Landing on a single standard to rule them all is an elusive aim in the realm of personal technology. At best, you end up in a format war, and one faction emerges victorious for a few years until an entirely new technology takes it out. VHS ate Betamax, then was ousted by DVD, which faded in the face of Blu-ray (a standard that itself knocked off its chief rival, HD DVD), now facing its own mortality at the hands of online streaming services.
But USB-C is different—and perhaps it's even as truly universal as its acronym (Universal Serial Bus) suggests. USB Type-C ports are now found on all manner of devices, from simple external hard drives to high-end laptops and the latest smartphones. While every USB-C port looks the same, not every one offers the same capabilities. USB-C may now be ubiquitous, but it doesn't serve the same functions everywhere. Not by a long shot.
Here's a guide to everything USB-C can do, and which of its features you should look for when buying your next USB-C device.
This broad acceptance by the big dogs is important, because it's part of why USB-C has been so readily accepted by PC manufacturers. Contrast this with the earlier Apple-promoted (and developed) Lightning and MagSafe connectors, which had limited acceptance beyond Apple products, and became obsolete thanks in no small part to USB-C.
Is USB-C Like Micro USB?
The USB-C connector looks similar to a micro USB connector at first glance, though it's more oval in shape and slightly thicker to accommodate its best feature: flippability.
USB-C and USB 3.2: The Numbers Beneath the Port
Where USB-C gets tricky is in the numbers that get attached to the ports. The most common speed that USB-C connectors are rated for is 10Gbps. (That 10Gbps is theoretically twice as fast as original USB 3.0.) USB-C ports that support this peak speed are called "USB 3.2 Gen 1x2."
The minor wrinkle is that USB ports with 10Gbps speeds can also exist in the original, larger shape (the USB Type-A rectangles we all know), and are dubbed "USB 3.2 Gen 2x1." With the exception of some desktops, though, it's more common to see 10Gbps-speed USB ports with Type-C physical connectors. Note: Some older USB-C ports support just 5Gbps maximum speeds, so it's important to look for a "USB 3.2 Gen 1x2" or "10Gbps" designation to verify that a given USB-C port supports 10Gbps transfers. That said, all of these ports are backward-compatible, just at the speed of the slowest element.