back to article One USB plug to rule them all? That's sensible, but no...

It’s only taken thirty years, but we’ll soon have one plug that, on paper, does it all: power, video and all kinds of peripherals. Cue headlines about “one cable to rule them all”. And it’s reversible! However, “soon” isn’t “now”. It’s going to be a confusing and expensive journey before the promises are fulfilled. The last …

  1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Headmaster

    As the old saying goes...

    The joy of standards are that there are so many to choose from...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As the old saying goes...

      As for standards, it seems we now have:

      * DisplayPort over USB-C (= as used on new Macbook)

      * Thunderbolt over USB-C (= proposed Thunderbolt 3)

      * MHL over USB-C

      And of course these don't interoperate - for example, you can't connect a new Macbook to a Thunderbolt display (not even an Apple Thunderbolt display).

      It's made even more confusing by the fact that Thunderbolt and miniDisplayPort use the same connector, and consumers consider them to be interchangeable, which they are to a degree: e.g. I believe you can connect a Macbook Air's Thunderbolt port to a miniDisplayPort monitor, or to a miniDisplayPort to VGA adapter.

      And then they want to send 20 AMPS over it as well? Won't the cable need to be as thick as a kettle lead?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: As the old saying goes...

        We already have good microUSB cables and shit ones - the latter work OK as data cables, but are too thin to charge a device quickly. Then there are power-only USB cables, with two pins shorted, so the device will draw more than 500ma.

        1. artificial bitterness

          Re: As the old saying goes...

          RCA leads were good enough in my day. What did digital ever do for us?

          1. Midnight

            Re: As the old saying goes...

            All right... all right... but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order... what has digital done for us?

            1. heyrick Silver badge

              Re: As the old saying goes...

              apart from better sanitation - Maybe planned on computer, but the nuts and bolts of poop disposal and recycling is still a rather analogue thing. I don't see that changing soon.

              and medicine - Computers make things easier, but modern medicine was born somewhat before the digital age, and I would reckon the most part of it is still an analogue process.

              and education - I am of an age where we had books and Dewey Decimal and had to look shit up. How educational is it to learn to copy-paste from the first match of a Google search?

              and irrigation - I live rural. I can tell you for absolute fact that the maize irrigation is almost completely analogue and mechanical. The part that isn't is the now obligatory water flow counter. The farmer(s) experimented with computer controlled devices, but they were unreliable, and very expensive for a device that basically does what the mechanical stuff has done for years and years without flaw. Maybe in some parts of the world there are big computer controlled flooding and canals and such for irrigation. That isn't digital helping, that's the owner deciding the tech is cheaper than hiring people to do it manually.

              and public health - isn't this covered by sanitation and medicine?

              and roads - maybe in Japan where they have to figure out how to put a road on top of another road which is already on top of another road, and make the whole thing earthquake proof. Here? Dig the roadway. Roll it flat. Pound it flatter. Chuck down stuff to stabilise it. Throw down tar and lob gravel at it. Rinse and repeat until the result looks like a road. There will be computers doing stuff like saying the most effective mixtures and probably guidance to get the road going exactly on target. Of course, for computer assistance is turning up everywhere.

              and a freshwater system - i kind of think that water supplies came first and the tech came along much more recently.

              and baths - oh come on. My bath, and I'd guess a lot of reader's baths have a hole at the bottom and one or two taps (single or mixer). The only wire in sight? The required earth wire...

              and public order... - really?

              what has digital done for us? - what a bunch of weird examples.

              How about: entertainment, evidence gathering, the ability to make friends on the other side of the planet, keep in contact with family members around the country, pictures or it didn't happen, music when and where you want it, you aren't buggered if it is 2am and you need cash for the taxi ride home thanks to bank machines, ditto previous with "in other countries" suffixed, your plane isn't going to crash and burn on a foggy landing (...usually!) thanks to radar and autopilot, ubiquitous mobile comms so the bastard in the seat next to you on the train can talk loudly for the entire journey, and, finally, clever control for nuclear reactors and wind turbines to make the power to permit you to do all of this stuff.

              Are you enjoying reading this rubbish I've written? That is what digital is doing for you, right now. Providing you with amusing ways to waste time.

              1. DropBear
                Meh

                Re: As the old saying goes...

                That whooshing sound was the reference cruising over at high altitude, apparently...

              2. MichaelBirks

                Re: As the old saying goes...

                "...Providing you with amusing ways to waste time."

                Such as watching Monty Python's "The Life of Brian".

              3. Jan 0 Silver badge

                Re: As the old saying goes...

                > "and baths - oh come on. My bath, and I'd guess a lot of reader's baths have a hole at the bottom and one or two taps (single or mixer). The only wire in sight? The required earth wire..."

