USB-C is a mess!

Am I the only one that feels this way? I guess USB-C has always been the dream. I initially bought into the idea: one cable, one port that could do it all. It sounds simple, but that’s where the simplicity ends. In my quest to understand this stupid thing, it turns out that this one port takes on many different forms and you can’t do the same things, despite it looking the same and using similar looking cables. The more I read, the more confused I am.

From what I can tell, the reality of USB-C is a total fucking nightmare. 

For example, some USB-C ports don’t do video out. Some do video out via Alternate Mode on HDMI 1.4 . But, if the port is also a Thunderbolt port, video out can be done via Thunderbolt, and that would do HDMI 2.0. Depending on the type of dock/cable you buy, you could be stuck with 30hz@4k, or suddenly doing two 60hz@4k screens while also charging your device….if the cable supports power delivery. These cables all look the same and plug into the same port! And some ports don’t even support video out! And of course, some cables could end up frying your device. There’s no clarity surrounding this and neither is there a clear labelling of these things. It also doesn’t help that most laptop reviews out there call it quits at “it has a USB-C port”, which isn’t enough information.

But the thing that really drove me to write this post was a new video posted on Youtube by LinusTechTips. They tested LG’s 5k monitor with a Razer Blade, and they found out that it couldn’t quite hit the 5k resolution, instead going up to only slightly beyond 4k. Why would there be a difference when the monitor is connecting to a same-spec Thunderbolt port on the Razer Blade vs the 2016 Macbook Pro?

Apparently, it’s not the same-spec, because Apple has a slightly different implementation of Thunderbolt and it has a specially designed controller that allows for the 5k display to work. CAN ANYONE EXPLAIN TO ME WHY THE FRICK IS THIS A THING? I thought the difference between Thunderbolt ports with 2 vs 4 PCI lanes was enough confusion on top of USB-C itself.

After literally years trying to understand, I thought I have read everything about USB-C. Apparently fucking not! It continues to surprise me in terrible, terrible ways. The whole “Universal” bit of the Universal Serial Bus needs to stay true to its promise.

Until OEMs are able to implement the standard as an actual fucking standard instead of dicking around (looking at you, HP, for blocking third-party USB chargers), USB-C will continue to be a total nightmare.

Conversation 21 comments

  • nightmare99

    07 May, 2017 - 5:27 pm

    <p>Totally agree with this, I have tried to explain the ins and outs of the various combinations of USB-C connectivity to my colleagues and I realise its really bloody difficult to summarise. </p>

  • Chris_Kez

    Premium Member
    08 May, 2017 - 12:28 pm



    08 May, 2017 - 1:22 pm

    <p>Apple's MacBook Pro Thunderbolt-3 = Ford F150 Pickup Truck.</p><p>Razor's Blade Thunderbolt-3 = Honda civic.</p><p>Even with two Honda Civics you still can't move a sofa</p>

    • Narg

      09 May, 2017 - 9:56 am

      <blockquote><a href="#114242"><em>In reply to TEAMSWITCHER:</em></a></blockquote><p>You've never seen the resourcefulness of a college student moving his sofa have you?</p>

  • skane2600

    08 May, 2017 - 3:03 pm

    <p>I'm skeptical of all Universal "solutions" and apparently cables follow the rule too. Even with old-fashioned USB cables, some can carry data and some can only carry power. </p>

    • evox81

      Premium Member
      09 May, 2017 - 2:50 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#114331"><em>In reply to skane2600:</em></a></blockquote><p>The only way anyone has <em>ever</em> encountered this issue (with A-B USB cables of any type) is if they're scavenging USB cables from&nbsp;dumpsters or buying cables that were cheap enough they should have known better. </p>

      • skane2600

        09 May, 2017 - 5:26 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#115011"><em>In reply to evox81:</em></a></blockquote><p>Ah, yes, it's the users fault defense. Pray tell, what is the minimum price one can pay for a USB cable with all functions? </p>

  • jimchamplin

    Premium Member
    08 May, 2017 - 11:41 pm

    <p>I hate USB-C and I don't even have it. Worst part being the only reason they did it was so that shit could be thinner.</p><p>Feel like I'm gonna break the damn things.</p>

    • Chris_Kez

      Premium Member
      09 May, 2017 - 1:01 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#114681">In reply to jimchamplin:</a></em></blockquote><p>But no worries about plugging it in the wrong way. And compared to micro-USB, it is less thin and fragile.</p>

      • jimchamplin

        Premium Member
        09 May, 2017 - 10:36 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#114932"><em>In reply to Chris_Kez:</em></a></blockquote><p>All good benefits. Also, something that Paul said in an article today makes it seem like a lot of issues with it aren't so bad. If the PC makers are designing the USB-C ports to work no matter what cord is plugged in, then that solves a lot!</p>

  • lecter

    Premium Member
    09 May, 2017 - 3:11 am

    <p>So true, and props to LinusTechTips, I love the reviews those guys make…</p><p>I think the best way to treat this is just like a dumb connector and verify what your input and output devices actually support. </p><p>I mean, if you just pick up an HDMI cable you can't expect every feature to work, you have to check the HDMI versions on both ends, as well as on the cable itself. </p><p>USB-A and Micro-USB spoiled us in that pretty much all the time you would get the devices to work at a certain level, so even if you only got USB 2.0 speeds because one of the things you used was not USB 3.0 compliant, file transfers or charging still worked, just more slowly. When we add video-out and massive power delivery into the mix, there is the potential for messing up, so USB-C errs by just not working, period. It feels much like the transition from analog to digital TV, when you have all the pieces it works beautifully, when you don't, it's worse than a fuzzy picture from an antenna. </p>

