Explaining the ‘USB 3.1 Gen 1’ port in Apple’s new 12-inch MacBook

“Apple’s spec page for the new MacBook says that this port supports ‘USB 3.1 gen 1,’ [about] which there hasn’t been much discussion,” Andrew Cunningham reports for Ars Technica.

“We know that the USB Implementers Forum finalized the USB 3.1 spec back in 2013, and that it raises the theoretical bandwidth of the USB bus from USB 3.0’s 5Gbps to 10Gbps,” Cunningham reports. “That’s not the version of the USB 3.1 spec that Apple is offering.”

“The 10Gbps version of USB 3.1 that you probably think of when you think about USB 3.1 is called ‘USB 3.1 Gen 2,'” Cunningham reports. “USB 3.0 has retroactively been renamed ‘USB 3.1 Gen 1,’ and it retains a theoretical transfer rate of 5.0 Gbps. The USB-IF has confirmed to us that ‘USB 3.1 Type 1’ uses the same controllers as USB 3.0, so we can expect to see some early Broadwell-based Type C systems like the Retina MacBook come with ‘USB 3.1’ even though they’re using what we have heretofore known as ‘USB 3.0’ controllers.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Yup, it’s a confusing mess.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “mpias3785” for the heads up.]

22 Comments

  1. Why in the eff did they use this if it doesn’t use Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt daisy chaining had finally allowed me to create monitor docking stations, with multiple laptops attached, that can easily be switched through with a single button.

    My Thunderbolt setup moves the keyboard, mouse, displays, hard drives, and everything else from one laptop to the other with a single button. Am I going to have to hope the MacBook Pro redesign still has Thunderbolt, or start moving backward and rethinking my office setup?

    1. For a variety of reasons. One is that it offers more power and in both directions as compared to Thunderbolt. I think it may be a while before Apple kills of Thunderbolt in the Pros though.

  2. I haven’t leaped yet. My newest devices are USB 3.0 and 811.ac.

    Interesting to see the fate of TB (and Lightning, tho’ that seems good for a while yet), the whole MB Air line (hey, an unintended pun), and what the MBr offerings will be in a year…. ….I’m betting fairly re-shaped in various ways…

    ….I happily picked up an Apple Store refurb – a 2013 i7/8GB/512SSD – two months ago as a bridge machine, and expect it will serve me well until I’m ready for a new workhorse sometime in the second half of next year.

    Like maybe a 2016 version of the 5K iMac – or its successor…. …since this current one will still meet my traveling needs….

  3. Only the PC guys could come up with names like that.

    Apple: Firewire. Comes in two speeds 400 or 800. So simple even children could learn it.
    This USB 3 is not even out of the gate and the naming is already confusing.
    Once again, designed and named by engineers. No average user testing was probably done.

    1. Clearly you don’t know the history of Firewire. It never was that simple.

      It started out as a 50 Mbps link back in about 1989 or 1990, moved to 200 Mbps and finally caught on at 400 Mbps. All variants up through 400 Mbps used the same connector. (Just as an aside, Apple came out with Firewire as a potential replacement to SCSI about the same time it came out with QuickRing [though QuickRing wasn’t officially ever announced as an Apple implementation and to my knowledge only one video card manufacturer ever implemented it as a publicly shipping product], Apple’s proposed replacement for NUBUS then it migrated to a bus parallel to NUBUS and eventually died. I remember reading the technical details on both back in 1990 and getting pretty excited about both of them.)

      At the time of the 400 Mbps copper connection Firewire was also specified in fiber at up through 1600 Mbps, although I don’t know of any commercially available implementations of that early fiber standard.

      Then came 800 Mbps and a new connector. The new connector was initially spec’d up through 1600 Mbps over copper, though the initial 1600 Mbps spec was never mass produced in any computer or accessory. At the same time the fiber variant was upped to 3200 Mbps. Current specifications run Firewire over copper or fiber at up through 6400 Mbps, although I know of no vendor ever having shipped anything with that implemented 6400 Mbps.

      USB 3 has been implemented on end user computers and peripherals for well over a year. It is very much “out of the gate”.

      Yes, renaming “USB 3.0” to “USB 3.1 Gen 1” was truly asinine.

      Add to that the plain fact that USB-C and other USB connector types are often independent of the USB 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 3.0, 3.1 data stream implementation makes it even more confusing. In theory (though I don’t know why anyone would do it) a computer manufacturer could implement a USB-C connector that only supports USB 1.0, 1.1, and 2.0 (and not even USB 2.0 High Speed). Virtually everyone I’ve talked to in the past year (except for the hard core USB guys/gals) ASSUME that USB-C implements at least USB 3.1 Gen 1. In fact, most general users assume that USB-C automatically means USB 3.1 Gen2. This is absolutely not a requirement of USB-C.

