2016 Macbook Pro snafu highlights the mess with USB Type-C

The recent advent of USB Type-C reversible connectors spelled an end to plug-flipping finger gymnastics and ushered in a new era of universal compatibility along with the ability to pass video signals and up to 100W of juice over a single cable. All of this should work seamlessly, too. Right? Not quite, according to reports gathered by ExtremeTech. It seems the new Macbook Pro isn't compatible with the majority of existing Thunderbolt 3 peripherals in spite of all the USB Type-C-ness involved. This situation highlights what's a brewing mess with USB Type-C that's only going to get worse and likely to leave consumers and technicians fuming.

One USB port to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

The Macbook Pro's issue stems from the fact that it uses a recent version of a Texas Instruments chip that handles Thunderbolt power and mode negotiation. The newer chip is the TPS65783, and existing Thunderbolt 3 devices use the TPS65982. By itself, the new chip isn't an issue, but macOS apparently expects all connected devices to use the "83" model, thereby failing to connect with any that use the older chip. ExtremeTech believes this has to do with the fact that support for the new chip is fairly recent, even within Intel's own Thunderbolt 3 SDK. The site also drilled down through both the 82 and 83 chips' data sheets and couldn't find anything that would explain this incompatibility.

 

Because of this problem, peripheral vendors Plugable and Akitio have published lists detailing which of their wares are compatible with Apple's latest machine. While upcoming Thunderbolt 3 devices will almost certainly be compatible, buyers who got one of the recent Macbook Pros hoping to use existing or recently-bought TB3 peripherals may be stuck on land.

Source: Stephen Foskett blog

While the situation with the Macbook Pro is unfortunate, it only highlights the tip of the problems with the USB Type-C standard. To wit, a Type-C port may pass data signals ranging from the 480Mbps of the USB 2.0 protocol all the way to Thunderbolt 3 and its 40Gbps. The protocol also allows for passing video signals and up to 100W of power, too. The problem is that unlike USB 2.0, all of these characteristics are wholly dependant on distinct components: control chips, cables, and even software.

Now, should any of those components fail, there will be problems. Right now the component that's failing the most are the cables. One would think that a Type-C cable is a simple, known quantity. One would be dead wrong. A quick look at store listings for Type-C cables shows a multitude of wires that look the same but are wildly different. Some support a speed of 480MBps, some can hit 10Gbps, a few can be used for Thunderbolt 3. A cable may carry up to 100W of power, or it may fry a laptop. Looking to use an external display over USB Type-C? Better pick the right cable among all those same-looking ones. Blogger Stephen Foskett has some choice words about the entire situation, and it makes for an interesting read.

Then there are the power delivery issues, as if incompatibility wasn't a big enough problem. The issues first came to light when a Google engineer lost his Pixel C convertible to a bad USB cable. There have been subsequent reports of similar problems around the world, and the situation has gotten so dire that the internet collective took to creating a spreadsheet detailing the characteristics and reliability of Type-C cables. One thing's for sure—the situation is likely going to get worse before it improves any.

Comments closed
    • coolflame57
    • 3 years ago

    Are we going to see USB-c inputs on monitors and/or display outs on GPUs anytime?

    • ptsant
    • 3 years ago

    The courageous use of a single magic port is problematic for professionals. There is a reason why people insist on robust protocols-ports-cables for actual work. Apple should have ADDED 2xTB3 type C instead of the 2xTB2 it already had.

    It is even more ridiculous that early adopters of the ultra-expensive TB3 devices discover they don’t actually work.

    PS: After a look on the internetz, it seems that the main peripheral that most people will plug on a TB3 port is an adapter or docking station. Oh, and the magical 27″ 5k monitor.

      • adisor19
      • 3 years ago

      Apple has always cut down legacy ports. This should not be a surprise to anyone.

      The surprise here is that at least for now, Apple chose to not support devices using The Texas Instruments TPS65982 chip for reasons as of yet unknown. Is the chip non compliant ? We don’t know. Is the chip posing a stability/security risk? We don’t know either as Apple is completely silent on the issue for the time being.

      All we can do is to stir the pot and eventually hope to get Apple or perhaps Texas Instruments talking so good job TR on running a story on this !

      Adi

    • Chrispy_
    • 3 years ago

    Can we just have USB4 that uses a Type-C adapter and does everything with passive cables?

    Compatibility with everything and “low cost/high reliability” are what made USB the defacto standard.

    • K-L-Waster
    • 3 years ago

    The advantage of USB has always been that you could plug it into anything and it would just work.