                No wires? How do you stop your bath overfilling while you go and make breakfast? Does your mixer tap fill your bath at exactly the temperature you enjoy? Aren't we all geeks or boffins here?

                1. dc_m

                  Re: As the old saying goes...

                  "Does your mixer tap fill your bath at exactly the temperature you enjoy?"

                  Actually, yes it does. I learn't how to set the computer on my boiler up properly.

                  "Aren't we all geeks or boffins here?"

                  I really, really hope so!

                  1. Stoneshop Silver badge
                    Headmaster

                    Re: As the old saying goes...

                    "Does your mixer tap fill your bath at exactly the temperature you enjoy?"

                    Actually, yes it does. I learn't how to set the computer on my boiler up properly.

                    Maybe you should learn yourself how to conjugate the verb "to learn".

                    And I do hope your boiler is set at a temperature somewhere over 60C,which for the average person would require mixing down with cold water, because of legionella.

                  2. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: As the old saying goes...

                    yep ours does we have a fancy electronic filler. Calibrate it to the maximum temperature that you want (65degree) set how long you want it to fill for. To turn on bath wave hand in front of sensor, piss off, come back in 10mins and bath is the temperature and depth you want, lovely.

      2. wdmot

        Re: As the old saying goes...

        And then they want to send 20 AMPS over it as well?

        No, only up to 5 amps. It'll deliver up to 100W but that's at 20V, not 5V. The cable will be thick but comparable to a USB 3 cable (which is already as thick as a kettle lead).

        1. Otto is a bear.

          Re: As the old saying goes...

          Not only that, in the UK there are no 20 amp domestic supplies, 13 amp maximum, except the cooker circuit, which is usually hard wired.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Boffin

            Re: As the old saying goes...

            Not only that, in the UK there are no 20 amp domestic supplies,

            The UK does have 32A (ring) and 20A (spur) circuits; it's the sockets that are commonly fused at 13A. However, this has nothing to do with how many amps you can pull out of a low-voltage circuit. Perhaps you should look at how transformers work before waffling about mains circuits.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: As the old saying goes...

              32A is the cable rating. The idea of the ring is the power can circulate either way around the ring and so it is supposed to save copper (it's original intention).

              Of course the main problem is if the ring becomes broken then you risk a fire on the halves of the ring which could now be carrying more than they should.

              Radials are better in this regard, if the radial circuit has a break then you know exactly where the problem is (all of the outputs after the break will be dead).

              1. boltar Silver badge

                Re: As the old saying goes...

                "Of course the main problem is if the ring becomes broken then you risk a fire on the halves of the ring which could now be carrying more than they should."

                Exactly. A ring main - a bit like token ring networking - is something that seems like a good idea on paper. But at least a token ring card generally didn't go up in flames.

                God knows why here in the UK we persist with fitting our houses with ring mains. I can only think we do it because the europeans all have radials and we can't import none of them crude foreign ideas here!

          2. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: As the old saying goes...

            Not only that, in the UK there are no 20 amp domestic supplies, 13 amp maximum, except the cooker circuit, which is usually hard wired.

            Well yes, as you say - but that's at 240V AC.

            A USB C wire connected to a device which is working properly should never see 240V AC.

            V

            I R

          3. Les Matthew

            Re: As the old saying goes...

            "in the UK there are no 20 amp domestic supplies"

            I think you'll find that UK domestic ring circuits are rated up to approx 30 amps.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: As the old saying goes...

            Most dual 13A sockets are rated for 20A. But that's the combination of both sockets. A 13A plug is surprisingly only just capable of 13A :)

            1. lpcollier

              Re: As the old saying goes...

              I don't know what you mean by "capable" but the solid brass pins on older UK mains plugs can easily carry 30A and a 13A mains fuse will tolerate 2-3x its rating for quite some time.

              1. werdsmith Silver badge

                Re: As the old saying goes...

                The solid brass pins can carry a shedload of current, but the screw terminals on the ends are not going to keep up.

          5. lpcollier

            Re: As the old saying goes...

            Don't be silly. The UK supplies are 13A 240V, which will deliver far higher current at lower voltages.

        2. Anonymous Blowhard

          Re: As the old saying goes...

          "The cable will be thick but comparable to a USB 3 cable (which is already as thick as a kettle lead)."

          I know what you mean, I only keep my Amazon Basics USB3 cable in my bag in case I have to abseil from a hotel balcony to escape a fire. My Note 3 seems to charge perfectly well on a bog standard USB2 cable.

      3. Fink-Nottle

        Re: As the old saying goes...

        > I believe you can connect a Macbook Air's Thunderbolt port to a miniDisplayPort monitor, or to a miniDisplayPort to VGA adapter.

        Funny you should mention the MBA.