      1. I do know the development of Firewire. As a Mac networking guy since 1989 I was quite familiar with LocalTalk, ethernet, token ring, SCSI and ADB. Absolutely loved showing off Target mode with my PowerBook 170 and SCSI connector to a desktop Mac.

        When we first heard of Firewire and the possibility of 1600 Mbps on fiber, that just blew our minds, considering the current speed of SCSI.

        I also had to deal with the PC idiots that said Firewire was going to die when the news hit of the high price Apple was charging for installing a firewire port on equipment. One of the few mistakes Apple made. If that has been cheaper, we might have seen the fiber version become heavily used.

        Back to my point. In everyday computer life of the average Joe, they only knew of Firewire 400 or 800. Simple.

  4. This really isn’t an issue. It’s 5Gbps versus 10Gbps on a device that everyone acts like as if you’re stuck in the 1980s if you even have anything to plug into it to begin with.

    Really, the new MacBook would be a dream machine for me (and many others) if it just had one more USB-C port. But I seriously doubt many, if anyone at all, would ever even notice the 5Gbps versus 10Gbps port.

    I have to wonder how that would even limit the internal read/write speed of the new MacBook to begin with.

    1. You either buy a cheap USB-C to USB-A adapter and plug into a generic USB 3.0 hub that can handle the wattage, or you buy the $80 Apple adapter that plugs into the MacBook and provides three ports: USB-C (for the charger), USB-A (for other devices), and HDMI (for a monitor). If that isn’t enough, plug a hub into the USB-A port. Alternatively, charge at night and use your other devices during the day.

        1. Yes all a bit of a con really as they know many users will need that adapter to have even base flexi ility, so the computer price is really that much more for many people expecially those who don’t use it as a part timer. Let’s be honest it’s expensive for a part timer. Have to hope third parties offer cheaper adapters pretty soon. Would it really have been a problem to add a second port?

  5. Speaking of USB… There’s a default security hole in USB such that it is possible to plug in a malicious USB device and have it PWN your Mac. This is thanks to Intel’s poor protection of the USB firmware in their spec. Here’s an article about it from Dan Goodin at Ars Technica:

    http://arstechnica.com/security/2014/07/this-thumbdrive-hacks-computers-badusb-exploit-makes-devices-turn-evil/

    Where this has been proven to be a practical problem is when using a USB charger found out-in-the-wild, such as at an airport. It’s easy to stuff the electronics described in the article above into any old USB port-in-the-wall and have it PWN your device (iOS device in this case).

    There ARE, happily, ‘USB condoms’ you can use to remove the sync wiring to your devices, allowing only charging to occur. Here is one:

    http://syncstop.com

    Security expert, developer and commentator has suggested the creation of similar ‘USB condoms’ for USB-C. But of course no one is going to charge their MacBook via USB using USB-C. This is only a concern as USB-C becomes universal, including presumably on iOS devices. Except! I suspect there will be the possibility of buying a third party USB-C charger for the MacBook that has been fiddled-with. As per usual, any such charger from China would be suspect.

    1. HOLD THE PRESSES!

      Coincidentally, I just found this article written at TidBITS today:

      Macs Not Vulnerable to BadUSB Attack

      Gizmodo seems to believe the 12-inch MacBook is vulnerable to this direct attack, even going so far as to suggest that the NSA will distribute hacked USB-C power adapters designed to take over your notebook. But unlike Thunderstrike on vulnerable Macs (see “Thunderstrike Proof-of-Concept Attack Serious, but Limited,” 9 January 2015), the USB port uses Intel’s xHCI (eXtensible Host Controller Interface), which can’t be placed into a DFU (device firmware upgrade) mode to overwrite the MacBook’s firmware. Thus the MacBook itself can’t be infected with BadUSB, so plugging in an unknown power adapter can’t give someone control of your MacBook.
      . . .
      We could be missing something, but it looks like The Verge and Gizmodo have it wrong, and USB-C represents no new risk to Macs. The NSA will have to think of something less silly than leaving infected USB-C power adapters throughout the nation’s coffee shops.

      Well well! 😀 ☺☀🍰😎

  6. As much as I love the OPTION of Thunderbolt, I get why it’s not on the MacBooks. I have never used it. OI have never used Firewire 800. I used Firewire 400 back in the day and it was great.

    I see Thunderbolt staying where it’s needed — pro machines. Seriously, what kind of things are you doing where you need a “pro port” on a machine where a Core M is choking on your “pro work?”

    My only concern would be target disk mode on a USB-C machine…

  7. Does anyone know what the comparative workload of the computer’s main processor is between Thunderbolt and USB 3.1 Gen 2? Firewire had a processor of it’s own to manage data and freed up the main CPU for work while intensive I/O was going on. UBS historically utilized the main CPU to do the work so the comparative bus speeds between Firewire and USB were not telling you what real world work effects were. Of course if you were just going to do a massive copy and walk away from the computer, there would be little difference to the user for a given bus speed.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.