    Congratulations, tech industry: you’ve broken the one thing we always used to be able to trust. (Tell me again why we wanted to replace 3.5 mm with USB-C again?)

    • Anovoca
    • 3 years ago

    Funny. It used to be that every peripheral devices needed its own connection standard, port, and cable to function properly. Then USB came a long and over the course of a decade slowly but surley USB became then end-all of ports and cable for PC. Now USB-C launches and we find ourselves one step away from going back to how it all started.

    edit: only back then, pin arrangement prevented you from frying anything by plugging the wrong device into the wrong port.

    • ronch
    • 3 years ago

    I really don’t see any reason to ditch good ol’ non-reversible USB 2.0 and 3.0. A cable that fits either way and pushes 100w is nice but I don’t feel greatly inconvenienced by having to flip a wrongly inserted cable or using a device’s supplied charger. The issues and costs surrounding USB C just don’t outweigh the benefits in my view.

      • VincentHanna
      • 3 years ago

      On laptops, I more or less agree, but on cellphones, Type C is a nice change from micro. In addition to the fact that I often times can’t see the port when I plug it in (do i need to flip it, have I missed the port?) Micro cords would rarely last me more than 6 months before the little claw thing would wear out. I have yet to see any signs of wear on any of my type C cords.

      Even on laptops, though, replacing VGA ports which are pretty standard and also obsolete by most of our standards (bulky, analogue, 480p max) is commendable. Attempting to replace proprietary power connectors is, by my estimation, both noble, and stupid, but at the end of the day Type C is as much an advancement over USB, as USB itself was an advancement over PS/2 and Serial ports. If YOU are unwilling or unable to see the USB port as anything more than a “stick drive plug,” that isn’t the standard’s fault, it’s yours.

    • TwoEars
    • 3 years ago

    It is a gift!

    (…)

    You cannot wield it! None of us can.

    • barich
    • 3 years ago

    I just don’t understand how they screwed up this badly. USB 3.0 with its 2.4 GHz interference is bad enough. My wireless keyboard and mouse stop working if I’m transferring data to a USB 3.0 flash drive plugged into the same port cluster. My Asus router has a USB 3.0 port that’s basically locked to USB 2.0 transfer rates in firmware because it kills 2.4 GHz WiFi otherwise. I have an 802.11ac USB 3.0 adapter. Good thing it’s on the 5 GHz band because 2.4 is useless unless I plug it into a 2.0 port.

    Then this mess with USB Type-C. If the cable fits and the connection makes sense (not connecting a mouse to a printer or something) it should just work. Period. As it is right now it’s confusing even to people who (used to) know what they’re doing.

    • nico1982
    • 3 years ago

    I’d like color coded connectors and ports.

    • psuedonymous
    • 3 years ago

    tl;dr:

    – Apply forget to be compatible with ‘legacy’ devices a few months old. Big surprise!

    – Users buy cheapest possible cables they can find from dodgy manufacturers, complain when said cables fail to conform to USB-C spec. Big surprise!

      • nico1982
      • 3 years ago

      [quote<]Users buy cheapest possible cables they can find from dodgy manufacturers, complain when said cables fail to conform to USB-C spec. Big surprise![/quote<] The cables conform to USB-C spec, the issue is that the spec is not unique 😛

        • VincentHanna
        • 3 years ago

        Not really. The issue is that the cords all [b<]look [/b<] the same. The 100w super-cord is not visually distinct from the 10Gbps A/V cord, which itself can easily be confused with a cheepo 5v 2.4amp phone charging cord... The problem with type C is that, for certain types of tasks, like A/V or thunderbolt, a simple, easy to make, "dumb" cord, like the one used previously in USB 3.0 isn't enough. You need an "active" cord, which is expensive. People want the cheaper $5 cords to do everything that the more expensive $25 cords can do. Adding insult to what would otherwise be a merely annoying problem, Type C chips in devices are equally varied in quality, and SOME devices might not support any number of "standardized" features, and once again, there is no way to know who does what, or what does what, without burying yourself in either reviews or product specs sheets. And that is no-bueno.

          • adisor19
          • 3 years ago

          Wrong.

          There are 2 types of cords :

          1) USB-C non active cords that can pass 10Gbps USB3 OR DP and USB 2 as well as up to 100W of power

          2) Thunderbolt 3 active cords that does all the above PLUS 40Gbps Thunderbolt data.

          That’s it. Any other cord that doesn’t fit the above 2 points is non compliant garbage. The problem is people tend to buy the cheapest low quality crap that is often non compliant and will eventually burn their house down.

