Socket with many possibilities: What you need to know about USB-C

In principle, USB-C is just a practical plug-in system.

Socket with many possibilities: What you need to know about USB-C

In principle, USB-C is just a practical plug-in system. Which interface with which standard is behind it is not necessarily evident from the connection. The possibilities are many and the different designations can be very confusing.

The USB Implementers Forum published the USB-C connector system back in 2014, but it took a while for it to catch on. In the meantime, however, not only every new Android smartphone has the practical socket to which you can no longer plug the cable wrong. Current notebooks, PCs and other devices also have at least one USB-C input and even iPhones will have the standard connection from the next generation.

However, a USB-C socket does not mean that there is also an interface behind it that uses all the possibilities of the new connection. Which transmission rates are achieved or whether an input is also suitable for power supply or for connecting a monitor, you can often only see in the small print of the manual.

The transfer rates depend on which USB standard is used. USB-C is no longer compatible with USB 1.0, which was introduced in 1996 and only allowed transfer rates of 12 megabits per second (Mbit/s). The oldest supported standard is USB 2.0 from 2001. After all, 480 Mbit/s are possible with it.

A big leap was USB 3.0, released in 2008. With this standard, the maximum data rate skyrocketed to 5 gigabits per second (Gbps), which remained the top speed until 2013. Then came USB 3.1 and the great confusion.

With the new standard, the transmission rate has not only doubled to 10 Gbit/s. For reasons that are difficult to understand, the USB makers decided to rename USB 3.0 to USB 3.1 (1st generation) and to designate the new standard as USB 3.1 (2nd generation).

The introduction of USB 3.2 with data rates of up to 20 Gbit/s in 2017 made it even more difficult to keep track. Because at this point USB 3.0 became USB 3.2 Gen 1(x1) and USB 3.1 became USB 3.2 Gen 2(x1). The actual USB 3.2 is called USB 3.2 Gen 2x2.

Understood? no Those responsible also noticed this and tried to clarify things with the designations SuperSpeed ​​for data rates of up to 5 Gbit/s, SuperSpeed ​​10 Gbps for maximum speeds of 10 Gbit/s and SuperSpeed ​​20 GPS for maximum transmission rates of 20 Gbit/s.

That helps as long as manufacturers also label the inputs accordingly. Usually you will see a logo with "SS" and the maximum speed as a number next to the socket. But on many devices you will look in vain for a logo, only by looking at the manual you will get smarter.

A USB-C socket can also be a Thunderbolt port, which can be recognized by a lightning bolt symbol. The standard developed by Intel and Apple has used USB-C since version 3. At 40 Gbit/s, Thunderbolt 3 was also the fastest USB-C standard for a long time, until USB 4.0 was released in 2019, which has the same maximum speed.

In fact, USB 4.0 is partly a descendant of Thunderbolt 3, from which it inherited the protocol. USB 4 version 2.0 with a maximum data rate of 80 Gbit/s has been available since September. In one direction even up to 120 Gbit/s are possible. Users do not necessarily notice the difference between Thunderbolt and USB, since the standards are largely compatible.

Intel gave the go-ahead for Thunderbolt 4 two years ago. The maximum speed did not increase here with the new standard, instead other requirements were tightened. Among other things, the connections must now support a monitor with 8K resolution at a refresh rate of 60 Hertz (Hz). Laptops can be charged with up to 100 watts

Even with a USB protocol, USB-C is not limited to data transfer. Since USB 1.0, the maximum current for charging has increased from 0.1 ampere (A) to 5 A, the power has climbed from 0.5 to 100 watts, and the voltage from 5 to 20 volts.

To do this, however, a connection must support USB Power Delivery (USB-PD). Otherwise, you can't get beyond 15 W on a USB-C connector. You can tell whether this is available on a USB-C port by a "PD", a battery symbol or a watt specification, among other things.

USB-PD is a standard in its own right, allowing the power adapter and the device being charged to communicate with each other to negotiate the optimal current and voltage. With version 3.1, which was released in 2021, even up to 48 volts and 40 watts will be possible in the future using sophisticated rules.

As with Thunderbolt, a USB-C port can also be used with USB standards to connect monitors. There is also the alternative mode (Alternate Mode), which allows the connection to also transmit signals other than USB. This means that USB-C can serve as a DisplayPort, among other things, with which up to 8K at 60 Hz are possible. HDMI, DVI or VGA connections also work with an adapter.

Whether a USB-C port supports DisplayPort can be seen from a logo next to the input, which consists of a P in a D - if the manufacturer has attached the label. Of course, USB-C can also transmit audio signals via the alternative mode.

If a USB-C port has the above capabilities, they can be used simultaneously. This means that a laptop can be supplied with power while a monitor is connected via the socket and other data is being transmitted.

If you are using a hub with multiple inputs, a single USB-C input can be sufficient. In the future there will probably hardly be any other connections, and the wide USB-A sockets will gradually disappear. In an emergency, there is an adapter to USB-C for almost every connector.