Monday, July 27, 2020

USB-C Is Still a Mess

Robert Triggs (via Hacker News):

Moving phones between different chargers, even of the same current and voltage ratings, often won’t produce the same charging speeds. Furthermore, picking a third party USB-C cable to replace the often all too short in-box cable can result in losing fast charging capabilities. As can opting for a third-party USB-C power adapter that supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge or USB Power Delivery rather than one of the numerous proprietary standards.


The USB data naming scheme is undoubtedly a mess. This table below will hopefully help to sort out what each specification offers you.


Unfortunately, the USB-C ecosystem is more, not less convoluted in 2020 than it was when I first looked at this issue back in 2018. The announcement of USB 3.2 and USB 4 makes the standard more complex without giving the end-user clear information about what’s supported. While the growth in USB Power Delivery support is a good sign, the introduction of PPS has already hampered any hopes that the industry might soon coalesce around a single charging standard.

My pet peeve has long been that no matter how many newer devices you have with USB-C, you still end up with a mess of cables and adapters because the hubs are still USB-A. Each device needs a different cable depending on whether you’re plugging into your hub or your laptop.

Reader Robert Horrion has finally found a somewhat reasonably priced hub that actually increases the number of USB-C ports, the Sitecom CN-386. For $53 plus $11 shipping (Amazon ships it from the UK.) you can turn 1 USB-C port into 3 and add power delivery.

Unfortunately, the reviews aren’t great—3/5 stars in both the US and German stores, with purchasers complaining of glitches with Mojave and Catalina.


Update (2020-07-29): coachmike66:

To accentuate the mess: the USB-C cable that Apple includes with your fancy new $3000+ MacBook Pro. Think you’re gonna use that with Migration Asst. (which prompts you during setup)…?

NOPE! That USB-C cable is USB2, and thus incapable of MA (which Apple obfuscates very well).

Update (2021-07-16): Walt Mossberg:

Why can’t they color-code USB C ports and cables so you always know which cable do only data transfer but not power. Or both. And which support Thunderbolt?

Nilay Patel:

Full circle!

12 Comments RSS · Twitter

USB is always on this weird fringe of trying to be a good near-high-end spec (since 2.0, anyway) while also being "universal", in really in the sense of 'ubiquitous', which means cables and ports need to be as cheap as possible, which means the spec needs to be as simple as cheap as possible to implement.

Thus, all these weird "well, you can call it USB 3.1 even if your product is identical to 3.0" "or 3.2 even if it's the same as 3.0 or 3.1" compromises.

(Plus, even if you take the crême de la crême of USB-C ports, i.e. Thunderbolt 3: even the 2020 MacBooks Pro only do USB 3.1 Gen 2, not USB 3.2 Gen 2x2. And Apple’s included cable only does USB 2.0 data, for some reason.)

I'm generally in favor of not shipping chargers with new devices, since in 99% of cases, I don't even take them out of the box. The one exception is phones and tablets, where I try to use the charger that came in the box as often as possible, since it's sometimes the only one that reliably charges the device at high speeds.

The other issue I have is that some of these newer chargers now have USB-C ports at the charger, but I replace all of my charging cables with magnetic cables, which have USB-A on the other side. So I can't plug my own cables into the original charger without an adapter.

(I never connect any of these devices to PCs, though. Why are people doing that?)

I use Hogore modular usb c hub with my 16" Macbook Pro,
and it can be bare, with 3 USB-C ports, plus some more.
Works really well.

@Dmitri Do you have a link to that? I found this one, but it doesn’t seem to add any USB-C ports, turning the two built-in ones into only one.

I think your best bet to drastically increase the number of USB-C ports is to get a USB-A hub and plug A-to-C adapters into the A ports.

I hate how Apple did away with ports that were nearly foolproof -- HDMI, SD, USB-A, etc -- to replace it with TB3/USB-C which by all reports is flaky, has like 8 different types of cables even though the entire premise was to reduce all those other ports to "just one cable for everything!", apparently can't easily be made into hubs for expansion, and they didn't put nearly enough USB-C connectors built-in (7 should be the minimum since 1 will be taken for power, 2 to replace USB-A, 1 to replace HDMI, 2 to replace TB2, and 1 to replace the SD card if we're comparing it to my 2014 MBP).

Seriously, WTF were they thinking? Is USB-C working flawlessly for ANYONE?

The first link is the one. Since it's modular, the core part has tree USB-C ports, one of them is Thunderbolt 3 in the "front" and two USB-C on the sides. And it comes three modules that can be plugged in, but can be left just as USB-C ports.
When modules are inserted it has 1 thunderbolt-3 port, 2 USB-C ports, 1 HDMI, 2 USB-A ports. And modules can be used by themselves, separately as well.

@Dmitri Do you mean when the modules are not inserted? In that case, it looks like it changes 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports into 1 Thunderbolt 3 and 2 USB-C, so only a net of 1 port.

Yes, it does not add many ports, only one additional USB-C port (and HDMI and 2 USB-A)

I wish there were better hubs on the market, but all other ones don't add any type-C ports at all, this one is the most versatile that I could find.

This is the other reason I won’t buy a “new” MBP.

My 2013 is perfectly serviceable and if I’m desperate there are 2015s out there without a touchbar or crap keyboard or “start from scratch” USB-C.

Oh, Apple finally “fixed” the keyboard but now everyone is in USB-C hell?

And paying a PREMIUM for that?

Sorry, no thanks, I’ll stay in the past until Tim Apple steps down and maybe even then past Apple is magnitudes better than current Apple.

2013 Thru 2015 were very good years for Apple. They should just go back.

>I’ll stay in the past until Tim Apple steps down

Have you seen the Lenovo Flex 5, or the HP Envy x360? These new Ryzen-powered notebooks are pretty freaking amazing, the convertibles in particular.

Just saying, buying a Mac or waiting until Apple makes good hardware again (which will never happen, by the way, we're no longer their target market and will never again be their target market) aren't the only two choices.

USB C is an incredible mess but I still think it works okay, sometimes, with some devices, maybe. They need to clean up terminology and branding but it really could be a nice upgrade. Someday. Maybe.

I agree, if Apple does not have the right hardware for a given user, time to move on to something else. Unless you develop Mac or iOS apps, then you are stuck, sorry!

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