I’ve has the new 2016 15″ MacBook Pro with Touchbar (they really have to work on their naming) and I have learned a few things. Some delightful, some… not so much. I’d rather not re-hash arguments that have already been made elsewhere ad nauseam, but show you some real-world info.
Lets get one thing out of the way, right off the bat: USB-A, USB-B, and USB-C are connectors. Think of them like shapes. USB 1, USB 2, and USB 3, are bus speeds. To make matters worse, there are three types of USB 3:
USB 1: 12mbps
USB 2: 480 mbps
USB 3.0: 5,000 mbps & HD video
USB 3.1 genUSB- 1: 5,000 mbps & 4k Video
USB 3.1 gen 2: 10,000 mbps & 4k video
As far as ports go, thats where things get confusing:
USB-A supports: USB1, USB2, USB3, 15w power draw
USB-C supports: USB1, USB2, USB3, Thunderbolt3. 100w power draw, reversible plug
So USB-C is a reversible plug and can also be used for charging and Thunderbolt, which means its ALSO backwards-compatible with SATA, FireWire, HDMI, DVI, VGA… basically everything. It is, truly, finally, the one connector to rule them all. But not every device supports all of this. Thats where things get complicated. No longer can you just look at the shape of the jack and know what it is. You have to be intimately aware of the specs of your computer. This could have been a place for Apple to forge ahead and support everything, and make things easier on their users. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Charging with Apple’s Included AC adapters
The new MacBook, 13″ MacBook Pro and 15″ MacBook Pros come with a 29w, 61w or 87w power brick, respectively. They also come with a USB-C to USB-C cable. Remember Apple also makes a 5w, 10w and 12w adapter for iDevices with a USB-A to lightning cable.
As a general rule of thumb, you can use a smaller adapter to trickle charge a larger device, for example a 12w iPad adapter with a. MacBook or a 29w MacBook adapter with a MacBook Pro, but it will be slow, and is not recommended. It’s not proven it will cause damage but Apple still just… doesn’t recommend it.
Going the other way around, though, is fine. You can use a larger adapter with a smaller device without risk. For example, if you connect a MacBook to an 87w MacBook Pro adapter, it will simply draw the necessary 27w and charge fine. Apple even says this is okay in their own documentation. As a matter of fact, the 12.9′ iPad Pro can draw more than 12w, so if you connect it to a larger adapter, it will charge faster than with its own included adapter! Cool! AFAIK, only the 12.9″ iPad Pro has this fast-charge feature at this time.
Remember, you’ll need the right cable: the larger adapters are USB-C, so you’ll need to purchase a USB-C to Lightning cable.
Also, please don’t do this with third party chargers! There is a real and present danger in the world of USB-C right now. USB-A could only carry 15w at maximum, so even crappy third-party cables couldn’t do any serious damage, but now that USB can carry 100w of power, you can seriously damage or destroy a computer with lousy cables. And unfortunately, the world is full of lousy cables right now. Benson Leung has been personally testing tons of cables, and reviewing them on Amazon. He is truly a hero for our time.
Finally, the new laptops don’t come with an extension cord any more. You’ll have to pay extra for that. Apple has like a trillion dollars in the bank but I guess thats not enough to toss us a $2 cable any more. Oh, and they don’t have those little tabs where you can wrap the cable up any more, either. I guess too many people were wrapping them too darn tightly and breaking their adapters. This one is on you, tight-wrappers.
It’s not all bad, though. By switching to USB-C, if the cable part breaks, you can simply replace it with another $10 cable, instead of the whole thing. I got myself a nice braided cable because I just couldn’t plug my beautiful new space gray MacBook Pro into a bleh white rubber cord. ick. I also legitimately love that I can plug into the left or the right side, depending on where I’m sitting.
Then my kids jumped on me and almost knocked my laptop to the ground twice. So I got myself a Griffin BreakSafe magnetic cable. No more classy braided cable for me. Oh well. Apple, I have defended a lot of your crazy ideas this past year, but dumping MagSafe was a terrible, terrible idea. If your engineers are not working overtime to design a new MagSafe cable right at this moment, I don’t know whats up with you.
Now we get to connecting drives. Of course, I can’t use all of my USB flash drives any more, but its a lot easier to buy one adapter than replace several drives. Apple sells a really good USB-C to USB-A adapter for only $9 (limited time) but I wanted video as well, so I thought I’d roll it all into one dongle.
Behold! The Choetech (what?) Digital AV Multiport adapter. Supports USB-A at USB 3.1 speeds, HDMI video and audio, and another USB-C port, which I don’t need, but if you’ve got a MacBook with only one port, you’ll need that one for charging. It’s really well constructed, feels solid, nice braided cable, tight connection, and it works great. And its like $20 cheaper than Apple’s. I would have gone with Monoprice, but they were back ordered.
But no matter what you get, make sure its a reputable brand. And done forget to unplug them when you’re done: Most dongles drain your battery even when they’re not being used.
Of course, I was quick to plug in a bunch of my devices and test the speed, and I wanted to show you some benchmarks.
First, a simple Corsair Voyager USB3 flash drive. The dongle gave me the same speed as plugged directly into a 2015 21″ iMac:
About 200mbps write, 550mbps read. I wasn’t expecting much from a little flash drive, and it delivered. At least the read speed barely justified it being USB3. And it was nice to see the dongle didn’t slow it down at all.
Next, a WD My Passport Ultra Metal Edition. About $90 for 1TB. It’s got one of those weird W-shaped cables that are becoming popular now. But again, the speed through the dongle was no different than directly connected:
Okay, thats getting better! 660mbps write, 700mbps read. I wasn’t expecting much, because it was a spinning hard drive inside, but its a decent speed. And we can clearly see we have some advantage in paying for a USB3 drive; if it were USB2 it would have topped out at 480.
Behold! The Samsung T3. This is supposed to be one of the fastest portable drives on the planet right now. It’s solid state, no moving parts, really small and light, and a really nice case. The silver almost matched my MacBook Pro and the black part is rubber. It’s also not cheap: $109 for 250GB. The 1TB is like $400 sawbucks. Whew. Is it worth it? Lets put it to the test! It’s USB-C and comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable. But, of course, that cable is no good for my new laptop, so I used the USB-C to USB-C cable that came with the Mac.
Woah woah woah… what? This is supposed to be stupidly fast. Then I thought about it… that’s, like, USB2 territory. Could Apple have charged me $2799 for a laptop and given me a gorram USB2 cable? Let’s try The Dongle again.
Well I’ll be. Yup, Apple charged me $2799 for a laptop and gave me a USB2 cable. And they admit it.
“You can also use the USB-C Charge Cable to transfer data at USB 2.0 (480 Mbps) speeds between your Mac and another USB-C device.”
Oh, and by the way, as long as we’re mad at Apple for crappy cables, the included USB-C cable doesn’t support target disk mode, either. You’ll need to buy another one for that, too.
But back to the Samsung T3… 3,000mbps write and 3400mbps read? Yeah, that’s stupid fast.
But do you want to know whats crazy, insane, timeshare-property-as-an-investment stupid fast? The internal drive in this thing:
Um, guys? I think I broke ur app.