USB-C Is Great – But Also Not So Great

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It’s hard to believe, but the USB standard has been around for over 22 years now. The ubiquitous connector – built to replace serial port, parallel port, game port, Apple Desktop Bus, PS/2 port, and more – has had quite the run. But it’s biggest problem? Plugging the connectors in the right way (especially when reaching blindly behind a computer) was way too difficult. The new USB-C connector has eliminated that issue, but with it comes its own issues.

The USB-C Connector (unlike the older USB-A and USB-B connects you are used to) is built to be plugged into a device either direction, which is a huge advantage already. No more blindly fiddling or flipping things around until it fits. The connector is becoming more common with many new Android phones, Apple laptops, and most newer PCs having this connector.

The problem? Not every port is the same, and not every USB-C cable or USB-C port is the same.

Wrong Cable Could Be Bad News

This problem specifically is for cables that feature a USB-C connector on one end and an older (previous) USB-A connector on the other end. Why is this a problem? Power. Without a proper resister in the cable (56kΩ), you could end up frying whatever you plug into it as it will potentially put too much power into the device. A Google employee has posted an FAQ about this, but you need to be careful about what you purchase and plug in and not just go with the cheapest cable out there. It’s also recommended to check on the USB-C Compliant Cable website to see if your cable is listed (Amazon Basics cables are rated well).

The Port May Not Do Everything You Think

USB-A Ports (the USB ports you are used to) were nice an easy: Pretty much anything that could be plugged into them would work. USB-C is a bit more complicated than that as they are being used for more than just basic storage and peripheral needs. Adapters and cables may or may not work, depending on what features your device offers. And to complicate matters further, many of the cables on the market support the slower and older USB 2.0 specification rather than USB 3.0 or 3.1 because they were designed primarily for charging instead of data transfer.

Not only that, but some computer manufacturers are using the USB-C Port on their computers with alternative purposes – like Thunderbolt 3, HDMI/DisplayPort monitor connections (you may see a D-Shaped icon next to the port), etc… . It’s all far too confusing. If you plan on connecting external displays to your machine, you’ll need to talk to your computer’s manufacturer to see what alternative modes are supported via your USB-C port and buy monitors accordingly. Otherwise you’ll end up with a bunch of dongle and cables that don’t work.

What to do?

Don’t panic. Buy good cables and buy docks and adapters from reputable manufacturers, and you should be fine. Call us if you have any concerns or questions and we’ll happily give you a recommendation and a quote.

Image from DataPro’s incredibly detailed article.

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