        The 13" MBA Thunderbolt to miniDisplay 'just works'. On the other hand, there are issues with 11" MBA's connection. It would seem that the two machines use different port hardware, which Apple simply assumed would behave identically. Given that a company as meticulous as Apple can drop the ball on a single port spec, I don't hold out much hope for industry wide implementation of USB-C.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: As the old saying goes...

        20 volts surely?

  2. Dan 55 Silver badge

    USB-C is a big mistake

    They've turned USB into a reversible Scart socket.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: USB-C is a big mistake

      Careful, even mentioning "the plug that shall not be named" can summon demons.....

      1. Hellcat

        Re: USB-C is a big mistake

        What? Scaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

        <mandatory Monty P reference>Now you need to decide if I was typing aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa or being eat by a Syndicat des Constructeurs d'Appareils Radiorécepteurs et Téléviseurs demon.</MP ref>

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    Just make it coloured coded

    Maybe Blue means it is "Basic" and say Yellow "Advanced".

    Blue to Blue, Basic

    Yellow to Yellow, Advanced

    Blue to Yellow (and Yellow to Blue), lowest common denominator, so Basic.

    1. petur
      Trollface

      Re: Just make it coloured coded

      and white = overpriced?

    2. Annihilator Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Just make it coloured coded

      Already got that (to an extent). Blue = USB3. Yellow = "powered USB" (on a Thinkpad anyway).

      Besides - colour coding isn't particularly DDA compliant?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just make it coloured coded

        "Besides - colour coding isn't particularly DDA compliant?"

        So what? Doesn't seem to be a problem for traffic signals, mains electricity, utility pipes, aviation, shipping, sports strips, video games, and well, almost everything.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Just make it coloured coded

          "So what? Doesn't seem to be a problem for traffic signals, mains electricity, utility pipes, aviation, shipping, sports strips, video games, and well, almost everything."

          Traffic signals use positional information too (plus other information, google it). Plus mains electricity, utility pipes are coloured in such a way that colour-blind people can tell the difference. As for aviation, you can't be a commercial pilot with a colour-blindness. Sports strips, you can usually tell the teams are different in some way, which is enough.

    3. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Just make it coloured coded

      I was with you up until the point you started to explain it.

    4. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Just make it coloured coded

      They tried that with Scart, it was even an official recommendation. Nobody did it.

      Everybody collectively threw away years of humanity finding the right socket on the secondary device, finding the right cable to carry the signal (because cheap cables weren't fully wired up inside), and finding the right socket on the television (because not every input could cope with every display type).

      Still, at least I assume that with USB-C you won't be able to fry the devices if you chain them up wrong like you could with Scart.

      Those who misunderstand Scart are doomed to repeat it, I tell ye.

  4. Michael Jennings

    Reminds me a little of the old Scart cable/plug, for connecting televisions to other devices. The same connector was capable of composite video, component video, and RGB. Having (say) an RGB capable DVD player connected to an RGB capable TV using composite video was extremely common, due to people plugging in the cable, saying "it works" and then not realising that they could improve the picture quality considerably by changing a setting in the on-screen menus. I hope USB-C is going to be a little smarter than this, but I am not sure I would completely bet on it.

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Facepalm

      Oh yes SCART.

      The archetypal Jack of All Trades, in that it did lots of things and all of them nowhere near as well as the appropriate specialised connection.

    2. stucs201

      Not just scart

      Also RS232. Just because the cable fitted that really didn't mean it was going to work. Seems like they've re-invented some of the same problems, just at a smaller size.

      1. dc_m

        Re: Not just scart

        Ah yes, the APC UPS serial control cable, good times. A good way to learn to solder!

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Not just scart

          I would use a 5.5mm jack for everything.

          Unless there was RF involved and I couldn't cope with it by using ferrite beads. In which case I would allow BNC and co-ax.

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Not just scart

          Ah yes, the APC UPS serial control cable, good times. A good way to learn to solder!

          Solder wasn't really required. You just needed to use a little ingenuity. Radio Shack sold all the necessary parts to make an RS-232 plugboard cable that you could rewire to your heart's content by swapping the jumpers.

          And you could pretend you were an old tyme telephone operator in the process. "CTS calling for RTS. Will you take the call?"

          (Wonder if I still have mine around somewhere?)

      2. Fatman

        Re: Not just scart, Also RS232.

        Oh, $DEITY, you have brought back memories of interfacing RS-232 serial equipment with compatible plugs.

        Is that fucking thing wired DCE or DTE? Did they use the proper gender on the plug and socket?

        What a fucking mess, and I am so glad that serial RS-232 has gone away.

    3. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Or you could have composite + RGB and composite + S Video and you'd end up in a crappy composite picture because you plugged the cable into the wrong Scart socket on the telly.

