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New USB4 v2 Standard Could Ensure USB-C Is Here to Stay

New USB4 v2 Standard Could Ensure USB-C Is Here to Stay Image
  • Posted on 08th Sep, 2022 14:51 PM
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USB4 v2 is an upgrade to the USB4 standard that should make transferring data faster, but experts say there are issues with the cables that might make that less than useful.

  • The USB Promoter Group has announced an upgrade to the USB4 standard, which works exclusively with USB-C type connectors.
  • USB4 v2 promises to double the speed without actually requiring new cables.
  • Hardware experts believe USB-C cabling issues will make it challenging for people to reap the benefits of the new standard.

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The next generation of USB devices promises to be twice as fast, using cables already on our desks. But cables are turning out to be the Achilles' heel of the USB-C connector.

The USB Promoter Group has announced USB4 version 2.0, which they claim will deliver speeds up to 80 Gbps. That’s twice the 40 Gbps promised by the original USB4 and even Thunderbolt 4. The real kicker, though, is that we can experience the enhanced speeds using existing 40 Gbps USB Type-C passive cables.

"Once again following USB tradition, this updated USB4 specification doubles data performance to deliver higher levels of functionality to the USB Type-C ecosystem,” Brad Saunders, Chairman of the USB Promoter Group, said in a press release. “Solutions seeing the most benefit from this speed enhancement include higher-performance displays, storage, and USB-based hubs and docks.”

Universal…. In a Parallel Universe

The original USB4 standard was announced in 2019 and was the first major USB revision for consumer products since 2009. USB4, the first standard to work exclusively with USB-C, is based on Intel's Thunderbolt 3 specification and shares many of its features. 

While the technical specifications of the upgrade to USB4 are expected later in the year, the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), which is in charge of the standard, has shared some interesting characteristics of the impending upgrade, most notably, its ability to deliver twice the speed of the existing standard without requiring new cables.

With its ability to hook up to and carry power and data from all kinds of devices, USB4 v2, together with the European Union's USB-C mandate, cements the position of the USB-C connector in our lives.  

Unfortunately, there's no universality when it comes to USB-C. While every USB-C port looks the same, they don't all offer the same capabilities. USB-C's confusing cabling ecosystem further complicates the situation.

For instance, to reap the 80 Gbps benefits of USB4 v2, you'll need either a 40 Gbps' passive' cable or a new 80 Gbps' active' cable. 

The key is the form factor, not the spec.

"The new changes to the USB-C spec this year have not yet been announced, but it's all but guaranteed to increase the number of passive or active cables again," tweeted Google engineer Benson Leung, known for his extensive review of USB-C cables. "We can't expect a user to figure it out on their own, especially since many cables are not labeled, or under-labeled."

To illustrate the gravity of the situation, Leung wrote that when he started working with USB-C back in 2015, the USB Type-C specification defined six passive USB-C cables, which in 2022 have doubled to 12. That's not counting active cables, which look the same as passive cables but have different limitations.  

Gradual Upgrade

John Knight, tech writer and computer history buff, shares another perspective on the uptake of the new standard. He believes that compared to the generational jumps of USB 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0, USB4 v2 is merely evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

"[Tech-obsessed people] love to get excited about new specifications and flashy headlines, but the electronics industry actually moves quite slowly," Knight told Lifewire over Twitter. He argued the only reason people noticed the jump from USB-A to USB-C was because of the change in connector and that the form was much more compact.

Michael Derrer Fuchs / Getty Images

"Before USB-C came out, people had settled on the USB-A plug, and the actual specification was of lesser importance," shared Knight. "The PCs of the time would catch up with their standardized ports, the older speed would stick around for a while until every other part of the electronics industry caught up," he explained.

This leads Knight to believe that the success of USB4 v2 in the real world has more to do with our everyday use devices than with the actual specification of the standard. What plug we have in our cars, our PlayStation, or our phone, is what will eventually determine the future of the standard, believes Knight. 

"The key is the form factor, not the spec," asserted Knight. "Some gadgets will support the new standard, and most PCs will, but people will be using USB4 v2 gadgets at old speeds for a long time."

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