USB-C Explained - What It Means for Your Mac Setup

Apple released a new version of USB called USB-C with the new MacBook that went on sale preorder April 10th. USB-C is faster, reversible (there's no "upside down" on the computer end), can transmit more power, and with the right adapters, will work with a variety of legacy ports, including video out. It's also the only port the new MacBook has, a dramatic reduction. How does this affect your current equipment? Read on to find out.

First of all, Apple has not forsaken all previous connectors entirely. As per tradition, when Apple releases something new, there are always a couple of accessory white pieces of plastic. However, this time the adapters weigh in at a significantly pricier US$79 instead of the $29 to which we have become accustomed.

USB-C with a Space Gray MacBookUSB-C, aka One Cable To Rule Them All.

They are the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter and the USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter. On the Digital adapter you'll find a spot for the MacBook power and a "regular" USB port, along with a standard HDMI connector. On the VGA adapter there are the same power and USB ports with a VGA adapter instead of HDMI. Here's how your current setup is impacted by Apple's latest vision of Cables What Plug In To Your Mac: 

USB Storage. If you have USB hard drives or flash drives, you'll be fine if you use either of Apple's adapters. Nothing will change since you can plug both power and USB into those adapters. It just means if you ever want to plug in a USB anything while you're out and about, you'll need to have an adapter.

DisplayPort/Thunderbolt Hardware. Yeah…no. Your only option (as of today) is to get a cable that's got a VGA or HDMI connection on the computer end so you can plug it into the appropriate adapter. It's possible that some "plug an adapter into an adapter" gyrations will get you where you need to go, but there's nothing confirmed about what will or will not work in that respect.

Since Apple had two adapters ready to go with this new machine and neither one is Thunderbolt, I don't know that Apple is going to take any action to assist in easing that transition. So if you dropped a grand on one of those gorgeous Thunderbolt Displays but still have a MacBook's worth of money burning a hole in your pocket, this new machine may not be the ideal choice.

FireWire Devices. If you still use these but think you're in the market for a new computer, you may want something slightly less portable. It's only slightly because you can still purchase the 13" non-Retina MacBook Pro which includes a FireWire 800 port. You can see other differences in Apple's laptop comparison chart.

It's always rough to switch to the new thing, to be sure. But longtime Mac users will remember switching to the current USB from ADB, and it was hard but so much better afterward. Recently bidding the 30-pin connector farewell was also traumatic because of the decade of collecting those cables, but once USB-C becomes more prevalent we'll wonder how we got along without it, just like we do on the other side of every change.