      1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

        "because you plugged the cable into the wrong Scart socket on the telly."

        For the younger generation: decent TV set had to have 2 or 3 SCART sockets on the back. All of them were somewhat universal. Or rather having slightly varying values of universal.

        From the look of it, USB-C is going down the same path.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Argh!

    That looks to be just the right size to try and jam into an HDMI socket.

    Anyway, WTF is wrong with these people? Make a cable with one plug/socket shape 'x' with 'y' number of pins, and require cables to have everything wired up or they don't get no steenkin badge. If this means the cable would be more than 25mm thick then you fcked up the spec and the drawing board beckons once more.

    Otherwise we end up with USB-C power cables, USB-C data cables, USB-C video cables etc and we are far worse off than we are now unless there's a magic adapto-matic in the works to plug them together in which case we are back to almost exactly where we are now.

    TLDR: FFS make a simple spec and keep it simple. One plug, one socket, one type of cable.

    1. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Argh!

      Fully agree and, expanding on this, if they are going to offer the ability to do all this at once then there would have to be more than one connector available at which point the idea of shoving everything through one type is pointless.

      As an example, you want to feed a video loaded on your tablet onto the wonderful huuuge TV you have but need to ensure you don't kill the battery, well that is one USB-C Video and one USB-C Power compared to the current weird setup of one USB mini/micro for power and a HDMI mini/micro for the video.....definite leap forward there...NOT.

    2. Ashton Black

      Re: Argh!

      The only problem with that, is, as someone pointed out. You'd have to have the most expensive type of cable/plugs, rather than a lower spec for simpler tasks.

      No point in having a £30 cable to charge your phone.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Argh!

        The physical plug and cable is the same (although good luck getting 40Gbs down the one from the dollar store). It's the protocols the devices support over the wire that is different. You aren't going to have a MP3 player support 4k video or Thunderbolt.

      2. Doctor_Wibble

        Re: Argh!

        > No point in having a £30 cable to charge your phone.

        Alternatively get a stupidly expensive phone and the cable will only be a tiny proportion of the total cost - buying cheap things is anti-profit heresy and will displease our corporate overlords!

        And using cables to charge a phone? That's just so yesterday. I go to the studio, stick the phone on the mat, and let it charge while I blart out some choons.

        But not in real time. Full charge 180 mins. Sequences shortened. Some steps removed. Things in mirror are closer than they appear.

        Eachsoldseparatelybatteriesnotincludedcreditcardrequired.

        1. Alistair
          Coat

          Re: Argh!

          You missed:

          "productmaynotappearasdepictedvoidwhereprohibitedbylawnorefundsnotapplicableinquebec"

      3. Mage Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Argh!

        bring back 3mm power jacks. Properly made ones are fine.

        Most devices there is now no way to use data and charge at same time as the ye old laptop doesn't do the 1A to 2.5A wanted by the USB gadget.

        Or HOW do you put USB keyboard (USB2Go host mode) and charge?

        The ORIGINAL RUBBISH USB spec was root of problem.

        1) It was purely Host - Slave

        2) Not reversable in any sense

        3) only 100mA, later 500mA

        It should have been

        negotiable up to 1A

        Peer to peer

        Negotiable higher speed

        Same plug at both ends

        flipable too.

        Hermaphrodite (IBM token ring plugs), so socket and plug identical.

        Totally different functions on same plug is disaster.

        The SCART (apart from falling out) was only reliable as Stereo + Composite as they had separate pins for each direction.

        Basic Signalling (two pins) was unidirectional

        RGB was unidirectional

        S-Video AKA Y/C an afterthought

        Data signalling was non-standard and there was I2C as well as RS232.

        I've noticed that HDMI isn't perfect, sometimes it's too fussy about which end is on first and connecting cables first, but it's better than this disaster called USB C

        I have now THREE incompatible types of cables for laptop Host to gadget for USB. They are now adding a 4th!

        Not only that but some USB gadgets (not even counting Apple's USB Optical drive that originally only the Apple thing could power) came with a Y cable to try and get enough power. No luck on that from some USB hosts / Hubs were the power available wasn't per socket but shared!

        You'd have thought on the USB 1.1 iteration they would have sorted out USB.

        Gaaagh!!!!! Arrraggh!

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Argh!

          Most devices there is now no way to use data and charge at same time as the ye old laptop doesn't do the 1A to 2.5A wanted by the USB gadget.

          Really? Both of the USB-powered phones I've had, and the cheap Memorex-branded MP3 player I've had for years, will charge and exchange data over a single USB connection to a laptop. That's worked with all four of the laptops I've used them with.

          Maybe I'm just not buying a suitably snooty brand of gadget.

      4. unitron

        Re: Argh!

