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USB Type-C cable guide

By February 17, 2020 No Comments

In the previous article we covered DisplayPort cables, however one connector was not heavily covered, USB Type-C. USB Type-C or USB C as its sometimes shortened to is the latest connector for the USB standard, but it is also used as a connector for DisplayPort and Thunderbolt. This is the reason why I broke USB C into its own guide. The oldest standards that might have a small amount of uses like PS/2 mouse and keyboard connectors or parallel port typically only used for printers and scanners. USB C on the other hand can be used for a multitude of uses and even more when you factor in adaptors, a topic in of itself.

What we used to deal with in the past

The modes of USB Type-C

I personally think that USB C can be broken down into key pillars:

  1. USB Data – also handled by Type-A and Type-B
  2. USB Power – also handled by Mini/Micro B or laptop specific connectors
  3. DisplayPort Video – also handled by full size DisplayPort, Mini-DP
  4. Thunderbolt 3 and above Data – Previously handled by Thunderbolt 1 or 2, ExpressCard.
  5. MHL Video – Previously handled USB Micro B and MHL
  6. HDMI Video – also handled by HDMI

USB Data is the easiest to understand, USB C can use USB 2.0 and above data speeds. Already you can see that a limited cable might reduce the maximum speed. USB C 2.0 cables are often used as charging cables as they can support USB Power. So when it comes to buying a USB Data cable focus on on the bandwidth of the cable. I would advise 10Gbps, this is the speed of USB 3.1 gen 2 and USB 3.2 gen 2. There is a faster standard but for simple USB usage that would be fine. These could have USB C on both ends or one end ending in one of the many USB 3 type A or B connectors.

USB Power can go up to 100w. I would advise you make sure it is USB Power Delivery 2.0 or 3.0 enabled. PD 2.0 cables typically go up to 60w charging speed. I would also check that your specific device is mentioned in cable description if it is larger than a phone; Nintendo Switch, iPad Pro & MacBook Pro are all examples.

DisplayPort Video, like our last guide I would focus on HBR3 support as this is the easiest way to guarantee a high quality cable. A word of warning DisplayPort to HDMI or DVI passive adaptors will not work with DisplayPort over USB C. They will require active powered adaptors.

Thunderbolt 3 is interesting as its actually an external port for the PCI Express channels in your computer. Typically we use these channels for video cards, sound cards, network cards and many others. Whether its built on to your motherboard or as a separate card its all being powered by PCI Express in the background. The main benefit of Thunderbolt is that it gives a lot of the power than desktop PC users enjoy to laptop users. Thunderbolt is an Intel standard and was limited to Intel based computers. However the spec has been handed over to USB IF and will be part of USB 4.0 going forward. Many AMD Threadripper motherboards support Thunderbolt now. The fastest cables are 40Gbps, but only cables under 0.5M or roughly 1.5 feet can use the cheaper passive cables. If you need a longish 40Gbps cable you will need an active cable.

HDMI is typically limited to 4K 30hz as USB C is officially limited to HDMI 1.4. That said some devices support 4K 60hz, so look out of that support on your cables AND your devices.

MHL is typically converted out to HDMI so I would say its safe to ignore that for now.

TLDR

For USB Data look for 10Gbps, for USB Power look for PD 2.0/3.0, for DisplayPort look for HBR3, for Thunderbolt look for short passive 40Gbps cables or active above 1m/1.5ft and finally for HDMI look for 4K 60hz.

Certifications

I would recommend you keep an eye out for USB-IF certified USB cables and VESA certified DisplayPort cables and Intel Certified Thunderbolt Cables. This should indicate good quality.