Lifehacker 101: USB-C Accesories

USB-C is a great new connector, but has been somewhat slow in its inevitable march to becoming the default option. But now a range of new products from laptops to phones use USB-C, so there are a handful of accessories sporting the new plug. So what different options are there, and how much do they cost?

But first, a quick re-cap, as there are a few USB-C options. USB 3.0 spec can handle up to 5Gbps transfer speeds, but can also be named USB 3.1 Gen 1. The next step up is USB 3.0 Gen 2, which is also often called USB 3.1, can handle 10 Gbps transfer speeds.

Technically USB 3.1 Gen 1 and Gen 2 are the correct names, but mostly manufacturers just call it USB 3.1, and give the speed rating. For now, most USB-C products use the 5Gbps spec anyway, so it’s not too much of an issue.

USB-C promises all sorts of enhancements in the future, such as having enough bandwidth for external GPUs. But right now, there are a few main types of accessories available. Most of them revolve around giving more ports to MacBook users, but other options such as flash storage are also getting on board with the new connector.

One interesting aspect we noticed when getting hands on with various USB-C accessories, is that many of them have quite sharp edges. This might seem like an odd complaint, but when it’s necessary to carry the adapters with you, they can very easily scratch up expensive electronics.


MacBook Accessories

Thanks to the Apple Macbook using USB-C as it’s one and only connector, there are loads of expansion docks available. The Promate macHub-12 takes that USB-C port and expands it into three normal Type-A connections, along with a SD card (micro and full size) reader - all rated at 5Gbps.

The macHub-12 also has a USB-C connection that can handle pass through charging. The device is designed for use with a MacBook, and mimics the thickness and feel, so won’t be much use on other laptops. It’s available online for under $80.


USB Hubs

It’s pretty hard to have too many USB ports (especially on modern slim laptops), so a USB Hub often comes in handy. The Belkin option turns a single USB-C connection into four ports - dual USB-C and USB-A.

This makes it easy to plug in older USB devices, as well as have a extra ports for newer connections. It’s worth noting that the Belkin Hub is not powered, and can’t pass through electricity for charging. Belkin sell the hub for $75.


Video Output

USB-C is very versatile, and can also be used to provide a video output. The downside is that not all USB-C equipped devices actually support video out. That said, there is a growing range of devices, from the MacBook through to tablets and motherboards that can all handle video via USB.

Of course, to do anything with that video needs an adapter of some sort. For example, Jaycar have a range of USB-C adapters for $60 that convert to HDMI, DVI or even VGA.


Network Adapters

Most new ultra slim laptops don’t have Ethernet ports - instead relying on Wi-Fi. In many circumstances, a wired connection can be faster and more reliable, and USB to Ethernet adaptors are readily available. These are especially handy when travelling - many hotels have sketchy Wi-Fi, but also supply Ethernet connections.

The Comsol USB-C to Ethernet Adapter offers Gigabit speeds, and can be picked up exclusively from Officeworks for $60.


Storage

USB-C is an ideal plug for devices such as USB Flash Drives that need to be plugged and unplugged frequently. Various manufacturers offer USB-C flash drives, but more common and useful are dual ended models.

Rather than just having USB-C, many drives also sport a traditional USB-A connection. This allows operation across a range of devices, including direct use with compatible smartphones.

Options include the Sandisk USB Drive Type C, and the Kingston DataTraveler microDuo. Keep in mind that while these drives sport USB-C, the underlying controller and flash means that don’t reach anywhere near the full speed of the USB 3.1 standard.

USB-C is also used on the new Samsung T3 portable SSD. For slower mechanical storage, the Lacie Porsche Design Mobile Drive is also equipped with USB-C.

In an interesting move, Seagate has also equipped a desktop portable HDD with USB-C. The unique part is that unlike most larger drives, the Seagate Innov8 doesn't need external power and can run entirely from USB - a world first. This is made possible thanks to an internal battery, which helps handle high peak power loads. The downside is that the Innov8 won’t be available until later in 2016.


USB Cables and Chargers

It might be tempting to just buy that $2 eBay USB-C cable or charger and be done with it, but there are good reasons not to. USB-C can handle more current than the older standards, and relies on electronics in the cables themselves to help negotiate charge rates. For some dodgy cables (especially USB-C to USB-A), it’s possible for too much current to make it through, frying your device.

Sure, it’s not common, but when talking about hundreds to thousands of dollars worth of laptops and smartphones, it’s worth opting for a quality cable.

Belkin make it easy to stay protected, with a huge range of high quality USB-C cables. It’s not just USB-C to USB-C or USB-A either - Belkin has USB-C to microUSB, miniUSB, USB-B printer cable, micro-B and even Type-A sockets. Prices vary, so check out the full range at Belkin.


Multiport Adaptors

For those who don’t mind a little extra bulk in their laptop bag, it’s possible to get larger adapters that cover all the main options.

The Minix NEO C takes a single USB-C connection, and turns it into 2x USB-A, an SD card reader (micro and full size), Gigabit LAN, 4K capable HDMI, and a single USB-C connection. Importantly for MacBook users, it also supports pass through charging.

The Minix NEO C can be found online in Australia for under $100, which makes it good value compared to individual adapters that focus on one area.


What USB-C accessories are you waiting for? Tell us in the comments.


Comments

    I'd still prefer all those connectors be part of a laptop.
    Even if thast means making the laptop [gasp!] thicker.

    Rather than buy a whole load of new charging cables, just get micro-B to USB-C adaptors.

    Benson Leung has reviewed a whole load on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A25GROL6KJV3QG). Most sellers there won't ship internationally, so either use a US-AU shipping service or find the same ones on eBay.

    Last edited 14/06/16 4:54 pm

    be very wary of USB-C.
    Many USB-C cables don't work for data transfer or meet the required specifications
    The USB-C power transfer standard is not finalised.
    Hold off on USB-C until it is fully standardised.

      What could possibly go wrong with drawing 20 amps through a 0.1 mm thickness wire?

    still waiting for the Razer Core and the AUKEY USB C Powered Hub

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