  • Narg

    09 May, 2017 - 9:54 am

    <p>IMHO, Typical Apple. Stay away from Apple PC hardware and you'll live a more satisfying life. Need video, look for "Thunderbolt" and you're golden. Or just opt for a USB-C to "whatever" video converter, that works too. Easy.</p>

    • rameshthanikodi

      09 May, 2017 - 11:11 am

      <blockquote><a href="#114843"><em>In reply to Narg:</em></a></blockquote><p>Some ports simply don't do video-out, so even plugging in the dongle will return you a nada. And if its an AMD system you can bet it isn't going to have Thunderbolt anytime soon.</p>

  • Nicholas Kathrein

    Premium Member
    09 May, 2017 - 12:10 pm

    <p>I hate to take the opposite view point but USB Type C is awesome! You can choose to spend more on your cables and only have to have one set that does it all. Cheap cables usually are designed for a specific purpose. Also your complaint about the Razer Blade should really be about the LG 5k display which should have 2 usb c's in to make it comparable with the spec which says you need 2 usb type c cables to run 5k and higher. Instead Apple did their thing which benefits their users which is great but also penalizes any other users of LG's monitor as it should have two inputs not one. </p>

    • Chris_Kez

      Premium Member
      09 May, 2017 - 1:00 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#114912">In reply to Nicholas Kathrein:</a></em></blockquote><p>None of that changes the fact that we still have a new "universal" port that can do all or only some of a wide range of things, and there is no obvious way for average consumers to know what to expect when they connect two products via USB Type C. It is "universal" in a very narrow sense. Comparing it to the complexities of Type A or the various flavors of HDMI doesn't lessen the invisible complexity of Type C. All that said, I still prefer it to Type A. I just wish that there was literally a universal standard, where all cables and ports supported the same features. All we've done with Type C is create more possibilities, while making the physical connector slimmer and easier to plug in; those are great things, but it is still a mess.</p>

      • Nicholas Kathrein

        Premium Member
        09 May, 2017 - 1:47 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#114930"><em>In reply to Chris_Kez:</em></a></blockquote><p>The issue here is really not USB Type C but manufactures using only the port connector with something like usb A specs. That happens with some phones to save money and specific chip sets just don't support everything USB type C can do. An example of this is cell phones. Some with USB type C can only charge and send data but at much slower speeds than Type C allows. Usually this has to do with the chipset in the phone. Over the next few years that will evolve as tech trickles down to the middle and low end chipsets. </p><p><br></p><p>The bigger issue is that Intel is using usb type c connector for thunderbolt so that confuses things. This will sort itself out but normal people probably aren't going to be using all the features of type C as of yet so they won't know they are missing it. Case in point is on phones. People generally will know type c charges faster and has a reversible plug that has no wrong way to plug it in. They won't try to plug the bottom of the phone charging / data port to a LG 5k monitor and get mad that there is no display coming up.</p>

  • RamblingGeek

    20 May, 2017 - 11:40 am

    <p>USB-C the connection and cable type. Which basically can run technologies over the top of it, protocols such as HDMI, Ethernet, Display port, etc…. USB-C is physical connection port/plug/cable. </p><p><br></p><p>Yes I agree work needs to be done and I think over time the manufacture's will just include all functionality, when the prices come down to make this possibly. </p><p><br></p><p>I don't like the likes of HP forcing to use one of the PSU's as it defeats the purpose. </p><p><br></p><p>It's new and it will take time…. the promise is good thou.. One cable connecting from a monitor to desktop supplying, USB, power and video… it will happen I'm sure it will it will just take time.</p><p><br></p><p>Maybe we need a icon's for each protocol supported by cables and devices, hope that makes sense.</p>

  • Jules Wombat

    20 May, 2017 - 2:27 pm

    <p>Yep, fawning over USB-C ports is just stupidity right now. We need a clear and common standard established instead. </p>

  • Rcandelori

    Premium Member
    21 May, 2017 - 1:16 am

    <p>Also, for all the song and dance about USB-C, the vast majority of devices out there today still use USB-A and Micro-USB. Paul has been on a bit of a crusade with USB-C regarding the Surface devices, but I think Microsoft is doing the right thing by maintaining simplicity. Although, I concede they could still adopt USB-C and still have USB-A ports for backwards compatibility. </p>

    • rameshthanikodi

      21 May, 2017 - 1:48 am

      <blockquote><a href="#118399"><em>In reply to Rcandelori:</em></a></blockquote><p>Actually I posted this not in response to Microsoft's decision to exclude USB-C from their new devices, but rather just out of frustration with my experience with USB-C. Bu yeah it does make you wonder if these are the reasons why Microsoft doesn't think USB-C is ready.</p>

  • Angusmatheson

    21 May, 2017 - 11:42 am

    <p>I have USB-C on some MacBooks and love them. I can't wait for everything to be USB-c. The dongle thing was a pain for 2 weeks – now with dongles and hubs in is totally painless in a mixed USB-C and A world. I do think all USB-c should do the same thing. USB A 1, 2, and 3 were a total pain. In that you had to think where you plugged in. If if gas the same plug it should do the same thing. But the reversability, power, fast speeds, video, and hopefully universal – makes it an awesome port. I pray it is the future for all computers – escpecially the back of tower PCs – why when I plug in a USB blindly behind a massive computer under a desk do I always do it upside down first? You would think at least 50% if I was going by chance. But no. Always upside down. And don't realize i need to switch it until my arm is upside down (and by then if it is a drive – I realize i plugged it into a 2.0 port not a 3.0 port – because who can see blue in the dark, behind a computer.)</p>

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