With a wide array of USBs present in the market, specifically with four different active specs, two different connectors, power specs, and with the minimal Thunderbolt 3 support plus the upcoming release of the USB 3.2, it has become more confusing than ever. The universal serial bus, or USB, has been around for more than two decades and has proven itself as one of the prodigious tools in technology.
The simultaneous use of various computer hardware such as the mouse, keyboard, and memory stick in the same area has never been made more convenient than by interconnecting their respective cables in a single USB hub. That has always been one of the main conveniences of the USB technology until newer models, such as the release of the USB-C, has made it incompatible to the hub.
The USB4, which is set to release this 2020, aims to simplify the complications of having different USB types by simplifying the compatibility of devices to a universal connection type: the USB-C. The USB4 only works with the Type-C port but is backward compatible, so you can use an adapter to connect to USB 2 and USB 3 ports. The USB-C is currently found in various devices, from the cable chargers of smartphones to external hard drives. It has no up and down orientation, so you can plug it in even without having to figure out which way goes up, and unlike the USB cables that have been used in the past, the cables have the same connector on both ends.
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While not as extensive as the conventional USB Type-A port, more laptop devices are including USB-C ports to their specs, such as the newest Macbook Pro, the iPad Pro, and newer Android phones. The USB-C is set to replace many ports with its support for Power Delivery (PD), which can charge laptops, mobile phones, and a variety of devices for up to 100 watts. It also has faster data transfer and simultaneous transfer of video and audio and power streams that will enable you to connect to and power HDMI and DisplayPort video standards. The USB-C has the potential to transmit audio, but unlike Apple’s newest phones that have ditched the conventional 3.5mm headphone jack, other devices such as laptops and PC models have not jumped into the bandwagon yet.
USB4 ports are also compatible with Thunderbolt 3 technology, which is a faster but more expensive alternative to USB and can allow for up to 40 Gbps rate of data transfer, amounting up to two 60Hz 4K displays with reduced power consumption. So how does Thunderbolt technology work? The controller chips of each end of the connection can handle various types of data, stuff them into the same wires at 40 Gbps transfer rate and unravel all the data on the other side of the connection. Since Thunderbolt requires an additional chip and is not open standard due to its exclusivity to Intel, its efforts to become a mainstream technology has been proven unsuccessful. There are currently a few options available in the market for users who want an eGPU (external graphics card) and extra-fast Thunderbolt 3 storage drive.
The USB4’s integration of the Thunderbolt protocol will provide flexibility and versatility as it is designed for data to traverse across different devices connected by a series of cables and is available to a wider range of devices. It’s also welcome news for gamers since it enables them to play games on their laptop by connecting an eGPU. Thunderbolt will also revamp the technology by providing newer chips that build the technology indirectly, eliminating the need for an additional chip.
From rapid transfer speeds, efficient bandwidth allocation between video and data, Power Delivery support, and backward compatibility, the release of the USB4 sounds promising. It is also built to bring back the largely useful USB hub by having more USB-C ports more present in newer devices and laptops. With the ability of data to transfer within a chain of cables, you can connect a number of ports and transfer data efficiently. If you use a 10-port USB hub with Type-A 3.0 port and 5 Gbps speed to connect with a USB-C using an adapter, the transfer speed and power will be adjusted to the lowest common denominator, which in this case is only 5 Gbps. Your existing cables will not be put to waste as many computers have both Type-A and Type-C ports. If you do get a device that only includes Type-C ports, adapters and hubs will enable you to transition from different kinds of USB ports.
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The USB4 sounds like it still has a long way to go with the USB-C still taking its baby steps toward mainstream technology. However, upgrading to more USB-C compatible devices helps you optimize your devices’ capabilities through its cross-platform feature. Built as the port to rule them all, the future looks bright for the USB4.