Over the years we’ve seen a lot of changes in the way we connect devices. Long gone is the parallel port and, for most users, the serial port. Both of these were replaced with the Universal Serial Bus and its infamous 3-times-a-charm “type A” connector. For video, the old VGA port is dying as well as its digital (and analog) counterpart, the DVI. They are being replaced with a myriad of digital alternatives including HDMI, DisplayPort, and Mini-DisplayPort. Even the old IEEE 1394b “FireWire” connector, a long-time staple for video and music professionals and enthusiasts, has largely been replaced by USB3.0 and Thunderbolt, the latter offering yet another leap towards the current trend of one connector to rule them all. A long-time staple of apple products, the Intel Thunderbolt interface offers both video and data connectivity over the industry standard mini-DisplayPort connector. Not to be outdone, USB, whose “type B” connector has continuously shrunk over the years, has joined the band wagon with the new-ish USB-C connector.
To start, USB-C currently supports USB3.1 specifications, which means a data rate of 10 gigabits per second. To lend a little perspective, blazing fast USB3.0 is half of that while 2.0 is only 280 mega-bits. Next, the standard supports fast charging and powering high-power devices (up to 20 volts, 5 amps, or 100 watts). The connector even supports DisplayPort video and four channels of audio (short of the HDMI standard but sufficient for most applications). Most revolutionary, however, is the fact that the connector is reversible. As a result, soon the days of 3-times-a-charm USB connectors will be history.
All of this is not without a cost, however. As any user of the Micro-USB-B connector (think cell phones) will attest, eventually the connection gets loose or the cable breaks. This is an unfortunate reality as connectors get smaller and their parts denser. Add to this the higher voltage and current the C standard supports and there’s a definite danger. Users have already reported damage due to poorly manufactured cables both to the connected device and the computer. To avoid this, follow these steps:
1. Don’t go for the cheapest cable. Look for a quality manufacturer and pay attention to reviews.
2. Thoroughly inspect the cable before use. If it doesn’t look right, don’t try to use it. Compare to online photos if necessary.
3. Be prepared to replace cables regularly. If the connection feels loose at all, replace immediately to avoid potential damage. Also replace if the cable looks kinked or damaged.
4. Be careful when handling the cable and making connections. Don’t bend the cable too sharply or cinch the cable with a wire tie.
5. Be mindful when moving devices. Make sure the connector goes straight in, and avoid pressure on the connector in any direction. If possible, support the cable near the connection.
6. Never assume. Just because the device has a USB-C connector doesn’t mean it supports all of the specifications. Fast charging and video support may or may not be present on the device. Verify the device’s specifications to determine if it will support the intended application.
7. If you are using an adapter (e.g. USB-A), remember the connection is limited to the abilities of the USB port it is connected to (could be USB, USB2.0, or USB3.0). Just because the cable is USB-C on one side doesn’t make it USB3.1.