When Apple announced the MacBook in March, the new USB Type C (USB-C for short) port caused head shaking and chin scratching. Though the standard had been released in September and shown off at the CES trade show in January, no ecosystem existed. It was hard to know how a single-port USB-C laptop would function in the real world.
In the days that follow the announcement, cables and adapters started to be announced and even ship. The MacBook landed in people's hands — including ours at Macworld — in mid-April, and I've been purchasing and receiving review versions of adapters for several days.
Here's a rundown of what's currently available and what it can do for you. But first, let's define some basics.
How fast is USB-C? USB-C is a cabling standard that incorporates various versions of numbered USB standards, passes power bidirectionally, and is compatible with VESA's DisplayPort 1.2 and later specifications. In Apple's first use in the MacBook, the maximum data rate is 5Gbps.
Doesn't USB 3.1 support 10Gbps? Yes, but that mode isn't mandatory. Apple has implemented a perfectly acceptable version that's only 5Gbps and called USB 3.1 Gen 1, which is effectively a rebranded USB 3.0 (SuperSpeed). Future versions of laptops from Apple and other companies will certainly offer the full potential speed under the standard USB 3.1 Gen 2 and the brand name SuperSpeed+.
What's the difference between a power and sync cable? Apple ships the MacBook with what it's calling a charging cable ($29 when purchased separately) with USB-C male connectors on both ends. It's designed to pass power using USB-C standards, which allow for up 100 watts, and the MacBook has a 29W adapter ($49 separately). However, data on this cable only works using the USB 2.0 standard.
Does USB Type A only carry USB 2.0? Just to make things harder, no! Some USB cables with a Type A connector can carry USB 3 data between USB 3 ports. You should see SS for SuperSpeed molded on the correct side up of the male connector if it supports either 3.0 or 3.1 Gen 1 speeds. Cables with SS+ handle 3.1 Gen 2 speeds. However, some early cables merely have the generic USB icon even when they are packaged and work at USB 3 speeds. Right now, I have two nearly identical unbranded cables, one of which is USB 2.0 only and the other USB 3.0.
(Apple explains USB-C, its adapters, Target Disk Mode over USB, and more on a dedicated support page.)
Apple isn't expected to have its multiport HDMI and VGA adapters generally available for a two to four more weeks, but the company sent us review units. We also purchased Apple's USB-C male to USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type A female adapter ($19).
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