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USB Type-C: Simpler, faster and more powerful

Brian Nadel | April 16, 2014
The next generation of USB cables, the Type-C, will offer faster data streams, an increased ability to power devices, and better ease of use.

This doesn't only mean faster data backup and retrieval from, say, an external hard drive, but it potentially opens up USB 3.1 for a variety of new uses. For instance, it has roughly the same peak bandwidth available as an HDMI 1.4 connection and is capable of potentially carrying a 4096 x 2304 video stream at 30 fps.

How USB deals with power has been updated in other ways as well. Currently, a typical micro USB plug can dole out roughly enough power to charge a phone or tablet. The new Type-Cs incorporate and implement the USB Power Delivery spec that was ratified in 2012. As a result, a Type-C plug can work with devices that require five, 12 or 20 volts of electricity; it tops out at delivering 100 watts of power.

This can allow it to not only charge phones and slates but the extra power available can be used to run hubs and displays — it could even handle a 4K display or several monitors in an array. "USB is the only spec that can deliver power plus video over a single cable," says Ravencraft. "It's revolutionary, not evolutionary."

The changeover to the Type-C plug won't happen overnight. The plug's approval by the USB-IF is still pending, but will likely be ratified sometime during the summer. After that, if the past is any indication, there will be a six-to-nine-month period during which manufacturers of notebooks, tablets, phones and peripherals will evaluate the new spec and start to design it into their next-generation products.

Ravencraft says that the new plug already has momentum with manufacturers. "There's a lot of excitement in the industry about the Type-C connector, and they're pushing to get new products to market quickly," he says. He adds that there may be demos of both USB 3.1 and the Type-C plug at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this coming January.

After that, it'll likely take a couple of years for equipment with the Type-C connector to start displacing the current USB plugs and cables. In fact, Ravencraft thinks that there will be adapters and dongles that will allow the new technology to coexist with the older USB cables and gear, although you might not get the full advantage of the speed and power upgrades.

Eventually, though, most computers, phones, tablets, hard drives and hubs will have the new plug. At that point, the Type-C connector will have arrived.


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