USB-C is About to Get Twice as Fast

Posted on July 26, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware with 43 Comments

USB-C is About to Get Twice as Fast

Image source: Wikipedia

The USB 3.0 Promoters Group this week announced a new USB-C specification that doubles the performance of existing cables.

Well. Sort of. As you may know, when it comes to USB in general, and with USB-C in particular, things are never that simple.

“When we introduced USB Type-C to the market, we intended to assure that USB Type-C cables and connectors certified for SuperSpeed USB or SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps would, as produced, support higher performance USB as newer generations of USB 3.0 were developed,” USB 3.0 Promoter Group Chairman Brad Saunders said in a prepared statement. “The USB 3.2 update delivers the next level of performance.”

Current implementations of USB-C—which is really called USB Type-C, as in the quote above, but whatever—utilize a single lane of operation, and can achieve transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbps. To achieve this speed, you need USB-C 3.1 cables, and because this is USB, there are of course other complexities involved, including various generations of the USB signaling protocol. But let’s just ignore that for now. Or forever.

With the USB 3.2 update to USB-C, this standard port and cable combo can now deliver double the performance using the same cables. That is, your existing cables should be able to move forward to new PCs and other devices and deliver the double the performance. Assuming your cables are USB-C 3.1 compatible. I think.

This update will, however, require new hardware on either end of that cable. So your current smartphone will never support these new speeds, nor will whatever you’re connecting it to today (PC, hub, dock, whatever). Or as the USB 3.0 Promoters Group says, “for users to obtain the full benefit of this performance increase, a new USB 3.2 host must be used with a new USB 3.2 device and the appropriate certified USB Type-C cable.”

Note, too, that this update applies only to USB-C, which is essentially a connector type. In many implementations, this connector, or port, is also used to deliver Thunderbolt 3 capabilities. Thunderbolt 3 is already dramatically faster than stock USB-C, and offers 40 Gbps of bandwidth. That’s enough power to drive dual 4K displays, which is why all PC makers (yes, except Microsoft) have adopted it as the new universal standard for power and expansion.

Check out Welcome to the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 Era for more information about this magical standard.

 

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Comments (43)

43 responses to “USB-C is About to Get Twice as Fast”

  1. Avatar

    jimchamplin

    So another layer of complexity to the already mind boggling array of BS associated with this crap.


    But hey, at least if you managed to suss out the right wire, it’ll work on a computer you buy three years from now.

  2. Avatar

    VancouverNinja

    All USB cables should be required to have clear markings as to the exact type of cable it is and the version of the cable. It is impossible to know what "version" you have when changes like this are being made. This should be a mandatory requirement or at least a minimum requirement.

    • Avatar

      will

      In reply to VancouverNinja:

      This is the biggest problem with the USB-C connector right now, and sort of why I understand Microsoft might have held off. USB-C is a connector and it has everything from just power to USB 3.0, 3.1, and Thunderbolt3. Only Thunderbolt3 cables are required to have the Thunderbolt icon. Everything else is just blank.

      This just happened to be today when I had a Type C cable. I had no idea what it was in terms of speed.

      My recommendation would be ONLY purchase Thunderbolt3 cables for data because they are backwards compatible with everything down. Problem is there are not many and they can cost a little more.

  3. Avatar

    Waethorn

    Not to conflate the issue here, but USB 3.1 is divided into Gen 1 and Gen 2. Only USB 3.1 Gen 2 is the 10Gbps connection.


    Here's the catch:


    USB 3.0 = USB 3.1 Gen 1


    So when you see a system that says "USB 3.1", see if it says "Gen 1" or "Gen 2". If it doesn't, assume it's just Gen 1, or what they used to refer to as USB 3.0. It's the same thing. You'll see this a lot with motherboard and system manufacturers going forward.


    Yes, it's a bit of a marketing scam.

  4. Avatar

    Waethorn

    Here's a question for people here:


    Does USB 3.1 Gen 1 automatically incorporate UASP features?


    The "USB 3.0" spec had it as an optional thing, so you had to look for external drives to spell it out for it to be included.

  5. Avatar

    Nicolas De Roo

    I guess most aftermarket USB-C cables will burn twice as fast too now.

  6. Avatar

    johnbaxter

    I read a pretty detailed description of the first USB protocol (Ars Technica, perhaps), and came away amazed that it worked at all. I also read about how USB 2 co-existed with USB 1 and was even more amazed. I'm now too old (78) to read about USB 3.2 in detail.

  7. Avatar

    CaedenV

    All of the confusion around USB vs USB-C is understandable.