        I think the point is someone gets to make a £30 sale.

      5. mark 177
        Coat

        Re: Argh!

        No cable acually costs 30 quid. It's just the really ridiculous mark-up that you get in PC World etc. They sell you a cheap PC and make it up on the cables.

        The difference in cost between the most basic cable and a fully-wired one is probably no more than 10 pence.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Argh!

      > That looks to be just the right size to try and jam into an HDMI socket

      Perfect for the Russian special forces then!

      For the non-Russian and others who don't know the joke:

      They wanted to run an IQ survey across Spetnaz operatives so they gave them a series of round and square pegs and a board with round and square holes. The survey identified two types of soldiers. Some of them very intelligent, and some very strong.

    4. lambda_beta
      Linux

      Re: Argh!

      You're missing the point. How else can they sell lots and lots of cables that sort of look alike and you have to pay premium price so you won't go out of mind try to connect things together? It's a plan that works.

  6. Disko
    Joke

    Monster

    will make another killing selling cables "optimized for ultra-usb-protocol and undistorted power transmission" or words to that effect.

    1. dc_m

      Re: Monster

      And of course, they will be gold plated. Like that's going to make any difference to a digital signal.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Monster

        What's digital got to do with it? Is the signalling on the cable truly digital anyway?

        It's gold, it resists tarnish and corrosion, so it is used extensively in electronics - regardless of digital or analogue it helps a good contact conductor endure.

  7. JASR

    A far better Newport song...

    ...from people who live there, and in response to the Newport parody.

    All hail the chain.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dx8CZyFM4b4

    1. VinceH

      Re: A far better Newport song...

      Speaking as someone from just over the bridge, they both amuse me - but I've never actually been into Newport, only driven past it on the M4. I sometimes come off at J25a, and take the A4042 (mentioned in the lyrics) - in the opposite direction.

      Always heading somewhere more appealing. :p

  8. AbelSoul

    Mag-safe

    I'd like to see something along the lines of the magnetic connections used to power Apple laptops become the standard.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Mag-safe

      Would have been great, but patents and Apple are a bad combination.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: Mag-safe

        I've got a set of USB cables where the A plug attaches to the actual cable magnetically, and there hasn't been a gang of Apple landsharks molesting my front door.

      2. AbelSoul

        Re: Apple are a bad combination

        Yes, that's a pity.

        Those connectors have come in handy on many occasions (particularly in rehearsal studios for some reason) when someone trips over the power supply.

        On the other hand I recently saw our Asus lappie go flying off the coffee table due to a careless trailing foot. (Or, arguably, my own careless power cable positioning.)

      3. Hellcat

        Re: Mag-safe

        MS Surface have magnetic power connectors so Apple can't have the complete monopoly on that function.

        I agree however, that mag power cables are fantastic. I saw it first on a macbook, and was a reason for buying the surface. It's been used in anger many, many times and I wish I had it on my phone which has been launched at high speed due to several leg-in-loop-in-wire incidents.

    2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      Re: Mag-safe

      You mean the ones where the cable fails from the bending whenever it is pulled off, so that you have to buy another overpriced power adapter?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never happy!

    We've had USB 1, 1.1, 2 and 3 all using the same physical USB-A host plug format.

    Now there's a new format to do new things and you're complaining about it being too complicated!

    Remember, the U us for Universal - now that the reality is catching up with the hype we should be patting ourselves on the back!

    1. Fuzz

      Re: Never happy!

      Thing is for USB 1, 1.1 and 2 you can generally use the same cable.

      For USB 3 you can use an old USB cable and you'll get USB 2 speeds. If you use a USB 3 cable you can't connect it to a USB 2 device, it won't physically fit and it works fine in a USB 2 host just at the slower speed.

      I don't think USB-C is going to be an issue either. If you have a 40Gbps disk array you're going to know that a £1 Amazon basics cable isn't the best thing to use and you're not going to be trying to plug it in to your computer monitor.

      I guess there could be some minor confusion if your laptop has two ports with display port on one and not on the other but we have this at the moment. My laptop has two USB ports, one can charge devices whilst the laptop is turned off, the other can't. If I plug it in the wrong one, no problem I just plug it in the other one. At the moment that takes 4 attempts (3 on the first USB, 1 on the second) with USB-C this will be down to 2.

      1. jason 7

        Re: Never happy!

        "you're going to know that a £1 Amazon basics cable isn't the best thing to use"

        Oh I dunno, I've been really impressed with the quality of the Amazon Basics stuff. Puts a lot of the premium stuff to shame.

      2. TraceyC
        Thumb Up

        Re: Never happy!

        "If you have a 40Gbps disk array you're going to know that a £1 Amazon basics cable isn't the best thing to use and you're not going to be trying to plug it in to your computer monitor."

