What’s Different With the New Macbook’s USB Type-C?

7 Nov

Despite the fact that at the USB Implementers Forum, leading companies such as Apple and Intel have shown the public with their products that the USB Type-C specification will be the trend, before that comes true, users will have to go through the awkward transition phase. To fully embrace USB Type-C, users will have to cope with the inconvenience brought by the connector and the complicated transmission protocol.

The Difference Between Transmission Protocol and Connector Shape

USB Type-C refers to a connector with a special shape designed by USB-IF. Other than USB Type-C, other mainstream connectors include the most common USB Type-A, and USB Type-B, which is mostly used on printers. Apart from the shape difference, there are several standards and protocols of transmission, including USB 3.1, USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt. Therefore, it is possible for two identical USB Type-C connectors to function differently, since they may have different transmission protocols.

In terms of the newly-released MacBook Pro, its four USB Type-C sockets support the protocol Thunderbolt 3, with the transmission speed of 40 Gbps. One of the advantages of Thunderbolt 3 is its high compatibility that supports other slower protocols such as USB3.1 and USB 3.0. Yet, the transmission speed will also be different. For instance, when the new MacBook Pro is connected with the protocol of USB 3.1, its maximum transmission speed would only be 10 Gbps.

In comparison, the 12-inch MacBook that was released earlier has one USB Type-C socket that only supports USB 3.0 with 5Gbps as the maximum transmission speed. While it is also compatible with the USB 2.0 cable, it doesn’t support other cables of other protocols such as Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1. That suggests that even with the same USB Type-C sockets, the 12-inch MacBook and the MacBook Pro have different transmission capacity as they support different transmission protocols.

USB Connectors: What Get On Users’ Nerves

The USB Type-A connector, commonly used for at least 10 years, used to irritate users with similar problems. It was also made to connect with cables specified in protocols including USB 3.1, USB 3.0, and USB 2.0. Thus, during promotion, suppliers always had to make clear the configurations of cables with the same USB Type-A connector. In the future, it is anticipated that USB Type-C will replace other types of connectors and support most of the interfaces, even including HDMI. Consumers will need to double check the interface specifications during purchase.


To distinguish different USB Type-C cables, USB IF came up with an idea to mark a icon next to each socket and plug. For example, it put an lightning icon next to Thunderbolt 3 interfaces. However, not every manufacturer follows the pattern. Apple did not mark any icons next to Type-c sockets on it’s new MacBook and MacBook Pro. After all, the idea might not be the best solution as those icons can possibly agitate consumers who are already confused.

When will USB Type-C connector become prevalent? It will depend on how fast the Type-C controller becomes off-price and enters mass production, or on how fast the Intel USB 3.1 processor hits the market. In addition, another interesting rumor is that Apple may replace the Type-A connector on the lightning cable for the next iPhone with Type-C connector.

Note 1: In 2015, USB-IF changed the name of USB 3.0 into USB 3.1 Gen1 and USB 3.1 into USB 3.1 Gen2. To prevent from the complexity, the article still called its old name.

Note 2: USB-IF is a Non-profit Organization that is responsible for establishing the USB standard. Its member are IT magnates such as Intel, Microsoft, Apple and HP.

(Picture: Apple)

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