USB Type-C connector with DisplayPort challenges Thunderbolt

USBIconXThe next version of USB connectivity (Type C) was announced by VESA today, and offers capabilities that rival those of Thunderbolt. Unlike prior USB connectivity, Type-C is a new approach that, similar to Apple’s lightning connector for iOS devices, is both bidirectional and reversible, meaning you do not have to worry what end of the USB cable to use, and do not have to worry about flipping it upside-down to connect it. This change offers obvious benefits over current USB cables, but in addition, the Type C cable will come with 100-watt power and a new “DisplayPort Alternate Mode” will allow you to run monitors up to and beyond 4K resolutions.

Combining DisplayPort and high-speed data capabilities is nothing new, and was introduced on the Mac with Apple’s Thunderbolt port; however, in addition to being a new technology that was not yet widely adopted, one problem with Thunderbolt is its lack of high power capabilities, so devices that run on it often require their own power source. In contrast, the 100W power delivery in Type-C USB connections will allow for charging and powering of all devices (including laptops, and connected monitors, etc.).

USB Type-C connector diagram

The new Type-C connector will host high power delivery in addition to DisplayPort, all on a bidirectional and reversible cable.

This inclusion, along with the bidirectional nature of Type-C, allows for a number of different connectivity configurations, both for sending and receiving data, powering devices, and interacting with your devices. For example, a monitor being powered by an AC adaptor can charge a laptop over USB, or this can be reversed so the laptop plugged into the wall can power and run an attached monitor. This approach pushed further with the idea of a Type-C dock, where similar to a current USB hub, you could interconnect all your devices, but then also be able to charge them and perhaps set up multiple monitors for a workstation.

While Thunderbolt still has its place since it offers an extension to the PCI-express bus and can host a number of devices that USB cannot, for many purpose, including backward compatibility, USB is still the preferred connection protocol for peripheral devices. With the addition of DisplayPort protocols and high wattage power deliver, USB is maintaining its dominance and is perhaps evolving to be the single connectivity port we use in laptops, desktops, and mobile devices of the future.

5 thoughts on “USB Type-C connector with DisplayPort challenges Thunderbolt

  1. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    As if connectivity issues aren’t complex enough already. I have to carry three Thunderbolt adaptors for my work as a Mac tech. Thunderbolt to Ethernet, TB to USB and TB to FireWire. These are essential when working with any Mac laptop, all of which are severely limited in connection options. This problem is aggravated by the fact that Apple’s adaptors are less than snug at the Thunderbolt end, which means they too easily come loose if your computer or the connected device or cable is moved. While USB 3 is a good connection option, you will almost certainly need a USB hub because USB 3 devices cannot be daisy-chained (of course this is the case with USB 2 devices as well). And USB 3 hubs have problems with multiple devices that may demand more power than they can provide – even with a power adaptor plugged in. I don’t remember having any such problems with powered USB 2 hubs. So don’t cheap out on a USB 3 hub – like the Amazon Basics models – they are a waste of money. On the other hand, the Plugable hub I got to replace the feeble Amazon hub does everything the cheap Amazon hub does not. Though you should take note that most USB hubs cannot charge a cell phone or tablet. However, they do work if you just need to synchronize those devices with your Mac (or PC).

    So whatever advantages USB Type C may offer, it will inevitably complicate connectivity issues. If we are lucky Apple will come late to that game, as they did with USB 3 – and we’ll have more than a few years to learn to cope with Thunderbolt and USB 3.

  2. Henry Larsen

    From the article:

    “…one problem with Thunderbolt is its lack of power capabilities, so devices that run on it require their own power source.”

    Say what? There are plenty of Thunderbolt _bus-powered_ external drives out there, both HDD and SSD.

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