USB Type C, USB 3.1 – these names are increasingly appearing in the announcements of phones, laptops and other gadgets. Recently, even Samsung, in its latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy Note 7, has abandoned the old and well-known micro USB connector for the new USB Type C connector. But what is the whole USB Type C, what is USB 3.1 and what do these changes mean for us – consumers?

The equal sign between USB 3.1 and USB Type C (also known as USB-C) is a very common mistake, but in fact they are two completely independent standards. In short, the USB Type C is the name of the new type of plug, while USB 3.1 is the term referring to the data transfer rate of the USB bus. And – importantly – the USB 3.1 port does not have to be of type C at all.

The USB 3.1 standard is a bit easier to explain, so it’s a good idea to start with it. USB 3.1 comes in two varieties – Gen 1 and Gen 2. USB 3.1 Gen 1 is really USB 3.0 with a renamed name, which allows for data transfer at a rate of 5 Gb / sec. (Up to 640 MB / sec, although in practice it is less). USB 3.1 Gen 2 is a “real”, updated USB, which is twice as fast as the theory of connecting the appropriate controller, device and cable (yes, the cable also matters!) It should allow data transfer at more than 1 GB / sec. (DVD image in less than 5 seconds!). How to recognize a device compatible with the latest version of USB? After the graphics on the packaging:

Plus with SUPERSPEED and 10 Gbps signature, it means USB 3.1 Gen 2 compatibility.

The USB Type C name is based on the fact that this standard is intended to replace the familiar and well-known USB Type A and Type B. USB Type A is associated with this most typical flat USB plug:

So far, smartphones have mostly been equipped with USB micro B ports, which plug in familiar plug-ins:

There used to be plugs USB mini B:

There are also USB mini A and USB micro A ports used in devices where the USB port has a host function, as well as a separate set of plugs and micro and mini ports for transferring data at USB 3.0 speeds, but they have never gained popularity.

As you can see, we have been dealing with various types of USB ports and plugs type A and B (although we have not always been aware of it), so it is natural that it is time to use the letter C. What is important, USB Type C replaces all of the above Plugs, so (paraphrasing) is one standard to rule them all.

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In short – very much. For this new data transfer plug, USB is just one of many tasks. The USB-C specification assumes that you can simultaneously transfer not only data at up to 10 Gb / sec via a suitable C-type cable from both sides. (Via USB 3.1 Gen 2 protocol), but also monitor / TV image (via DisplayPort, HDMI or MHL interface) and up to 100 Watts of power (if devices are compatible with USB Power Delivery). In addition, the Thunderbolt 3 controller can be found behind a USB Type C plug, even if it is connected to some external desktop PCs with desktop graphics cards.

Razer Core, which has a desktop graphics card, is connected to the ultrabook Razer Blade Stealth via a USB Type C cable.

The USB-C connector is not only very versatile, but also user-friendly, because it is symmetric, so you do not have to wonder about which side you should do before inserting it. Fast, easy and modern – this is due to USB Type C.

But these are all possibilities that are not always required – the company that decides to install the USB-C connector on its device is not required to pair it with an advanced controller. We will repeat it again: USB Type C is a plug-in standard that says nothing about what a USB port can do, only what it can do. In the worst case, the USB plug is a USB 2.0 standard USB 2.0 port without the output of an image without 100 watts of power. How do you know what a given USB Type C port really is? You need to read the device specification carefully or even test it. Without this, you can not have 100 percent confidence as to what it does and what it really does.

Cables are another source of confusion associated with the new USB standards, because they are not all the same and allow the same. There are two main types of USB C cables – they have C-plugs on both sides, but one of them allows data transfer at USB 2.0 speed (and only transfers files because it does not support uploading and other additional features), and the other USB 3.1 speed. They can be identified by the label on the package.

There is one more snag – the basic version of the USB-C standard assumes transmission to 15 Watts of energy. But if the USB connectors of both connected devices (such as a computer and screen) are compatible with USB Power Delivery, the USB cable can deliver up to 100 Watts. As easy to guess, not every cable will handle this.

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Most often, this will be the case for smartphones with USB-C ports that support some standard fast-loading. Especially you have to watch out for cheap cables that have a USB Type C connector on the one hand, and a Class A cable on the other. These cables are not officially compatible with the USB Type C standard and are rather unofficial aids to life when you do not have a computer yet. With a new USB port. Cheap cables of this type combined with a quick charger can lead to phone damage – and this is not the purely theoretical consideration because such situations actually took place. Therefore, for quick charging of USB Type C phones, the best way to use the cords sold with them or the more expensive branded replacements.

In summary, the USB Type C standard in theory was designed to endure the next 20 years of electronics development. And that is because its potential is huge, and thanks to it, the plug and the USB cable will no longer be used to transfer files but also to video and audio, to charge notebooks, to power large external devices (theoretically you can do TVs and monitors without additional power Communicating with an external graphics card and so on. All you need is an adapter kit or a decent hub and a USB port of type C with a suitable controller can connect almost everything – without the need to constantly rotate the plug, which is finally symmetrical.

But this tremendous versatility is also a problem of the new USB standard, and once you have had to worry about only the color of the port (black means USB 2.0, and blue – USB 3.0), it’s almost anything beyond the C type connector – both old and slow USB 2.0. As well as the new super fast USB 3.1 Gen 2 with DisplayPort, HDMI, USB Power Delivery, or Thunderbolt 3.

Switching to a new USB connector can be a bummer at first because it involves buying new cables, chargers and adapters, and learning how to actually get a USB Type C port and what you can really expect from a USB port. However, the point is that this change is inevitable, as more and more smartphone manufacturers, tablets and computers see a new standard in the future. And it’s hard to disagree, because USB Type C is a very comfortable and modern standard. It’s just pity that it introduces so much confusion.