    I like to think about it more like Ethernet. Ethernet cables are not the same as the Ethernet data standards that go across the cable. Ethernet cables are just dumb cables, and the better quality they are made at (cat5, cat5a, cat6, etc.) allows for better signaling to go across the wire. If a switch is capable of 10gbps Ethernet, and the end-user is good for 1gbps, then they will negotiate to 1gbps over the wire. If it is a VoIP device then it will use VoIP as the protocol rather than TCP/IP. Etc. etc. etc.


    USB-C is the same thing. USB-C is just a cable, and that cable is good for certain throughput at certain lengths, just like an Ethernet Cat5 cable can do 1gbps throughput over 3-6ft, but drops to 100mb/s at 20+ft. The quality of the cable just limits the signal that the chips on either end can communicate at reliably.


    Similarly, this new USB3.2 spec is not limited to USB-C cabling. Vendors could very well pass USB3.2 across a traditional USB3 cable if the controller and the cable were fast enough to support it. Technically I believe you could even pass it through a DP cable... provided the vendors supported it... which probably wont happen.


    So ya, we just need to realize that they are going the way of Ethernet and DisplayPort where the cable is good up to a certain data rate, and the controllers on either end decide what protocols are being used.

  8. Avatar

    emanon2121

    I can see why MS is skipping this usb-c mess for now.

  9. Avatar

    skane2600

    I don't see the average consumer parsing complicated labeling to figure out which cable is the one they should buy. The problem with these standards is that they are too broad and try to cover anything the designers can think of. Ironic that RS232 serial cables seem simple by comparison.

  10. Avatar

    Daekar

    After reading through the comments, I'm shocked at what an appalling mess this all is. I don't want to keep track of what revision anything is, I just want to plug my devices in and have them work at the fastest possible speed. I damn sure don't want to have two devices that will plug together but not work because one is Thunderbolt 3 and the other is USB 3.2...or whatever horrible alphanumeric soup is now required to describe a plug and protocol combination.

  11. Avatar

    rameshthanikodi

    There's nothing magical about USB Type-C. It continues to be a mess. And all they did today was to announce USB 3.2, which is another standard which piles on top of the already confusing mess of USB 3.0 (uses type A, but at least the ports were colored blue), USB 3.1 Gen 1 (same speed as USB 3.0), USB-C 3.0 Gen 2 (which is what people want, until today), and now, USB-C 3.2 (which is what people should want, from today). This is excluding Thunderbolt 3 or Alternate Modes (includes DisplayPort and HDMI), which are also yet more other standards that can use the Type-C connector. Good luck to the average consumer figuring all this sh*t out, which ports/cable can or can't do what or not. At least USB 3.2 doesn't look like it'll require new cables and appears to be backwards-compatible.

    USB-C is not magic. Paul continues to remain daft about this IMO. Type-C is just a connector that shapeshifts into different connection types (total fucking nightmare). It could be USB, it could be DisplayPort, it could be HDMI, it could be Thunderbolt, it could be Power, it could be a proprietary power connection specific to the port, it even could be Ethernet or VGA. Whenever I hear Paul talking about Type-C, it's clear that what he wants is Thunderbolt 3, not USB. USB 3.2 just puts USB's max speed on par with Thunderbolt 3, so the real story here is perhaps non-thunderbolt equipped machines might not be missing out on much going forward.

  12. Avatar

    nightmare99

    "Your USB device can perform faster if you plug it into a USB 3.2.5.6.3.3 port"

  13. Avatar

    Minok

    If it gets rid of the worst hardware interface of all time, the USB-A physical port (that requires retrying the orientation yhou just tried at least twice to get the thing to plug in)... then I welcome our USB-C overlords. I could care less about the speed it pushes data through.

  14. Avatar

    Boris Zakharin

    Couldn't this change be implemented in software at least for some devices? I know a device's software can already control how it identifies itself and what features it supports.

  15. Avatar

    gamersglory

    Next up get rid of Micro and mini USB plugs there to flimsy replace them with USB Type-C connectors

  16. Avatar

    MikeGalos

    So, actually, it's NOT a new USB-C spec.

    It's USB 3 being upgraded from 3.1 to 3.2.

    And the USB 3.2 features don't appear on any chain that has USB 3.1 devices or hubs even if they use the same USB Type-C connectors. The ONLY thing that doesn't have to be upgraded to get the USB 3.2 benefits over 3.1 is the cable and then only if it's fully compliant.

    And the Thunderbolt 3 Alternate Mode is still optional and not necessarily present in any devices that use the USB Type-C connector nor are any Alternate Modes such as Display Port or MHL or HDMI which all remain optional. AND each vendor supporting USB 3.x with a USB Type-C connector is still free to add their own proprietary Alternate Modes.