        I'd not rule that out as never being a possibility ever. With my current DisplayPort monitors, I am using one as a USB hub. I've got the keyboard, mouse, speakers & an external USB 2.0 disk plugged into the primary display. Plug a USB cable into the PC and it gets access to everything plugged into the monitor. Switch the USB cable to the laptop, and it has access to them. (Of course the input has to be switched on the monitors to pick up the signal from whichever machine I'm using). Once I disabused myself of the old way of thinking that you don't plug a disk drive into your monitor, I was able to simplify my cables nicely and avoid buying a KVM switch.

        While we're certainly not at the point of "one cable to rule them all" yet, we're taking steps in that direction. I appreciate anything that cuts down on the amount of black spaghetti near my PC.

  10. leon clarke
    FAIL

    Is there going to be a minefield with cable quality in alternate mode?

    If a cheap cable just-about works for normal USB, I could easily imagine it not working for Thunderbolt. And maybe some cables would work for some alternate mode protocols but not others, while other cables will work for a different random set of protocols.

    And has Thunderbolt managed to change things so it can run over passive cables? I thought that thunderbolt cables were really expensive as the actual driver circuitry was in the plug, not in the device. If so, have they solved an impressive problem or were they being lazy before?

    1. James Cane

      Re: Is there going to be a minefield with cable quality in alternate mode?

      Yes, they have solved the problem of passive cables. Thunderbolt 3 will run at half speed over passive cables and full speed over active cables.

      As for alternate mode, having a cable ignore that would look to be quite difficult as alt mode data is actually spread out across the normal USB channels. There is one pin designated for signalling alternate mode, so I guess a cable could not carry that, but given that DisplayPort is implemented as an alternate mode, I would imagine it will become pretty common pretty quickly.

      1. leon clarke

        Re: Is there going to be a minefield with cable quality in alternate mode?

        I wasn't worrying about a cable ignoring alternate mode. I was worrying about it not having the right wire, screening and so on for whatever protocol it finds itself carrying.

        But I hope someone who knows more than I do about wire, screening and so on has thought of this.

        1. James Cane

          Re: Is there going to be a minefield with cable quality in alternate mode?

          Yeah, that's what I mean. Alternate mode data is carried over the same wires as USB data.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    lucky...

    There are loads of places called newport and all with different capabilities and experiences. Not limited to the Isle of Wight or South Wales either...

    Probably a vert apt name for it...

  12. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    It's DIN Plug 2.0!

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Bah!

      Indeed, that strange 5 pin one that was fully reversable.... only nobody wired it as such!

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      That was the mini-DIN. Soldering the 8 pin version isn't fun.

      This is worse. This is every mini-DIN that used a different connector (say keyboard, scanner ADF and Y/C video cable) on the SAME connector!

      USB-D will also have fibre.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        USB-D will also have fibre.

        USB-E will include compressed air.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Obligatory xkcd reference...

    http://xkcd.com/927/

  14. janimal

    Now the consumer in PC World will see one plug, but won’t be sure whether it will support, or not support, that particular monitor (“4K or not?”), or that particular drive or array, or be sure whether it provides enough power to charge that laptop and a phone at the same time.

    Bad enough in PC world, much worse when you're trying to find a cable from the "box full of cables" in the back room :(

  15. Roger Kynaston Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Any one wandering into a PC Hell on Saturday Morning

    Is going to be in for a bad time no matter what standard of USB they are after.

  16. Bob Dole (tm)

    More complicated than it really is

    I think that most of the hardware vendors really make this whole thing out to be far more complicated than it really needs to be.

    We don't need different "levels" of cable. If there's only one cable type then the costs for producing that cable would drop, even if it's at the "higher" level of capability, simply because so many different chinese manufacturers would be putting it together.

    We also don't need several different plugs. One would do just fine, and again the costs for that one plug would reach the lowest price point quickly for the same reasons.

    That done, then it's just up to the devices to decide what capabilities they provide over that plug. Maybe it's just power, maybe it's just data, maybe (and this is the kicker) it's power AND data transfer.

    Essentially the whole concept of plugging devices in needs to be rearchitected slightly. When I plug a mic into my computer's headphone jack it automatically reroutes everything internally so that it still functions as a mic. Seems to me we can do the same thing with the various input/outputs for these electronic devices.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    consumer confusion is GOOOOD

    consumer clarity and simplicity is BAAAAAAD

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    clear consumer labelling

    lol, like "HD-ready", and "up to..."

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > USB 2.0 was High Speed, 3.0 SuperSpeed.

    This is ever the problem with trying to use marketing terms for differentiation. It only ever confuses. The vast majority of people, even non-techies, know "Superspeed" as USB 3. I don't think I've ever heard anyone use the SuperSpeed term although I do see it a lot on marketing packaging.

