Understanding USB 3.1 and USB C
In 1996, the designers of the original USB standard, USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), had planned to simplify desktop connectivity by creating a single connection that would standardize how all devices are connected to a computer. Their plan included replacing many standard ports of the day, which included DB9 (Serial), DB25 (Parallel), PS/2 (keyboard and mouse), and others. The original USB 1.0 standard, which featured low-bandwidth (up to 1.5Mbit/s) and full-bandwidth (Up to 12Mbit/s) data rates, was not widely adopted and was replaced by the USB 1.1 standard in 1998. USB 1.1 corrected many of the USB 1.0 bugs and gained wide industry adoption. It successfully simplified desktop connectivity and was ideal for use with low bandwidth connections to a keyboard, mouse, printer, and many other devices. At this time USB featured two connector types, Type A and Type B, which further simplified desktop connectivity by reducing the number of port types required to connect devices.
As technology and devices evolved, the demand for bandwidth increased. At the same time, the size of devices decreased. These changes meant that the bandwidth of USB 1.1 specification was insufficient and some new devices were too small to accommodate the bulky Type B connector. To address these issues, the USB 2.0 specification, or USB Hi-Speed, was introduced in 2000. This new specification introduced more bandwidth, with a data rate of up 480Mbit/s, and two smaller Type B connectors--Mini-B and Micro-B. These new connectors added a level of complexity, but they were designed to support the previous USB specifications, allowing all USB devices to connect to a USB 2.0 port. These advances allowed USB to be more widely adopted. It was used in a greater number of applications, such as transferring photos and files, supporting Internet and video connections, plus many more.
Technology continued to advance, and once again, smaller devices needed more bandwidth. This demand outpaced the bandwidth available in the USB specification, which led to the introduction of the USB 3.0 specification, or USB SuperSpeed, in 2008. This new USB specification introduced a larger bandwidth, with a data rate of up to 4.8Gbit/s, and three new connectors--USB 3.0 A, USB 3.0 B and USB 3.0 Micro-B. Though this new USB specification supported all previous USB specifications, the addition of new connectors made the world of USB even more complicated. There were now 3 active standards and a number of different USB connector types.
In 2014, USB is poised to take a step towards simplicity once again. The latest USB specification, USB 3.1, alternately known as USB SuperSpeed Plus, USB Gen 2, and USB Enhanced SuperSpeed, introduces an even higher bandwidth than USB 3.0, with data rates up to 10Gbits/s. It also has enhanced power delivery and built-in support for DisplayPort video and four channel audio for speakers and a microphone. Additionally, USB 3.1, brings with it a new, symmetrical, high bandwidth connector called USB Type-C.
The USB 3.1 specification along with the USB Type-C connector will revolutionize the way we connect devices. The enhanced power delivery supports charging a smartphone or tablet, and a laptop and computer monitor connected via USB C would be able to share a power source. The laptop could power the monitor, or, if the monitor were connected to a power supply, the laptop’s battery would be charged through the USB C port. The built-in support for DisplayPort video and four channel audio means that there is no need for separate ports or cables to connect a computer monitor, surround sound system, or headphones to your computer. All of this a/v content can be delivered of the same small, robust, and powerful USB Type C connection. The high bandwidth and data rate of up to 10Gbit/s means that this technology reduces the time required to transfer and backup data. The data rate of USB 3.1 is twice the speed of previous USB technologies. This makes USB 3.1 the ideal solution for transferring large amounts of data like HD video for editing, Blu-ray™ authoring, or high resolution photos.
USB 3.1 and the USB Type-C connector are brand new technologies, but changes are happening fast. We expect that you will begin to see USB 3.1 performance and the USB Type C connector on laptops, smartphones, tablets cables, adapters and accessories as early as next summer
-By Brad Shinkle