    So the confusion continues.

    There's USB-3 which may or may not be USB 3.0 or 3.1 or 3.2

    There's the USB Type-C connector which may or may not use USB 3.1 or 3.2

    There are multiple Alternate Modes, each of which may or may not be present in any USB 3.x device using a USB Type-C connector.

    What we REALLY need is the USB Consortium actually declaring that in order to use the USB Type-C connector, ALL devices MUST support the same version of USB 3 and the same Alternate modes. Until that happens, a USB Type-C connector is a confusing mish-mash of incompatible standards where you need a full chart of compatibilities to know which devices work with which.

    • Avatar

      Tallin

      In reply to MikeGalos:


      USB-C ports on relevant devices support USB. The USB consortium requiring other standards not under their control to be a part of it would be both silly and high-handed. What we really needed is more consistent labelling. There are symbols for DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, etc. Use them. As far as I know, Thunderbolt always supports DisplayPort, so you'd only need to use one or the other for that.

      • Avatar

        MikeGalos

        In reply to Tallin:

        Actually, USB Type-C connectors support USB 3.1 and 3.2

        The USB Consortium controls what Alternate Modes are required or prohibited or optional already. They make 4 explicitly optional. They also allow any vendor to put their own proprietary Alternate Mode on their devices and only require consortium approval if that Alternate Mode is put on 3rd party devices.

        In short, they already control exactly what is and is not supported.

        As for DisplayPort being "always" supported on Thunderbolt, that's only partly true since DisplayPort on Thunderbolt has DIFFERENT standard levels than DisplayPort Alternate Mode on USB 3.x. Even MORE confusion.


        • Avatar

          Tallin

          In reply to MikeGalos:


          There is a difference between only allowing certain alternate modes without approval and requiring them to all be included. One is helpful, the other is heavy-handed and likely to slow or even halt adoption. Many require separate licensing fees or components and aren't really necessary on all devices. If you want someone to adopt your standard (more quickly or at all), you make it easier to do, like Intel is doing with Thunderbolt, not force them to do it by shoe-horning it into the standard. If they do make it easier then we may get to the point where all alternate modes are ubiquitous and it essentially is a standard. At that point you may even be able to add it to the standard without harming adoption rates because everybody does it already.

          • Avatar

            MikeGalos

            In reply to Tallin:

            They don't "allow" Alternate Modes. They control 100% what Alternate Modes are allowed already. That they leave all 4 as "optional" means you have the following possible "standard" implementations (not counting single vendor proprietary on top of this:


            USB 3.1 no AM

            USB 3.1 DP

            USB 3.1 MHL

            USB 3.1 TB

            USB 3.1 HDMI

            USB 3.1 DP MHL

            USB 3.1 DP TB

            USB 3.1 DP HDMI

            USB 3.1 MHL TB

            USB 3.1 MHL HDMI

            USB 3.1 TB HDMI

            USB 3.1 DP MHL TB

            USB 3.1 DP MHL HDMI

            USB 3.1 DP TB HDMI

            USB 3.1 MHL TB HDMI

            USB 3.1 DP MHL TB HDMI

            USB 3.2 no AM

            USB 3.2 DP

            USB 3.2 MHL

            USB 3.2 TB

            USB 3.2 HDMI

            USB 3.2 DP MHL

            USB 3.2 DP TB

            USB 3.2 DP HDMI

            USB 3.2 MHL TB

            USB 3.2 MHL HDMI

            USB 3.2 TB HDMI

            USB 3.2 DP MHL TB

            USB 3.2 DP MHL HDMI

            USB 3.2 DP TB HDMI

            USB 3.2 MHL TB HDMI

            USB 3.2 DP MHL TB HDMI



            • Avatar

              Tallin

              In reply to MikeGalos:


              So you're saying they don't allow alternate modes, they allow certain alternate modes, but regulate how they are used? In other words, they do allow alternate modes. Regulating how alternate modes are applied is not the same thing as requiring them (and also not the same thing as not allowing them), which is what I said before. You're either purposefully being obtuse or completely missing what I'm saying.

              • Avatar

                MikeGalos

                In reply to Tallin:

                No. They certified 4 general Alternate Modes which can be used by any vendor in any combination. A user has NO way of telling from the connector which of the Alternate Modes are supported on each device. So the user may or may not get what they expect. See the list above. ANY of those combinations is legal on a device or hub with a USB Type-C connector. And unless the connected devices both support the Alternate Modes you want you won't get it and have no way of telling why.


