Hopefully, we caught your attention with our last couple of posts about next-generation Thunderbolt 3. What we didn’t mention was that the new technology for your storage and display devices will not be plug-compatible with your first- and second-generation Thunderbolt gear.
Don’t panic. The trade-offs in this transition are few, and the benefits more than worth the switch.
Meet USB Type-C
Yes, Thunderbolt 3 will use the USB Type-C connector. If that statement seems baffling and contradictory, let’s backtrack for a moment.
With most external hard drive products, you have an enclosure wrapped around a hard drive or two. The enclosure might sport a USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt 2 connection (or both), but the internal hard drives could be slower, consumer-priced 5400 RPM drives or faster, enterprise-grade 7200 RPM models. The external package is different from the characteristics of what’s happening inside.
The same principle applies to data connectors and protocols. In 2012, Thunderbolt the input/output protocol ran across Mini DisplayPort connectors, which is why Thunderbolt 1 and 2 can daisy chain Thunderbolt storage devices in the same cable sequence as DisplayPort monitors. With 40 Gbit/sec Thunderbolt 3, though, Intel decided to switch to the USB-C connector, enabling one 24-pin connection able to service next-generation Thunderbolt, USB devices, and even DisplayPort.
To use an older device on a new Type-C port, or to use a new Type-C device on an older, slower port, simply use an adapter. See? No need to panic. You’re not miraculously going to get Thunderbolt 3 speeds out of USB 3.0 devices, but the two formats (and others) will be cross-compatible, and Type-C supports up to 100W of power, making it the best connector yet for providing line power to devices without separate AC power. Let’s hope this marks the beginning of the end of several connection format wars and unnecessary cable clutter.
While backward compatibility with older USB devices may require a Type-A or Type-B connector at one cable end and a Type-C at the other, Type-C means to dispense with different plug designs. Unlike its USB predecessors, USB-C is symmetrical and thus reversible, so no more squinting and trying to figure out which way plugs fit. Devices will have female Type-C receptacles and cables will feature a male Type-C connector at each end.
Click here to learn more about the newly released G-Drive mobile USB Type C.
The Protocol Caveat
Now the confusing part and the reason why we distinguished between external and internal device characteristics: Not all devices with USB-C connectors support high-performance devices. Yes, some will support Thunderbolt 3 at 40 Gbit/s. Some will support USB 3.1 and DisplayPort protocols. But the Nokia N1 tablet only runs USB 2.0 over its Type-C interface, and the Chromebook Pixel, which integrates a pair of USB 3.0 ports, only uses its two Type-C connectors for video (HDMI or DisplayPort) output. Just because you get Type-C on the outside does not mean that all Type-C-compatible protocols are supported on the inside. Manufacturers will add protocol support as they see fit for the product’s target audience.
In 2015, the Apple MacBook became the first computer to integrate a Type-C port offering, as per Apple’s site, “charging, quick USB 3 data transfer for connecting to external devices and peripherals, and video output that supports HDMI, VGA, and DisplayPort connections.” This year, expect to see Type-C come into its own as more industry heavyweights get behind it.
G-Technology external hard drives serve as an element of an overall backup strategy. It is recommended that users keep two or more copies of their most important files backed up or stored on separate devices or online services.