We spend our lives plugging stuff into our computers, smartphones, tablets, and other hardware. Why is it so hard to make it all work as we expect? Glenn Fleishman knows the answer to this: standards don’t develop in lock step, and whenever anything is out of sync, we wind up with frustration. He also knows the questions! As a writer about all things Apple for decades, he has used multiple generations of interface and connection standards, and he reads hundreds of questions a months from readers wrestling with their gear.
Take Control of Untangling Connections is his attempt to put power (and video and data and more) back in your hands by helping you cut through cable clutter and confusion and find the right plug for the right jack—and the right cable.
Glenn posted an 11-minute video on YouTube about cables and connectors to answer some common questions, and it also serves as a preview of the book:
The book covers data networking with USB, Thunderbolt, and Ethernet; audio and video over DisplayPort, HDMI, and USB-C; and all the ins and outs of recognizing ports, researching your requirements, and finding or buying the right cables, adapters, and converters. There’s even a chapter on physical decluttering: how to organize your cables in your home and office.
You’ll learn the answers to questions like:
- How do I ensure I have the fastest connection between any combination of USB and Thunderbolt standards?
- What’s the fastest computer-to-computer connection?
- Why is my USB-C cable handling data only at 480 Mbps?
- How can I make sure my 1080p, 4K, 5K, 6K, or 8K display can show its maximum resolution?
- Why can’t I connect more displays to my computer?
- How do I know how many watts a given port can offer a device I plug into it?
- I plugged my laptop (or tablet) into a USB-C port—it’s only charging at a trickle, but the port says it should offer up to 100 W. How can I fix this?
- What’s the fastest generally available computer-to-Ethernet connection?
- I have an unmarked cable with USB-C on one end and a Type-A connector on the other. How fast can it transmit data?
- This cable isn’t marked, but it has USB-C at both ends. What kind of cable is it?
- What sort of adapter, dock, hub, or switch might I need to connect this thing to those things?
Glenn Fleishman is a veteran technology writer who has contributed to dozens of publications across his career, including Macworld, Fast Company, and Increment. He has also written dozens of editions of books in the Take Control series. He spent 2019 and 2020 building 100 tiny type museums full of real printing artifacts. Glenn lives in Seattle with his wife and two children.
What’s New in Version 1.2.1
Intel announced the “next generation” of Thunderbolt: USB4’s 80 Gbps flavor plus DisplayPort 2.1. While there’s no shipping date for products using this specification, I expect we’ll see it alongside USB4 80 Gbps by the middle of 2023. I’ve updated the book throughout to note this upcoming, not-yet-numbered release of Thunderbolt, with a pithy explanation in “Future Thunderbolt Capabilities.”
This version also addresses the quasi-disappearance of DisplayPort 2.0 in favor of 2.1, which you can read about in “Where Did DisplayPort 2.0 Go?”
What Was New in Version 1.2
Since the previous version of the book, the USB trade group announced a new, faster version of USB4 and settled on a simplified set of branding and icons to identify what was becoming an increasingly complicated set of consumer-facing standards.
Also since the last version, I learned more about some of the limits with USB4 cables, an improvement in performance coming with USB4 80 Gbps, and a new active USB4 80 Gbps cable.
The book is now updated throughout to incorporate that information, including an overhaul of the “USB Capabilities” section. These changes also percolated into “The USB Standard,” “USB and Thunderbolt Data,” “Thunderbolt 3 Capabilities,” and “Thunderbolt 4 Capabilities.”
What Was New in Versions 1.1 to 1.1.2
I received some excellent clarification from a technical expert about the differences between Thunderbolt 3 passive and active cables and Thunderbolt 4 “universal” cables as described in “Thunderbolt Capabilities.” I updated the book to incorporate this understanding, particularly in “Mandatory Elements Shape Thunderbolt 4.”
The version 1.1 update, along with 1.1.1 and 1.1.2, also corrected some minor typographic and related errors.
What Was New in Version 1.0.1
This version 2as a minor update. Most changes were minor fixes for typos. It also included a few small changes and amplifications:
- Thunderbolt 3 cables and USB controllers: I added a clarification about the cases in which active Thunderbolt 3 cables will restrict data flow to USB 2.0 rates of 480 Mbps. That occurs only when the cable is plugged into a USB controller at one or both ends. With Thunderbolt ports, this active Thunderbolt 3 style of cable always delivers maximum Thunderbolt data rates of 40 Gbps. You can read the updated explanation in “Thunderbolt Capabilities.”
- Explanation of USB-C version numbers: As a physical connector, USB-C comes in various versions. You can generally absolutely ignore this, a rarity for standards. See “USB-C Has a Version, But Ignore It.”
- Extra-long Thunderbolt 4 cable from Apple: Since version 1.0, Apple released an extra-long Thunderbolt 4 cable that checks in at nearly 10 feet (3 meters). The price? A mere $159. This is the longest Thunderbolt 4 cable currently on the market. See “Thunderbolt Capabilities.”
- 240 W USB cable: The first glimmer of a 240-watt USB cable, one that supports the highest power available with USB Power Delivery 3.1, appeared in May 2022. The cable was announced with no price from a company not known for making cables! And there are no stores selling it yet, either. See “USB and Thunderbolt Power.”
Posted by Joe Kissell on April 22, 2022
Glenn Fleishman joined host Chuck Joiner on MacVoices about his book Take Control of Untangling Connections.
In part one, Glenn offers tips on figuring out what cable is right for what task and how to identify cables.
In part two, Glenn continues the discussion with thoughts on USB-C, Thunderbolt, and more.
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