            • Avatar

              YouWereWarned

              In reply to MikeGalos:

              Wow, you actually listed the matrix. What a waste of time given that we understand the potential complexity and confusion. Serial interfaces are everything, and nothing at all.

      • Avatar

        SvenJ

        In reply to Tallin: So, how should the cables themselves be labelled. Real world example: I have a Lumia 950 and 950XL. These of course support Continuum, and MS sells a little Display Dock adapter which can connect to multiple USB devices, an HDMI monitor and a power source. You plug the Lumia into the dock with one USB-C to USB-C cable and you can charge the phone, and connect keyboards, drives, monitors. The provided cable is about 3ft long, a bit overkill. So I have purchased a number of shorter USB-C to USB-C cables to use instead. I also got another USB-C to USB-C cable with my Pixel. So far, not one third party cable has worked completely. Typically they do not support HDMI. That is the video that comes from the dock to the monitor doesn't work. Charging/USB generally does. So, is MSs provided cable substantially different? If so, how, and how do I buy a replacement? How do I tell a good one (assuming such a thing exists) from one that isn't a suitable substitute from my drawer of cables? It's sort of ridiculous, and shouldn't be this hard.


  17. Avatar

    evox81

    At this point, I think we've reached a point where it's "fast enough" for now. Considering practically nothing can utilize those speeds today, let's get the ecosystem up to speed on support, rather than ever increasing speed. I'd rather see them clean up the mess that is USB 3.0/3.1, get everyone on the same page (including OS support, alternate modes, Thunderbolt, etc), and then focus on raising the speed from there.

    • Avatar

      IanYates82

      In reply to evox81:

      This hasn't made things worse though. Back compat and possibly forward compat. It's pretty much like how SATA 2 drives would work in SATA 3 ports and vice versa, with the same cables. Just better signalling if both sides support it. Win for all.

      The real confusion comes about from marketing sheet you can get a usb type C cable that only supports USB 2 signalling. A lot of phones with the type V connector also only support USB 2 despite having the better connector. That can be definitely improved (clearer delineation) but this doesn't hurt that effort and may even make people ask pertinent questions which unmask such annoyances more often.

      • Avatar

        evox81

        In reply to IanYates82:

        Having recently purchased a USB add-on card for an older computer, and currently shopping for motherboards, I can definitively tell you: This has made things worse, although admittedly, only for the short term.


        For example, from the add-on card to the motherboard, there is a distinctly different set of capabilities between two (seemingly) identical ports. The same goes for laptops: 3 to 4 identical looking ports that may, or may not, have identical functionality. Sure, if you plug in a USB device, those ports all work the same. But that's not all a type-C connector can support. When you plug in one of those other devices... who knows?! Not to mention that USB 3.1 support (drivers mostly) is pretty shaky right now.

    • Avatar

      VancouverNinja

      In reply to evox81:

      It will never be "fast enough" - we have VR on the horizon going mainstream, we will see 8k and 16K become a reality within the next decade, and possibly newer technologies that may be very demanding on bandwidth.

      • Avatar

        evox81

        In reply to VancouverNinja:

        For clarity... I didn't say it was fast enough. I'm neither that naïve, nor short-sighted. I said it was fast enough for now, at least while USB 3.x and Type-C are still a mess. I think getting the ecosystem in order, improving support and then focusing on speed, would be good for everyone.

    • Avatar

      Narg

      In reply to evox81:

      What I think is missing is the peripherals speed and connectivity. Syncing a smartphone with USB-C is still mind numbingly slow. Why is this??? There's a lot of room for improvement.


      Some things do benefit, like displays. But they are rare items that take advantage of this speed. I'm hoping they find ways to off load computing power with speeds of data like this...

  18. Avatar

    Narg

    This is funny to me. Especially since 3.1 is already so much faster than almost all storage speed anyway. The extra speed is kind of going to waste. Now twice the speed will go to twice the waste?


    I'm sure they'll hit 1 TB/s soon anyway. :)

    • Avatar

      wright_is

      In reply to Narg:

      Storage yes, data processing, no. Think graphic cards and high resolution monitors or data processing with large amounts of memory. You need to keep memory transfers on par with USB, but not necessarily storage speeds.

      A smartphone may be slow even on USB Type-C today, mainly because of its processor and eMMC storage, but that isn't what USB Type-C is aimed at. Think of multiple 4K monitors or 8K monitors and the amount of data a graphic chip must pump out over the cable to maintain just 60fps (HDMI 1.x and older DisplayPort standards can't cope with 4K at above 30fps). There are a few USB monitors cropping up now and they certainly need all the speed they can get.

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