At the office, home or school, USB-C has arrived. We’ve got tips on how to lớn take advantage of those new ports, along with a peek at the future of data transfer and video.

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Christopher Hebert/IDG

You’ve probably noticed something strange about many of the latest phones, tablets và laptops at your company: The familiar rectangular Type-A USB ports are gone, replaced by smaller oblong connectors. USB-C has taken over at work, at trang chủ and at school.

While many iPhone & iPad models stick with Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector, USB-C is now part và parcel of most laptops, phones và tablets made today. Even the latest MacBooks & Chromebooks are part of the movement to USB-C.

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What is USB-C?

USB Type-C, usually referred lớn as just USB-C, is a relatively new connector for delivering data và power to & from computing devices. Because the USB-C plug is symmetrical, it can be inserted either way, eliminating the frustrations of earlier USB ports and putting it on a par with Apple’s reversible Lightning plug.

This alone makes it a hit for me, but USB-C is closely linked to several powerful new technologies, including Thunderbolt and USB power Delivery, that can change how we think about our gear và working in the office, on the road or at home.

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Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The Type-C USB port (second from left) on this Acer máy vi tính is noticeably smaller than the two older Type-A USB ports to its right.

Most USB-C ports are built on the second-generation USB 3.1 data-transfer standard, which can theoretically deliver data at speeds of up lớn 10Gbps — twice as fast as USB 3.0 và first-gen USB 3.1, which both đứng top out at 5Gbps. The key is khổng lồ get devices that say “USB 3.1 Rev 2,” “USB 3.1 ren 2,” “SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps,” or “SuperSpeed+” khổng lồ get support for the faster spec.

Confusing matters more, the current USB 3.2 standard is mostly a restatement of USB 3.1 specs. For instance, USB 3.2 gene 1 & 2 are the same as USB 3.1 ren 1 và 2. The new spec that’s actually noteworthy is USB 3.2 gene 2X2, which has a pair of 10Gbps lanes of data traffic available for a total of 20Gbps. So far, however, it hasn’t caught on with device manufacturers, so it’s hard to lớn find it on any devices in the wild. That might change in the coming year as new controller chips come out.

To make sure the data gets through at higher speeds, always get high-quality cables. They will often have the SuperSpeed logo & a “10” on them to lớn show they’re capable of moving 10Gbps. The good news is that there’s a good chance that this spaghetti bowl of cable standards could disappear with the next rev of the USB spec with a universal USB cable. More on that later.


Speed, power, and video delivery

A big bonus is that on many laptops and desktops, the USB-C specification also supports Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 data-transfer technology. A USB-C port equipped with Thunderbolt 3 can push data speeds khổng lồ a theoretical limit of 40Gbps. To lớn show how far we’ve come, that’s four times faster than USB 3.1 and more than 3,000 times faster than the original USB 1 spec of 12Mbps.

With increased data-transfer speeds comes the ability to lớn push video over the same connection. USB-C’s Alternate Mode (or “Alt Mode” for short) for đoạn phim enables adapters khổng lồ output clip from that same USB-C port to HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA and other types of clip connectors on displays, TVs & projectors. It pays huge dividends for the ultramobile among us by allowing many recent phones & tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ and cảnh báo and Tab 6 systems, khổng lồ directly plug into a monitor at trang chủ or a projector in the office.

What’s more, USB-C supports the USB nguồn Delivery (USB PD) specification. A USB 2.0 port can deliver just 2.5 watts of power, about enough lớn charge a phone, slowly. USB 3.1 ups this figure lớn about 15 watts. But USB PD can deliver up to 100 watts of power, more than six times what USB 3.1 can. This opens up the potential for laptop-powered projectors based on USB-C, but today it is mostly used for high-power chargers và external battery packs.

Next up: USB4

With USB-C accepted as the de facto connector today, the next step is USB4. It can move up to 40Gbps, provide at least 15 watts of power nguồn for accessories, and support two 4K displays or a single 8K display. Lớn its credit, USB4 will continue with the small oblong connector that USB-C brought to the tiệc nhỏ and will work with existing devices, including USB 2.0 ones. (You will need the right adapter for devices without a USB-C port, though.)

Behind the scenes, USB4 uses the Thunderbolt 4 spec. It sets up bidirectional lanes of data that should help things lượt thích videoconferencing, which require two-way data flow lớn prevent congestion và jams. In addition to extra security to lớn prevent a mod attack, Thunderbolt 4 will be compatible with Thunderbolt 3 devices, like docking stations & External Graphics Processing Units (eGPUs). It includes dynamic data flow that is adjusted khổng lồ suit the devices, so older devices won’t slow down newer ones.

On the downside, you’ll need a Thunderbolt 4 cable to lớn make it work, but there’s a potential bonus: all Thunderbolt 4 cables will be able lớn be used on anything from USB 2 (with adapter) through USB4 systems. This will make it as close to a universal data cable as exists today. They’ll be available in 2-meter lengths (about 6½ feet), more than twice the standard 0.8-meter length of current USB-C cables. The key lớn look for when shopping is that they will have the iconic Thunderbolt lightning icon và a 4 on the plug.

The USB4/Thunderbolt 4 spec is built into Intel’s 11th-generation Tiger Lake processors, although the company and others will have standalone USB4 controller chips. The first computers with Thunderbolt 4 ports might appear in late 2020 & devices that plug into them early the next year.

Making USB-C work for you

In the here và now, you’ll need to make some changes & buy some accessories to lớn take full advantage of USB-C. This guide can help ease the transition by showing what you can vị with USB-C và what you’ll need khổng lồ make it work.

