What is USB Type-C? How will it affect the future of embedded computing?

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What is USB Type-C?

USB Type-C, or USB-C, is the latest USB connector that has been planned to become the new USB standard; unifying all generations and versions of previous connectors. The next-gen USB connector has many key features such as: improved data transfer speeds, alternate modes, user-friendly interfaces, USB Power Delivery technology, and support from a majority of major tech companies.

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Differences Between USB Types and USB Generations

There are a lot of misconceptions about USB Type-C and all the USB generations. Like M.2 form factor, many assume that it already has NVMe support, however, M.2 is just the physical connection shape. The M.2 slot has a variety of keys that have different uses and not all M.2 SSDs use NVMe. USB Type-C is a physical connector for USB technology. The USB generation, however, determines what features and capabilities the USB connector offers. Currently, USB Type-C supports two USB generations, USB 3.2 Gen 2 and USB 4. The main difference with USB 3.2 Gen 2 is that it can transfer data up to 10 Gbps while USB 4 reaches up to 40 Gbps.

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Key Features of USB Type-C

USB Type-C offers a lot of next-gen features in a simple interface. From huge improvements in data transfer speeds to versatile alternative modes, USB-C displays its incredible strengths to justify establishing it as the new standard. Here is a more elaborate understanding of how USB Type-C is sought to be the new USB standard and how the embedded industry is starting to incorporate this new technology into their systems.

 1. Enhanced Data Transfer & User-Friendly Interface

USB Type-C with the latest USB 4 generation has data transfer speeds up to 40Gbps compared to previous USB 3.2 Gen 2 capping at 20 Gbps. The improved data transfer speeds greatly impact a wide variety of industries where data transfer speeds can be the bottleneck in faster productivity.  

Throughout the years, USB-A has built up a reputation of frustration due to its singular one-way connector orientation. With USB-C, you no longer need to worry about figuring out which side of the USB goes into the port. Its symmetrical oval-shaped connector head and pin configuration allows for omnidirectional connection, which means it no longer matters which orientation is inserted into the port. Although this means that USB-C is not backwards compatible with USB-A, there are adapters readily available while we are transitioning to the new standard.

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 2. Next-gen Power Delivery

USB Type-C has enhanced power technologies called USB Power Delivery (USB PD) that give it ubiquitous features. This soon to be standardized connector can deliver up to 100W for faster charge times and the ability to power or charge large devices like printers. For battery-powered IoT devices, USB Type-C provides a sustainable 5V power supply. USB PD offers optimized power management for a more efficient charge or power flow for a variety of devices. This prevents overcharging and compatibility with low-power devices like smart watches and wireless headphones.

Another key feature that USB-Type C offers is its flexible power direction, or two-way power technology. It utilizes a two-way power direction where the connector can send and receive data, and also input and output power from either end of the connector. A prime example of this next-gen technology is with a USB Type-C port on a laptop. A USB Type-C cable connected to a laptop can transfer data like any traditional USB, charge the laptop, use the laptop to charge your phone, transfer data between the phone and laptop, and more. Additionally, USB PD allows for simultaneous charging and video display in certain configurations. USB Type-C allows users to utilize a single port for multiple purposes and brings convenience to connectivity.

 3. Alternate Mode

USB Power Delivery also introduces Alternative Mode, or AM. Rather than having numerous cables for each dedicated signal, USB Type-C utilizes AM to unify all these independent cables into one input. Devices with limited space for various outputs now only need a USB Type-C port and cable to be able to connect to these interfaces. On top of all that, AM allows USB Type-C to be backwards compatible with its previous proprietary generation, Thunderbolt 3. This specialized connector can transfer data, video, and audio through a wide range of USB and non-USB protocols or interfaces like:

  • DisplayPort
  • HDMI
  • Thunderbolt 3
  • Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL)
  • VirtualLink
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4. Improved Security & Protection

It is a common practice for enterprises to disable USB ports on company devices due to an increase in malicious attacks through USB. The USB Type-C Authentication Program protects the host system from foreign malicious USB connections that can be susceptible to hardware attacks. This program confirms the authenticity of certified USB devices before any power or data is exchanged.

How is USB Type-C revolutionizing the future of the embedded world?

Although USB-C is not a brand-new technology on the consumer end, it has slowly been integrating into the embedded industry. The capabilities USB-C has to offer is slowly phasing out the need for USB-A and USB-B for speed and connectivity. Currently, USB-C with USB 3.2 Gen 2 is offered in different industrial computing solutions. As technology becomes exponentially more advanced, there will be even more data to process. In embedded applications, like machine vision and other AI enabled operations, industrial computers are required to intake enormous amounts of data from IoT devices and sensors. USB-C has the potential to send these substantial amounts of data to the industrial computer at incredibly rapid speeds and deliver additional next-gen USB technologies to the edge. This revolutionizing USB type will enhance the effectiveness of real-time data analysis and decision-making for AI-enabled applications.

Furthermore, USB Type-C has a much slimmer and smaller architecture compared to the other USB types. Embedded systems, like SFF (Small form factor) PCs and SBCs (Single Board Computers) deliver the needed processing power in space-constrained applications. With such limiting factors and higher demand for greater compute, USB Type-C could alleviate these restrictions. It’s thin oval-shaped connector with user-friendly features like reversible mating, interoperable power roles, and universal connectivity gives system integrators and OEM designers better flexibility when developing their system. With the rising popularity in USB 4 technology, we can expect even higher performance and capabilities in ultra-compact form factor computing solutions.

What kind of embedded and industrial applications can utilize USB Type-C? (or Key Applications)

USB Type-C is and will be used for almost every industrial application segment as it provides such enhanced features over USB-A and previous USB generations. The capability to both display and transfer data through a single USB cable removes the need for numerous cables. This feature alone also provides system integrators and OEM designers with more ports for their projects.

Key Applications for USB Technology:

  • Industrial Automation
  • Medical Imaging
  • Autonomous Vehicle and ADAS
  • Security and Surveillance
  • Digital Signage
  • Smart Retail, Building, Manufacturing & Agriculture
  • And more...
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What kind of embedded edge solution offers USB Type C?

1.8” AMD Ryzen Embedded SBC

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Premio’s ultra-compact single board computer powered by AMD Ryzen Embedded SoC offers a USB Type-C with USB 3.2 Gen 2 solution for the most space constrained deployments/applications. This uniquely innovative port and connector has given system integrators and OEM designers greater flexibility to faster connectivity on a palm-sized motherboard. The 1.8” AMD SBC is capable of supporting dual UHD 4K displays and has the scalability for an mPCIe expansion slot.

Discover more about the 1.8” AMD Ryzen Embedded SBC >>