasing the cheapest cable you can find.
What are the different types of USB-C?
The slowest USB-C cables for data transfer are based on the USB 2.0 standard, and many of the cheap USB-C cables you find today will be of this variety. USB 2.0 supports up to 480Mbps data transfer. It will be sufficient for transferring most files, but for 4K video or other large files you’ll really want something more powerful.
USB 3.1 Gen 1 is an improvement on this spec, offering data transfer of up to 5Gbps. This is sometimes referred to as SuperSpeed USB.
USB 3.1 Gen 2 doubles that data-transfer speed to 10Gbps. For 20Gbps transfers you need USB 3.1 2×2.
Are USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 the same thing?
No. USB-C is merely the connector type, and not indicative of its spec. Thunderbolt 3 is identical to USB-C in design, and it is compatible with USB-C ports and devices, but it has faster throughput of up to 40Gbps when paired with an appropriate cable.
If you have a Thunderbolt 3 port on your laptop, PC or storage device you should select a Thunderbolt 3 rather than USB-C 3.1 cable to achieve the best performance. This cable must have a USB-C connector at both ends to achieve Thunderbolt 3 speeds, though this is not necessary for achieving USB 3.1 speeds. This does not mean, however, that every USB-C to USB-C cable supports Thunderbolt 3.
Thunderbolt 3 cables come in active and passive varieties. Passive cables are typically shorter and cheaper, and unable to maintain the top 40Gbps transfer speeds over longer distances. Active cables can maintain this speed over distance, but they will also be more expensive.
As it is rarely advertised whether a cable is active or passive, your best bet is to opt for a shorter cable. This is because passive cables can deliver 40Gbps at 0.5m, but only 20Gbps at 1m.
The situation will be greatly simplified when USB 4.0 comes along in early 2021: with Thunderbolt technology underpinning it, USB 4.0 will be capable of the same 40Gbps data transfer speeds.
Will any USB-C cable charge my laptop?
The simple answer here is no. The various generations of USB and Thunderbolt take into account the data transfer speed, but for charging you also need to consider the power output.
When we talk about charging phones and tablets we might use the term Quick Charge, which is a technology built into Qualcomm processors but in essence just a standard that ensures truly fast charging. The same is true of Adaptive Charging, which is found in Samsung phones, and any other similar technologies used by alternative phone and tablet makers.
When we consider charging a laptop, however, extra power is required. Here you will encounter the term Power Delivery (sometimes simply PD), a specification that enables up to 100W of power output, although most laptops won’t require more than 60W.
USB Power Delivery is a USB certified standard designed to help improve charging speeds and flexibility when charging devices, as power can be sent or received by a PD device. Power Delivery charging can use up to 20 volts and 100 watts, which can cause serious damage if not used the right way, but PD’s standards are designed to help prevent overheating and overcharging when using it with a wide array of devices with different power needs.
USB PD 2.0 and 3.0 is different than USB 2.0 or 3.1, and many cables will include both certifications since USB Power Delivery is part of the USB 3.1. Power Delivery can also extend beyond USB to other types of connectors, but since we’re talking about USB-C cables here, let’s not get too far down the rabbit hole.
If you plug a USB 2.0 cable into a USB PD 2.0 wall charger, the highest charge rate will only be 15W — the maximum of the cable. For charging a phone, 15W is a fast enough charge, but it won’t be fast enough for many tablets or for Chromebooks and other laptops. If you want to buy a single C-to-C cable that can charge your laptop and your phone, buy yourself a USB 3.1 cable with PD charging; 2.0 is okay, 3.0 is better.
How cable manufacturers deal with this in their marketing can differ, but the key phrase you’re looking for is Power Delivery. Some will claim speeds of 60W, others 100W, and rarely anything in between.
When charging you need to consider all links in the chain: to charge a laptop that requires 60W you need a cable that supports 60W and also a mains adaptor that supports 60W. (We’ve listed some of the best USB adaptors for charging a laptop.)
As an aside, do not assume that the fact your laptop has a USB-C port means it will charge over USB-C – some are present purely for data transfer purposes.
In summary, I believe you can confidently make a choice on the best USB-C cable and port to serve your best interest with the above information. My this guide your reference when it comes to any thing USB-C; whether in connection with USB-C to USB-A or when going fulling USB-C to USB-C.
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