Apple has a history of pushing their own technology on their users and USB C is no exception. The latest Mac computers - and some other computers too - have switched over from the older USB standard to USB C. This has naturally caused a bit of confusion for some Mac users, so let’s take a look at what USB C is and what it’s likely to mean for the long-term use of your older devices.

But first, let’s go back to basics and remind ourselves of what a USB does.

What is USB?

USB stands for Universal Serial Bus. The ‘Universal’ bit is the key as it was intended to be a common standard that would apply across all computers and a wide range of other devices. Over the years, however, the standard has evolved with data transmission rates vastly improving.

As you’ll know if you have several different devices, the mini plugs used to attach cameras, phones and so on are far from universal, leading to a frantic search for the right cable when you want to charge or connect a device. The USB interface that connects this army of peripherals to your Windows PC or Mac hasn’t changed since the format’s inception however.

USB C connector

What is USB C?

The introduction of USB C is an attempt to get things back to being a bit more universal. Developed by the USB Implementers Forum, it is intended to become the industry standard for transmitting data and power.

Unlike earlier USB connectors, USB C is symmetrical in shape, so there’s no fiddling around to ensure it’s the right way up when you plug it in (something that anyone who’s used USB will have experienced at some point). It also offers faster data transmission at 10Gbps, which is twice as fast as USB 3.0.

USB C also supports the transmission of audio and video, so it can be used to do away with the need for extra ports needed to connect external screens or headphones and speakers. Not all manufacturers have fully implemented USB C in this way so it’s worth checking the spec of any system you’re considering buying.

USB C cable

Thunderbolt

On certain systems such as the MacBook Pro, USB C also supports Thunderbolt 3. This offers data transfer at up to 40Gbps and the ability to transmit up to a 100 Watts of power. A single port, therefore, is all you need to power a device and transmit data to and from it.

Compatibility

The big advantage of USB in the past has always been compatibility. You could always plug a USB 2.0 device into a USB 3.0 port, for example, and it would still work, albeit at a lower speed.

USB C, of course, has a different shaped plug than the old oblong Type-A connectors. It is, however, electrically compatible, so you can still connect your old USB devices to a USB C port. You just need an adaptor.

When you buy a new laptop with USB C, some manufacturers provide a Type-A adaptor, allowing you to keep using your old devices. Others will sell you one. Because USB C can, as we’ve seen above, be used for many different functions there are a whole range of other adaptors on offer too. These allow you to connect your USB C port to, for example, a DVI connection. Indeed, you can get multi-port adaptors that support a number of different functions.

This adaptor business works the other way too of course. If you have a machine without a USB C port you can get an adaptor to allow you to plug USB C peripherals into a Type-A port although you won’t get the extra speed and functionality of USB C.

Do I need USB C?

Most new systems - laptops especially - now come with at least one USB C port. So, do you really need one, and what if you have an old MacBook or other system without one?

Because USB C is still relatively new there aren’t, as yet, very many devices that can use it. That will change and it’s set to become the effective standard in future. While there’s no need to ditch your old system and rush out to get one with USB C now, the likelihood is that you will want to do so in the future.

You can extend the life of your old device with an adaptor to allow you to connect USB C devices, but bear in mind this won’t give you the full capabilities it has to offer. If you’re happy with your existing machine, there is no need to rush out and replace it straight away.

If you are looking to get rid of your old Macbook or Windows laptop and are in the market for a new laptop then you should definitely look for one that has USB C as it will offer you many advantages in the long term, and make the system more future proof.