SCSI ports. Serial ports. Parallel ports. ADB connectors. All of those ports and connectors were in vogue long before Intel dropped the USB port and connector on humankind. Through the past few decades we’ve seen a crazy array of changes to our computing devices and their ongoing needs to be wired up to this or that.
Intel’s USB started us down the road to unification, Apple’s FireWire promised rapid connectivity speed and throughput, but only recently have differing technologies merged to show us the last gasp of wired devices before wireless takes over completely.
First, USB. It’s still going strong and still coming up with different ways to connect.
USB, short for Universal Serial Bus, is an industry standard that defines cables, connectors and communications protocols for connection, communication, and power supply between computers and devices.
USB was designed to standardize the connection of computer peripherals (including keyboards, pointing devices, digital cameras, printers, portable media players, disk drives and network adapters) to personal computers, both to communicate and to supply electric power. It has largely replaced a variety of earlier interfaces, such as serial ports and parallel ports, as well as separate power chargers for portable devices – and has become commonplace on a wide range of devices.
The latest connector is USB Type C, a connector and port somewhat similar to Apple’s proprietary Lighting cable and port on iPads and iPhones. It’s very small, can be used on either side, and has the added benefit of being a connector that also works with Thunderbolt. More on that in a moment.
Second, FireWire, also known as IEEE 1394. None of my Macs have a FireWire port these days. In many respects, FireWire was superior to USB.
IEEE 1394 is an interface standard for a serial bus for high-speed communications and isochronous real-time data transfer. It was developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Apple, which called it FireWire… The copper cable it uses in its most common implementation can be up to 4.5 metres (15 ft) long. Power is also carried over this cable allowing devices with moderate power requirements to operate without a separate power supply. FireWire is also available in wireless, Cat 5, fiber optic, and coaxial versions.
Not dead, but not used by the masses. Ever.
What we’re seeing today is something of a convergence whereby two standards peacefully co-exit in the same port and connector. USB Type C and Thunderbolt. The definition tells the story.
Thunderbolt is the brand name of a hardware interface developed by Apple and Intel that allows the connection of external peripherals to a computer. Thunderbolt 1 and 2 use the same connector as Mini DisplayPort (MDP), whereas Thunderbolt 3 uses USB Type-C… Thunderbolt combines PCI Express (PCIe) and DisplayPort (DP) into two serial signals , and additionally provides DC power, all in one cable. Up to six peripherals may be supported by one connector through various topologies.
Thunderbolt 3 and USB Type C is where it’s at, where it will be, and it might well be the last physical connector and port combination for computers and peripherals. New Mac notebooks use the USB Type C and Thunderbolt combo and it’s likely to show up in all future Macs. It’s also showing up in many premium Windows-based notebooks these days.
That’s the future and it’s here already in a growing number of PCs from Apple to Dell and many others.
The combo USB Type C and Thunderbolt 3 benefits are obvious. The connector is small and reversible. It connects peripherals and powers peripherals, including displays. It’s everything we’d ever want in a connector and port except wireless.
Thank you, Apple and Intel, for driving the industry forward to everyone’s benefit. Goodbye, SCSI, Serial, Parallel, and FireWire. We hardly knew ye.