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Why does USB have to be so complicated?



  USB Type-C cable disconnected from a laptop computer
kontrymphoto / Shutterstock.com

The new USB specification has been finalized. Soon you can upgrade from USB 3.2 Gen 2 × 2 to USB4 Gen 3 × 2. Just do not use USB4 Gen 2 × 2 ̵

1; this is not faster than the previous generation. Confused? Welcome to USB.

The wording is not the only confusing part either. USB cables that look similar from the outside often differ considerably from the inside. And a bad cable could damage your hardware.

The naming of USB4 is a mess (once again)

Earlier, the naming of USB was easy. Do you remember USB 2.0 and USB 3.0? That was great. It became complicated with USB 3.1 and USB 3.2. Now USB4 makes it especially complicated – and yes, it's called USB4. You should not call it USB 4.0.

The USB Implementers Forum, the industry group that manages the standard, states that USB4 offers speeds of up to 40 Gbps. However, there are different speeds. An engineer familiar with the specification told TechRepublic the problem:

"Once the specifications are released, there will be new confusions," the source told TechRepublic. "It's going to be USB4, but you'll need to specify what USB4 means, as there are different qualities." By definition, USB4 must be [at least] Gen 2 × 2 so you get 10 times 2 Gbps, that's 20 Gbps. There will be USB4 Gen 3 × 2, 20 Gbit / s per track, 20 times 2 will give you 40 Gbit / s. "

This keeps things nice and complicated, there's no USB 3.0 anymore – it was retroactively" USB 3.1 Gen 1 "and then renamed" USB 3.2 Gen 1. "What has been called USB 3.1 has been referred to as" USB 3.1 Gen 2 "and later as" USB 3.2 Gen 2. "The next version has been USB 3.2 would be called "USB 3.2 Gen 2 × 2" and broke the pattern.

We explained what all these USB "gens" are and how they relate to the term "SuperSpeed ​​USB." It is absurdly confusing and difficult to keep it straight, especially if the USB IF renames earlier generations of the standard.

RELATED: What Are USB Gen 1, Gen 2 and Gen 2 × 2?

Not All USB Cables Are Equal

  Type C. USB Thunderbolt Cable Connected to a MacBook
Golub Oleksii / Shutterstock.com

Let's say you want to use this 40 Gbit / s -Speed. You must buy a cable that is certified for a speed of 40 Gbps. You can not just pick up an old cable and expect it to work at these speeds. However, certification is not compulsory. Some non-certified cables may also work properly and some cable manufacturers do not need to certify their products.

Data transfer speeds are not the only things that can differ. Not every cable can deliver the same amount of power. Different cables charge devices at different speeds. Just because a cable has a fast data transfer speed does not mean that it has a fast charging speed or vice versa.

The cable situation is getting more and more complicated. While we have standardized the big small USB-C plug that can be plugged in in some way, the rest of the cable has become less standardized and less consistent.

Even if a cable looks modern from the outside, it could not actually be modern on the inside. Many USB C cables on the market use only USB 2.0 on the inside. They are designed for charging and not for high speeds. Some cables support "alternative modes" like Thunderbolt 3. This is a collaboration between Intel and Apple that offers a speed of 40 Gbps. However, only Thunderbolt 3 devices will get this speed, and you'll need a Thunderbolt 3-compatible cable to take advantage of it.

USB4 simplifies things, since Thunderbolt 3 is no longer needed and 40 Gbps speed is available, even if you have devices that support this speed, and only if you have a cable that has that speed supported.

There are other alternative modes like HDMI and MHL. Not all USB cables are the same.

RELATED: 3 problems with USB-C that you need to know

There are still bad USB-C cables

Since the beginning of USB-C, bad cables have become hiding out there. Some USB Type-C cables can actually fry your device when you connect it to a laptop or other charger to charge it. The USB-C cable itself is designed to prevent the device from drawing too much power from the charger.

However, many cable manufacturers have not bothered to get their cables right. For some cables, devices may consume too much power when connected to a charger via a traditional USB-A port. As is known, even the official charging cable supplied with the Oppo OnePlus smartphone was bad. It was fine if you charged Oppos's phone, but plug the USB-C cable into another phone and it could damage your hardware.

Instead of picking up a charger, you should exercise your care before you buy one. Luckily, the USB-IF certification process should help make it easy to find a good cable. Search for the certification mark. However, not all cables are certified. Uncertified cables are available and may work properly!

We like AmazonBasics cables that are cost-effective, USB-IF certified, and clearly marked with their speed. And yes, they have confusing names like "AmazonBasics USB Type-C to USB-A Male 3.1 Gen2" because USB is complicated.

RELATED: Watch Out: How to Buy a USB Type-C Cable So Your Devices Will Not Be Damaged.

No wonder Apple is using Lightning.

  Connecting a Lightning Cable to an iPhone.
Wachiwit / Shutterstock.com

Apple continues to use the Lightning port for its iPhones. The size is similar to that of a USB-C port, but is proprietary. Apple makes its own Lightning cables, but other manufacturers can make them. There's only one catch: Apple needs to certify the cables and provide a special hardware chip to work with. Unlike USB, manufacturers can not make flocked cables that seem to work but have problems. Apple has a veto thanks to MFi certification.

There is only one type of lightning cable. There are no different "modes" that can exist on a Lightning cable, and confusingly named generations like "Lightning 3.2 Gen 2 × 2" and "Lightning4".

The rest of the industry may complain, but Apple has done more. Uncomplicated and less confusing by sticking to lightning cables. The USB standard improves the hardware, but USB cables become more complicated and confusing with each new generation. It's a shame that the USB-IF did not use USB4 as an opportunity to make things easier.


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