Skip to main content

Developed in the mid-1990s, the USB interface has grown into ubiquity in how peripherals and storage devices connect to a computer. The latest specification for connectors and cables, USB-C, was finalized in 2014. Smaller than the rectangular USB-A connector everyone is familiar with, the symmetrical oval-shaped USB-C connector quickly became the standard charging port on Android mobile phones. Now we are starting to see 2-in-1 Ultrabooks and laptop computers come with the mighty little input/output.

First, let’s clarify some confusion about USB-C connectors (also called USB Type-C). USB-C refers only to the connector and plug itself. USB-C is symmetrical and reversible—it can be plugged in upside-down and still operate. A number of different sets of capabilities can run on a USB-C cable or connector. For data transfers, a USB-C cable might transfer data according to USB 3.1 or 3.2 standards. Another data transfer standard, Intel’s Thunderbolt 3, which has its own superset of capabilities, connects using a USB-C cable and port as well. USB-C cables and plugs may also have the latest power delivery standard (USB-PD) built into them.

In a nutshell, USB-C connections offer one plug to rule them all. That translates into cleaner and more convenient work setups, thinner laptop builds, and fewer dongles and cable converters to carry around in your laptop bag. If you’re on the market for a new laptop for users on the go, you want to understand how much a USB-C input (or two) can benefit their work experience. Here are the ways USB-C will simply your work setup.

Dual monitor setups

Many workers use their laptops as their primary work computer especially when working from home or another remote location. Sometimes having a larger screen or a high-resolution display is beneficial for a high rate of productivity. Connecting by USB-C offers a fast, clean option for connecting a laptop to one or more screens—and has enough bandwidth for 4K resolution displayed on two screens. Daisy chain monitor configurations are supported, meaning only one connection between a monitor and a computer is required.

For high-resolution setups, monitors with USB-C ports (see: LG 27BL650C-B and Samsung SH850 Series among others) offer the best performance. If you have monitors without USB-C ports, you can create a workaround with cable adapters for whatever your monitor has equipped: USB-C to HDMI, or USB-C to DisplayPort, or USB-C to DVI.  Learn more about USB-C and other types of laptop dual monitor setups.

Faster data transfers from external storage drives

For users that want to bring data with them, USB-C opens up the performance and portability capabilities inherent in solid-state storage. There are many great options available for USB-C flash drives.      

Built on the USB 3.2 data-transfer standard or later, most USB-C ports can theoretically transfer data up to 10 Gbps. That double the rate of previous USB generations, and nearly twice as fast as an internal disk drive connected to a motherboard via SATA III. Support for fast transfers are called various names by device manufactures, including USB 3.2 Rev 2, USB 3.2 Gen 2, SuperSpeed+, and SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps.

External drives that connect with USB-C plugs with the USB 3.2 standard have twin 10 Gbps channels built into them (See: Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD ) and are capable of data transfers up to 20 Gbps. These connections may also be called USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 or SuperSpeed USB  20 Gbps. These drives are marketed toward gamers looking for high performance data storage expansion for gaming laptops while offering business users responsive accessibility for volumes of large files.     

USB-C ports equipped with Intel Thunderbolt 3 technology (see: Samsung X5 Thunderbolt 3) are capable of transfers up to 40 Gbps. High performance disk storage benefits video content creators and engineers who move large files into production applications for editing and rendering.

USB Fast Charging

A universal charging standard, any USB-C cable theoretically can power up any laptop with a USB-C charging port and power bank. These replace Most laptop USB-C chargers are interchangeable, but there are some real-world limitations.

Laptops almost always charge fastest with the manufacturer provided charger. Some models, especially those that come with a proprietary charger, may not charge with every USB-C power adapter. Not all USB-C chargers are equal. Laptops typically require a USB-C power adapter that outputs at least 30 watts, and some may require a 45-watt charger. You will find that higher wattage power chargers that offer a faster charge, like those you will find on many USB C docking stations. Using the adapter included by the manufacturer is usually your best bet but docking station manufacturers design hardware geared toward compatibility for popular laptop models. When in doubt, check the product manuals for your specific laptop model for details and recommendations.   

Final thoughts

A laptop a USB-C input on it is a welcoming sight. It means battery charging without a cumbersome power brick, fast connections from external data storage, and video capabilities. When used with a USB-C docking station, users gain a quick and easy transformation to a desktop experience for their laptop computers. Having laptops with available USB-C connections simplify how users work in their offices and away from their desks.

Adam Lovinus

Author Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

More posts by Adam Lovinus

What's your take?