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Testing SuperSpeed USB 3.1 (Part 2)

25 Mar 2015  | Randy White

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For all of its virtues around plug-and-play device interoperability, USB irks virtually everyone because of its one-sided cable connector. There's just no easy way to determine which way to plug it in is the correct way, as captured in the comic below (figure 1). The problem is bad enough when you can see what you're doing, say on a laptop or tablet, but things get much worse when you have to crawl under your desktop to plug that new webcam into the back of a tower computer.

Figure 1: You have a 50/50 chance of plugging in a USB connector the right way, but get it wrong 75% of the time. Source:

Figure 2: A USB Type-C cable can have Type-C connectors on both ends, making it easy to use.

Sure, we've lived with the one-sided connectors for two decades so it can't be that bad. But still, wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to constantly rotate connectors to plug them in? Enter the new reversible Type-C connector designed to work with USB 3.1 devices. From a design-and-test perspective, there's more to Type-C connectors, but the reverse feature from both sides of the cable (figure 2) is what has everyone excited.

Much of what's been possible in terms of bandwidth capability for USB results from a well-designed interconnect. In looking at the USB connector's evolution, the standard-A connector that connector to computers is the original flat, rectangular shape. Typically, the standard-B connector at the other end of a standard USB cable plugs into peripheral device such as a printer, phone, or external hard drive. Over the years, a number of variants emerged ranging from the original standard-B to mini-USB and micro-USB as well as USB 3.0 versions.

With the introduction of the Type-C connector, it's safe to say the game has changed. This connector will lead the way to much better user experiences. Indeed, Apple has taken the lead by designing the 12-inch MacBook with one USB Type-C connector that is the only I/O port on the computer. There was a lot of consideration put into every aspect of typical usage models for mechanical robustness, current sourcing, scalable bandwidth, host or device role swapping, and even supporting other signalling or "alternate mode" as it's referred to in the spec.

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