Parsing Protocols

The methods of moving electronic data from one medium to another have evolved greatly over the last three decades.  Think floppy disks, SCSI, and even FireWire—all of which have been supplanted with faster hardware and transmission protocols.  Sometimes the changes have come quickly, leaving older interfaces stranded and requiring significant investment in new tools.  But all of us tend to like the increases in throughput and eventually make the change, whether voluntarily or otherwise.

The big news of late has been USB.  The original incarnation was designed to standardize the connection between computers and a host of peripherals and quickly gained wide support.  Over the years, the USB specification and connectors have evolved, with the most recent being the USB 3.1 standard and USB Type-C connector (also called USB-C).  This connector is used in Apples new 12” MacBook (2015) for both power and data, and uses USB 3.1 specifications.  But future computer purchasers will need to carefully read and understand the tech specs in new devices to know what they’re getting, because the design of the Type-C plug and socket is separate and distinct from the USB interface protocol; it’s possible that a Type-C connector could be used to only supply USB 2.0 specs.  Of note is that USB 3.1 supports a data rate of 10 Gbps (double the previous rate), while still being backward compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0.

Adding even more variables to the mix, Intel just announced Thunderbolt 3, with a maximum bandwidth of 40 Gbps (twice that of Thunderbolt 2), and it will use the same USB-C connector using both passive and active cables and supporting USB 3.1, DisplayPort 1.2, and 100W of power.  This certainly makes it look like the peripheral connection port of choice in the near future will be USB Type-C.

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