          You get what you pay for.

      • rudimentary_lathe
      • 3 years ago

      For those looking to buy cables/adapters/dongles, arsT has a guide out published yesterday. The question remains why didn’t Apple include one USB-C port on either side, and use the remaining space for so-called “legacy” connectivity? I know the answer is because they wanted to make it thinner, but that’s a bad answer IMO.

        • VincentHanna
        • 3 years ago

        Why bother asking why apple does anything?

        The real question isn’t why apple decided to ditch their maglocks and their 3.5mm jacks, or why they never bothered to support flash/java, or why they are abandoning their new lightning connection when USB C offers literally zero advantages and they have already invested heavilly in their proprietary version?

        The answer is, and will always be “because they think it will sell more devices”

    • crsh1976
    • 3 years ago

    What about rumors/reports? the TB ports on the right side share a single pipe/are slower, is that confirmed?

      • nico1982
      • 3 years ago

      IIRC is due to the dual core CPU in the 13″ models having 12 PCI-E lines. The quad core models (15″) have 16 PCI-E lines and the four ports offers identical performances.

    • hasseb64
    • 3 years ago

    Skip this “standard” now—>> Thunderbolt
    It only makes things worse, “USB only” is the way forward even if it gets a slower momentum, make it simple and transparent!
    Who uses Thunderbolt anyway?

      • ptsant
      • 3 years ago

      I agree. The only situation for which the 40Gbps TB3 has an advantage over 10Gbps USB3.1 is for displays, which already have their proper connector/standards (DP, HDMI) and docking stations, which intrinsically suck, because if you need a docking station you probably needed a workstation all along.

      Also, don’t tell me about copying files from SSD. If you really have and need an SSD that can saturate 40Gbps, you probably shouldn’t be using consumer-grade stuff, but rather a Fibre Channel storage server and a proper workstation.

      Remember FireWire and how it failed? Nobody uses that anymore, nobody ever bought it except some “creative” Apple users who thought it was the best thing since sliced bread because it was “pro”. TB3 will likewise be a megafailure.

    • BabelHuber
    • 3 years ago

    [url<]https://youtu.be/-XSC_UG5_kU[/url<]

    • FuturePastNow
    • 3 years ago

    There’s almost nothing I want more in computing than for a reversible USB port standard to become prevalent. So excited for USB-C.

    So disappointed they’ve managed to screw it up.

    • bthylafh
    • 3 years ago

    2016, that’s /enough/. At long last, have you no decency?

      • derFunkenstein
      • 3 years ago

      [url<]https://www.topatoco.com/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=TO&Product_Code=QC-TWENTYSIXTEEN&Category_Code=QC[/url<]

    • HERETIC
    • 3 years ago

    Trying to combine everything that thunderbolt is capable of was always going to
    have some problems.
    But when you add apple into the mix-APPLE DOES NOT PLAY NICE WITH OTHERS…..

    • SnowboardingTobi
    • 3 years ago

    well, fudge. this is dumb.

    • Srsly_Bro
    • 3 years ago

    Did anyone see the news about how well this thing is selling? The people don’t care unless they are nerds like us.

    [url<]http://www.macrumors.com/2016/11/09/new-macbook-pro-has-outsold-all-competitors/[/url<]

    • Takeshi7
    • 3 years ago

    I’ll wait until USB type D comes out and makes it so every device and every cable supports every protocol and feature.

    Then it will be extremely simple and I can finally use a USB mouse as a 100 watt monitor, and a printer/scanner as thunderbolt 4 storage.

      • meerkt
      • 3 years ago

      I want 16 PCIe 4.0 lanes over 5-pin DIN. Will it be supported?

        • Dark Pulse
        • 3 years ago

        Sure, right after they implement Centronics support via tiny DIP switches just inside the plug.

      • UberGerbil
      • 3 years ago

      [url<]https://xkcd.com/927/[/url<]

        • K-L-Waster
        • 3 years ago

        Was thinking of this one as well.

    • Neutronbeam
    • 3 years ago

    So C gets an F?

    • Hattig
    • 3 years ago

    I expect the TB3 incompatibility will be fixed with driver updates or firmware updates.

    It’s certainly something that is likely Intel’s and/or TI’s fault.

    Certainly until all of the currently discrete chips to drive all the different modes are integrated into a single place (hopefully within the CPU/GPU/SB SoC itself) this will keep on happening.

    Luckily I have no interest in TB3, but I do have an interest in video-out. However so far there seems to be no issue with that (apart from needing adapters, etc).

