Menu
Six things to know about the USB 3.1 port in the new MacBook

Six things to know about the USB 3.1 port in the new MacBook

The new port in the 12-inch MacBook is backward compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0

The USB-C port is all by itself on the left side of the new MacBook.

The USB-C port is all by itself on the left side of the new MacBook.

Apple is challenging laptop users to adapt to fewer ports with the bold design of its new 12-inch MacBook, which has just one USB 3.1 port and a headphone jack. Apple laid out a similar challenge with its first MacBook Air in early 2008, which had just one USB 2.0 port to connect peripherals and a micro-DVI port to connect monitors.

But the faster USB 3.1 port is significant because it will also be used to recharge the MacBook, as well as to connect to a wider variety of peripherals such as monitors, external storage drives, printers and cameras. The MacBook is one of just a few devices to carry the new USB port.

USB 3.1 can technically transfer data between the host computers and peripherals at maximum speeds of up to 10Gbps (bits per second), which is two times faster than the current USB 3.0. The USB 3.1 port in the new MacBook will initially transfer data at 5Gbps, but expect that number to go up as the technology develops. There's also excitement around the MacBook's USB Type-C cable, which is the same on both ends so users can flip cables and not worry about plug orientation.

Apple incorporated one USB 3.1 port ostensibly for lack of space. The MacBook is just 13.1 millimeters thick and its base is dominated by batteries. Apple is clearly looking ahead with USB 3.1, which supports DisplayPort, VGA, HDMI and Ethernet protocols. Here are some things to know about the USB 3.1 port in the 12-inch MacBook, and where it may be headed in the future.

1) USB 3.1 is backward compatible: This means all devices running on USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 will be able to talk with the MacBook port. There are other cables besides Type-C for the MacBook to connect to older USB and micro-USB ports. The MacBook comes with a USB Type-C charging cable, and the others will need to be bought separately.

2) No USB 3.1 peripherals are available yet: USB 3.1 chipsets are still being developed and tested, and it could be months before peripherals start appearing. In tests, USB 3.1 connections aren't reaching the full throughput of 10Gbps, but speeds will get faster as the controllers and chipsets are refined. For one, don't expect USB 3.1 flash drives to go on sale in the next couple of years. The lack of peripherals is a problem also faced by Thunderbolt, a faster but more expensive connector technology used in other Macs.

3) Don't say good-bye to Thunderbolt quite yet: A few years ago, Apple turned to Thunderbolt as its main high-speed connector in Macs, but the arrival of the USB 3.1 port doesn't mean that protocol will disappear. At the recent Mobile World Congress, USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) officials said that it is possible to carry the Thunderbolt protocol on USB 3.1 copper and optical wires, and Intel hasn't dismissed that idea either. But there would be a speed compromise, as Thunderbolt runs at 20Gbps.

4) You'll need a hub: If the USB 3.1 port is going to be used for charging, users will have to invest in extension cables, hubs or converters to open up the MacBook to external peripherals. Apple is selling a USB Type C to USB converter for US$19, an extension cable for $29, and if needed, a USB Type C power adapter for $49. Apple is also selling a $79 USB Type C Digital AV Multiport Adapter so the new MacBook can simultaneously connect to a 1080p HDMI display, USB 3.0 device and a USB Type C charging cable.

5) USB connections could get faster: USB-IF believes the current speed of USB 3.1 is enough, but has also simulated speeds of 20Gbps over copper wire, putting it in the same league as Thunderbolt 2. There's little doubt that USB-IF wants to ratchet up the data transfer speeds, especially with 4K video on the horizon. But the organization for now has more important priorities, like making USB 3.1 a port that can be used to charge laptops, mobile devices and appliances. The port will start appearing in more mobile devices starting in the first half of this year, and is not in appliances yet.

6) Next target, iPhones and iPads?: Does the USB 3.1 port spell trouble for the Lightning connector in iPhones and iPads? Only time will tell, but USB 3.1 has its own benefits in mobile devices. For one, USB 3.1 will support the upcoming MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) 3 specification, which can stream 4K video from mobile devices to TV sets. TV sets will ship with specific HDMI ports that support MHL, and users would need a cable that is USB Type-C on one end and HDMI Type-A on the other end to stream mobile 4K video to TV sets. Besides putting USB 3.1 ports in its mobile devices, Apple will need to support MHL on the devices.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Applehardware systemsComponentslaptops

Featured

Slideshows

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel

​As the channel changes and industry voices deepen, the need for clarity and insight heightens. Market misconceptions talk of an “under pressure” distribution space, with competitors in that fateful “race for relevance” across New Zealand. Amidst the cliched assumptions however, distribution is once again showing its strength, as a force to be listened to, rather than questioned. Traditionally, the role was born out of a need for vendors and resellers to find one another, acting as a bridge between the testing lab and the marketplace. Yet despite new technologies and business approaches shaking the channel to its very core, distributors remain tied to the epicentre - providing the voice of reason amidst a seismic industry shift. In looking across both sides of the vendor and partner fences, the middle concept of the three-tier chain remains centrally placed to understand the metrics of two differing worlds, as the continual pulse checkers of the local channel. This exclusive Reseller News Roundtable, in association with Dicker Data and rhipe, examined the pivotal role of distribution in understanding the health of the channel, educating from the epicentre as the market transforms at a rapid rate.

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel
Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017

Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017

After Hours made a welcome return to the channel social calendar last night, with a bumper crowd of distributors, vendors and resellers descending on The Jefferson in Auckland to kickstart 2017. Photos by Maria Stefina.

Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017
Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel

Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel

Arrow Electronics introduced Tenable Network Security to local resellers in Sydney last week, officially launching the distributor's latest security partnership across Australia and New Zealand. Representing the first direct distribution agreement locally for Tenable specifically, the deal sees Arrow deliver security solutions directly to mid-market and enterprise channel partners on both sides of the Tasman.

Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel
Show Comments