Be careful, because not all USB-C devices support all of the latest USB-C specs. For instance, just about every USB-C flash drive supports the earlier USB 3.1 Rev 1 protocol, some tablets & phones don’t tư vấn Alt Mode video, và we are in the early days of USB nguồn Delivery, with few devices going beyond 40 or 60 watts. In other words, read the spec sheet carefully so you know what you’re getting before you buy.

These tools, tips & DIY projects can help make the transition to lớn a USB-C world easier.

Make a USB-C travel kit

The good news is that USB-C ports can be used with most older USB 2, 3.0 và 3.1 accessories. The bad news is that you’ll need the right adapters & cables, và so far, I haven’t seen a complete kit available. I’ve made my own USB-C survival kit that has six key cables & adapters inside an old zippered case.

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Brian Nadel/IDG

A compact USB-C travel kit with a variety of adapters comes in mighty handy on the road.

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Here’s what it contains:

Two small male USB-C to lớn female USB 3.0/3.1 adapters for connecting to lớn older devices, such as flash drives.A short USB-C male-to-male cable for using accessories.A USB-C Ethernet adapter for when I can get a wired connection.An HDMI converter for projector-based presentations.

It’s not part of my travel kit, but there’s one additional adapter I’ve found useful at home. Sadly, many app android phones và tablets now lack a tai nghe jack, making listening to lớn music or being heard on the office Zoom hotline next to impossible. While I have USB-C earbuds, I usually can’t find them when I need them. When that happens, I use a headphone jack adapter with a phối of earbuds with my Samsung Galaxy chú ý 20 phone.

Apple, Samsung and other manufacturers sell adapters for about $9 to lớn $15, but I’ve found that generic ones that cost half as much are just as good. I keep a few on hand.

Take your data with you

There’s no shortage of USB-C flash drives for those who lượt thích to carry their data with them. The best part is that all you bởi is insert the drive, and after it is assigned a drive letter, its capacity is available.

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SanDisk

SanDisk’s Ultra Dual Drive USB Type-C can transfer data at up to 150Mbps.

However, most USB-C drives, lượt thích SanDisk’s Ultra Dual Drive USB Type-C, still rely on the USB 3.1 Rev 1 hardware that limits its speed to 150Mbps.

Data hogs will appreciate another approach: carry a large-capacity external drive, like HP’s P700 SSD. It measures 0.4 x 2.6 x 3.6 in., or about the size of a deck of cards, but weighs only 2 ounces. It can hold between 256GB & 1TB of data on flash storage chips and uses the USB 3.1 Rev 2 hardware. According to HP, it can move data as fast as 8Gbps & comes with the cables you’ll need to lớn connect it with a computer, old or new. It costs about $100 for 500GB.

There’s a cheaper way: make one yourself. I did this with a $35 StarTech.com Tool-Free Enclosure that holds a 2.5-in. SATA 500GB SSD drive I took out of a broken laptop. It uses the second-generation USB 3.1 spec và took less than a minute khổng lồ put together. Here’s how to vì chưng it without a screwdriver in sight.

1. Start with the drive và enclosure.

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Brian Nadel/IDG

2. Slide the top off the enclosure.

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Brian Nadel/IDG

3. Connect the drive to lớn the enclosure’s electronics.

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Brian Nadel/IDG

4. Snap the enclosure back together & plug in the included USB C cable.

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Brian Nadel/IDG

5. When the connection has been made, its LED lights up & a new drive shows up on your computer.

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Brian Nadel/IDG

If you want khổng lồ keep the drive’s data, you’re all set. I like a fresh start, so I wiped the data off the drive. It’s now a fresh 500GB storehouse for my stuff.

Set up a dock

There’s nothing that says “welcome home” lượt thích a docking station on your desk lớn connect your máy tính — & in some cases even a tablet or phone — khổng lồ your network, display(s), external drives, mouse và keyboard as well as peripheral devices while charging the system.

While some manufacturers sell docking stations that are made expressly for a computer or family, they are becoming a rarity. An alternative is to lớn get a generic dock, like Belkin’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro. I keep it on my desk và plug the $300 dock into my apple macbook Air; it works just as well with a PC.

The dock has everything I need, including DisplayPort & USB-C đoạn phim ports that can handle a single 8K or two 4K screens, as well as a USB-C & two Thunderbolt 3 ports. In addition to an audio connection, there are five USB 3 connections & an SD thẻ reader. A big bonus is that the dock can deliver up khổng lồ 85 watts of power & easily charges my notebook.

The Pro dock allows me to consolidate the connections for everything from a keyboard, mouse and external storage lớn a wired network connection & an HP 32 QHD display. Happily, I still have room for more accessories, like a flash drive or scanner. It took a few minutes to plug everything in initially. When the dock was ready, its LED glowed green.

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Brian Nadel/IDG

Belkin’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock Pro can connect a Mac or Windows laptop to an array of peripherals — & charge it.

Another option: If you’ve ever wanted lớn ditch the laptop and truly travel light, now’s your chance. Samsung’s DeX technology is included on its flagship Galaxy smartphone gear và can create a full desktop environment when it’s connected lớn an external display.

Many of the earliest DeX models, like the Galaxy S8, S9 and chú ý 8, required a hardware dock, but the newer cảnh báo 9, cảnh báo 10, S10 and S20 phones can use a USB-C hub with an HDMI port lớn connect to a display, simplifying the hardware. (The new Galaxy cảnh báo 20 takes this to lớn a new cấp độ by connecting wirelessly. It works with recent Sony, LG, TCL, and of course Samsung TVs or a display that’s connected khổng lồ a Miracast receiver. But that, of course, doesn’t involve USB-C.)

Regardless of how you connect to lớn the display, once DeX is online, the phone can still take or make calls, text co-workers và even act as a large touchpad khổng lồ control the on-screen pointer.