      • Dr_Gigolo
      • 3 years ago

      This. I think this will easily be fixed in an update. This is the first Apple Device with USB-C/Thunderbolt 3. Bugs are prone to come out. I remember the same with the 2011 MacBook Pro’s and MacBook Air’s and iMacs.

      Personally I don’t understand all the hate. I guess I can see the problems with these cables. As long as you use the cable that came with your device, it shouldn’t fry anything.

      Personally I am looking forward to getting a MacBook Pro with an external dedicated GPU at one point, all thanks to TB3.

      I guess I am a little biased, working as a tech for an Apple retailer here in Norway. But I like Thunderbolt and see value in it. USB was never able to do all the cool stuff that TB can do.

    • JosiahBradley
    • 3 years ago

    Who needs to worry about bad cables, Apple sells ever possible combination, right?

      • hasseb64
      • 3 years ago

      Amazingly they sell them!
      One alternative would to ship all “necessary” cables along with the laptop. At least that would have been the case in the good old days…

      • nico1982
      • 3 years ago

      Unfortunately, no 😛

      I’m currently using a 2013 13″ MBP connected via DP to an external monitor and an USB 3.0 hub with integrated ethernet (which also upstream USB to the monitor). No ugly cables sticking out from the right side.
      I have a 15″ inbound and spent hours to find a suitable combination of hub/dongle/dock to replicate my current setup without going bankrupt twice to no avail 😛
      There’s always something wrong: the only dock with DP only comes with USB 2.0; they never report USB-C power delivery (15? 60? 100? I need 87…); icing on the cake, plain USB-C hubs are nowhere to be found.

    • rudimentary_lathe
    • 3 years ago

    Count me among the current Macbook Pro users who will not be upgrading to one of these machines. I can overlook a few things, but when you combine the price of the laptop, the price of all the required dongles, the inconvenience of carrying said dongles, the lack of 32GB RAM option, and the list goes on, it’s no longer an attractive package.

    They’re still aesthetically beautiful machines, and Apple arguably has some software advantages, but all that’s no longer enough for me.

      • DancinJack
      • 3 years ago

      Me as well. My early 2015 13″ rMBP is serving me just fine. Hopefully by the next time there is a decent upgrade to them, the industry concerning USB-C will be in a much better state.

    • pdjblum
    • 3 years ago

    So I gather USB Type C interfaces that allow for USB 3.1 should be backwards compat with USB 2.0 and all USB devices and not an issue? I am wondering because I am buying a MSI Stealth Pro 15″. It handles Thunderbolt over that interface, but I have no clue as to which TI chip it is using. Fortunately, I do not own any Thunderbolt devices that might become obsolete. I hope it has the latest chip, not that that will protect me from new incompatibility issues that are certain to arise.

    • tipoo
    • 3 years ago

    Apparently it has trouble with wifi if you connect a USB C device as well… I’m guessing due to 2.4GHz wifi and USB 3 rather than C specifically interfering, but it may be too little shielding around the internal USB ports.

    Skip to 6:30 for the demonstration, and then later for a teardown

    [url<]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYVjIjBMx6o[/url<]

      • nico1982
      • 3 years ago

      My late 2013 MBPr 13″ has the very same issue. While in the living room, I cannot connect an USB 3 device wihout completely losing 5 GHz connectivity and severily impairing 2.4 GHz one. There’s an Intel whitepaper describing the issue, so it is a known one.

        • tipoo
        • 3 years ago

        Dang, didn’t know it impacted the 5GHz as well.

          • nico1982
          • 3 years ago

          I should add that there are quite a few walls between the router and my armchair. It might be that the interference on 5GHz, even if small, is enough to kill the connection.

        • ImSpartacus
        • 3 years ago

        Wow, it’s a long term issue? That’s not cool.

        In a world where Apple seems to be pushing for wireless connectivity to take over everything, you’d think they would’ve solved this known issue (our pushed their suppliers to solve it).

      • juzz86
      • 3 years ago

      Same for routers. It’s why you generally see USB 3.0 ports on alternate sides of the device to the wireless antennas on earlier-gen devices. They must’ve alleviated it somehow on the newer ones where USB 3.0 is part of the rear port cluster.

        • tipoo
        • 3 years ago

        Probably why I can’t get a USB 3 Airport Extreme. In Apples desire for compactness there’s not enough room to horizontally separate the antennas from the USB 3 port.

      • nico1982
      • 3 years ago

      According to notebookcheck.net, the issue only surfaces under macOS. They have been unable to reproduce the problem under Windows 10.

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