    I don't know why these people think that Superspeed is easier to remember than USB 3, after the public already being well aware of USB 2 and understanding that this is the next generation of USB.

    1. Hellcat

      It is to be followed by Mega speed, Ultra speed M-M-M Monster speed.

      Insiders say the demand for even faster USB is ludacris, however their reaction to a proof of concept USB 8.0 was "holy shit!"

      1. soldinio

        USB 8.0

        super flying Jesus Christ speed?

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Insiders say the demand for even faster USB is ludacris

        Oh, those wacky rappers. Campaigning for higher USB speeds now! What will they get up to next?

      3. Swarthy

        Insiders say the demand for even faster USB is ludacris, however their reaction to a proof of concept USB 8.0 was "They've gone Plaid!"

        TFTFY

  20. Epobirs

    In real life...

    This just isn't going to come up much in real life. Systems and peripherals equipped with Thunderbolt will continue to be significantly more expensive than run of the mill USB-C systems and peripherals. The 3.1 performance is a substantial upgrade that more than suffice for most people who aren't dealing in really massive loads, like high-end video editing. Hopefully Thunderbolt will have more of a presence than FireWire managed but I suspect this will come about with Thunderbolt being absorbed within USB and announce again down the road as USB 4.0. Once again, only the power users will have to think about it and eventually the stuff that really gets widely used is simple enough for most.

    It might be good if there were a standardized GUI tool that looked at the machine (a branded PC can have the info with meaningful images preloaded) and showed the user what ports there were and what each supported, as well as what each was doing at the moment, if anything.

  21. Bleu

    The USB

    consortium was founded to achieve precisely what what St. Steve of Jobs always wanted and always failed at, a fast serial interface.

    Where is 'fire wire' now?

    I forget the IEEE number.

    The reality is many people holding devices that are useless because Apple was very casual about dropping support for 'fire wire'.

    Still usable if they have transferable mass-storage.

    The USB standards, until now, were developed with little to do with Apple, they worked well, be very afraid of Apple dominating a standard that works and which they did their best to reject for a long time.

    The claims for this include the laughable 'you will be able to use your phone to recharge your PC'.

    Well familiar with USB standards so far. This is an Apple creature, other makers in the USB consortium should reject it and make it fail.

    1. stucs201

      Re: The USB

      1394.

      I still have a port on my PC's front panel. I'm less sure if it's actually connected to the motherboard or not. I'm not opening the machine to check and have never owned either a device or cable to connect to it.

      1. Hellcat

        Re: The USB

        I thought I saw a firewire cable in the wild, but it was just a Cisco gigastack.

        Better get back to counting my collection of hen's teeth.

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: The USB

        FireWire / IEEE 1394 was popular with the digital-video set. Now I think it's been eclipsed by USB 3, in much the way that eSATA ports are becoming rare on laptops and external drives because USB 3 is "good enough", on non-Thunderbolt systems. (Thunderbolt is Apple's official replacement for FireWire. I don't know if other PC manufacturers have an official position; seems to me they just throw some random collection of ports into a machine and call it a day.)

        FireWire was also popular with security researchers, because it was often a huge security hole. Once this became well-known manufacturers started improving the FireWire DMA security.

  22. Breen Whitman

    Apple was of the blocks early in the same-plug-but-doesnt-do-what-you-think disgrace.

    Got a previous Gen iPhone 3,4/s, and iPad 2,3 and charger?

    The iPhone Charger looks like, and plugs into the iPad! But won't charge! For that you need the white box bit that has 10w printed on it in 0.00001 mm font.

    What a disgracful incompetant pack of cretins designed a such a sickening anti-consumer system.

    Mind you, Hipsters and Apple users in general like taking it from behind, so I guess being shafted is "hip" or "in".

    1. Otto is a bear.

      And you think only Apple is guilty of this? I don't think I've ever bought a laptop that has a charger compatible with the previous generation. Samsung Galaxy phone chargers won't charge my Note either.

      Mind you my iPhone 3 charger works on my iPhone 4 and both iPods, including my 11 year old one. Though not on the iPhone 5, unless I swap the cable. The, now, 11 year old iPod charger however is Firewire and won't charge anything other than it's iPod.

      With the Samsung, it's actually a case of power draw, the mobile chargers can't cope, in fact the actual charger can't cope either if you try and use the Note and charge at the same time.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        I don't think I've ever bought a laptop that has a charger compatible with the previous generation.

        Serves you right for not buying Thinkpads

        1. Spacedinvader

          The Thinkpads that changed the charger connector when we went from T4 series to T6 series and now again with T440's? Those ones?

          1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

            "The Thinkpads that changed the charger connector when we went from T4 series to T6 series and now again with T440's?"

            16V/56W thin barrel was good from Thinkpad 360 to T43/R52, 1995-2005. Lots of generations and models in between.

            20V/90W thick barrel from T60 to T430, 2006-2014. About six generations.

            There were some exceptions, like 135W adapters for hungrier beasts, but as a generalisation, 8-10 years with one connector type isn't bad at all.

        2. Alistair
          Coat

          @stoneshop

          - I have 3 stinkpad chargers. Connectors the same .... charge level isn't, the itty bitty one can't charge the older stinkpad.

          But then - they cover something like 15 or more years.

          (Starting to think I've been at this too damned long)

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        I don't think I've ever bought a laptop that has a charger compatible with the previous generation

        I have my criticisms of the various Dell laptops I've received from my employer over the years, but one thing I'll say for them is that they usually are pretty good about using one another's chargers, and in fact will generally tell you if they don't like the charger you've plugged in. For what that's worth.

        On the other hand, the charger for the one I have now - a Latitude E6540 - is such a marvel of poor usability design I can only imagine it was the product of a very junior engineer and a very evil marketer. The transformer has terrible proportions - it's short, wide, and long - so it takes up too much room on or under a desk, and doesn't fit well in a computer bag. There's no good way to wrap the cord around it (and instead of a simple velcro strap on the cord, Dell provides this stupid rubber thing attached to the transformer, which is pretty much useless). The mains cable falls out of the transformer, and the DIN plug on the cable from the transformer falls out of the laptop, at the slightest provocation - the tolerances are way off. Worst of all, there's a blue LED that's bright enough to read by at the end of the DIN plug, and it's circular and wraps around the plug. If it were on the transformer, you could just flip the thing over to hide it.

        The Latitude actually has a "turn off the lights" feature (has to be enabled in the BIOS) that shuts off everything - screen backlight, keyboard light, all the status LEDs, etc - until you hit the key combo again. A great idea for hotel stays and the like. But even that doesn't turn off the stupid power-cord LED.

        Clearly the only solution will be to cover it with electrical tape. Which is kind of a shame, because it's an easy way to tell if the mains cable has fallen out of the transformer again.

  23. Esme

    USB-C? Sounds like

    F***wittery to me.

  24. Alan Denman

    How come they all failed to see the light ?

    The current sockets and plugs simply needed to be dark at the top light at the bottom.

    This can also apply to the wider backward compatible USB 3.0

    For the consumer going into reverse and making current stuff obsolete is quite upside down senseless.

  25. Otto is a bear.

    Is it just me...

    Or is this an exercise in designing something because we can, rather than because we should. Has anybody even thought about some of the more challenged users. "Have you plugged it in" still comes up more than you would believe on our help desk.

  26. murri

    thunderbolt = new SCSI

    Looks to me like a clear attempt to associate thunderbolt (cables) with high performance. Shit, the amount invested in the production of the cables and sockets is too great as not to rip profits. As someone said prior, SCART was too advanced (and confusing) for average Joe - thus the rgb - composite "it just works" scenario.

    €Thunderbolt€ proper will yield what you bow to

  27. Tom 7 Silver badge

    20A!!!

    I'm guessing the idea behind this is so when you put the cable into storage the cable is sufficiently thick and strong that when the storage torque effect kicks in the cable will not wrap itself irretrievably round other cables in the vicinity as normal it will in fact walk back to the place of manufacture for re-sale.

  28. J Bourne

    Cable spaghetti

    Good luck rewiring that mess of servers after the intern pulls all the cables without labelling anything. With all cables looking the same not only will you not know where to plug it in you won't be able to tell from which peripheral it comes from on the other side of the room.

    1. Alistair
      Coat

      Re: Cable spaghetti

      Dunno about anyone else, but I label the cables when I plug 'em in. Damned interns don't get *that* till they have to fix the one they built without labels.

  29. Ben Norris

    Should be called noobsport. Having the same connector with different capabilities is idiotically bad UI

  30. James Boag

    USB == Universal Serial Bus, Surly there should be only one !

    Ok I'll get me coat !

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    bit like DVI, lots of "different" options for DVI all with a plug that looks pretty much the same until you try and plug the bleedy thing in!

    And firewire changed the plug firewire 400 is totally different to firewire 800

  32. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Everyone's missing the real story here

    And it’s reversible!

    This is so important. I don't know how many times I've been embarrassed because my black USB cables didn't match my brown loafers.

  33. LaeMing
    Facepalm

    Why not just send the video/network/whatever signal over the USB3 wires as, I dunno, USB3 data? Have some sort of dongle at the end that converts that to HDMI/1000baseT/whatever.

    I highly doubt alt-modes would cover the extreme-use cases that wouldn't be satisfied by that anyway.

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