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Why is USB Type-C so important?

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Over the past decade, devices using the Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard have become part of our daily lives. From transferring data to charging our devices, this standard has continued to evolve over time, with USB Type-C being the latest version. Here’s why you should care about it.

First, here’s a little history

Chances are you’ve encountered devices that have a USB port, such as a smartphone or computer. But what exactly is the USB standard? Simply put, it’s a communication protocol that allows devices to communicate with other devices using a standardized port or connector. It’s basically what language is for humans.

Here’s an example of a USB hub that uses Type-A connectors (Image credit: Anker)

When USB was first introduced to the market, the connectors used were known as USB Type-A. You’re likely familiar with this connector; it’s rectangular and can only be plugged in a certain orientation. To be able to make a connection, a USB Type-A connector plugs into a USB Type-A port just like how an appliance gets connected to a wall outlet. This port usually resides on host devices such as computers and media players, while Type-A connectors are usually tied to peripherals such as keyboards or flash drives.

There are also USB Type-B connectors, and these usually go on the other end of a USB cable that plugs into devices like a smartphone. Due to the different sizes of external devices, there are a few different designs for Type-B connectors. Printers and scanners use the Standard-B port, older digital cameras and phones use the Mini-B port, and recent smartphones and tablets use the Micro-B port.

Samples of the different USB Type-B connectors. From left to right: Standard-B, Mini-B, and Micro-B (Image credit: Amazon)

Specifications improved through the years

Aside from the type of connectors and ports, another integral part of the USB standard lies in its specifications. As with all specifications, these document the capabilities of the different USB versions.

The first-ever version of USB, USB 1.0, specified a transfer rate of up to 1.5Mbps (megabits per second), but this version never made it into consumer products. Instead, the first revision, USB 1.1, was released in 1998. It’s also the first version to be widely adopted and is capable of a max transfer rate of up to 12Mbps.

The next version, USB 2.0, was released in 2000. This version had a significantly higher transfer rate of up to 480Mbps. Both versions can also be used as power sources with a rating of 5V, 500mA or 5V, 100mA.

Next up was USB 3.0, which was introduced in 2008 and defines a transfer rate of up to 5Gbps (gigabits per second) — that’s a tenfold increase from the previous version. This feat was achieved by doubling the pin count or wires to make it easier to spot; these new connectors and ports are usually colored blue compared to the usual black/gray for USB 2.0 and below. USB 3.0 also improves upon its power delivery with a rating of 5V, 900mA.

In 2013, USB was updated to version 3.1. This version doubles what USB 3.0 was capable of in terms of bandwidth, as it’s capable of up to 10Gbps. The big change comes in its power delivery specification, now providing up to 20V, 5A, which is enough to power even notebooks. Apart from the higher power delivery, power direction is bidirectional this time around, meaning either the host or peripheral device can provide power, unlike before wherein only the host device can provide power.

Here’s a table of the different USB versions:

Version Bandwidth Power Delivery Connector Type
USB 1.0/1.1 1.5Mbps/12Mbps 5V, 500mA Type-A to Type-A,

Type-A to Type-B

USB 2.0 480Mbps 5V, 500mA Type-A to Type-A,

Type-A to Type-B

USB 3.0 5Gbps 5V, 900mA Type-A to Type-A,

Type-A to Type-B

USB 3.1 10Gbps 5V, up to 2A,

12V, up to 5A,

20V, up to 5A

Type-C to Type-C,

Type-A to Type-C

Now that we’ve established the background of how USB has evolved from its initial release, there are two things to keep in mind: One, each new version of USB usually just bumps its transfer rate and power delivery, and two, there haven’t been any huge changes regarding the ports and connectors aside from the doubling of pin count when USB 3.0 was introduced. So, what’s next for USB?

USB Type-C isn’t your average connector

After USB 3.1 was announced, the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) who handles USB standards, followed it up with a new connector, USB Type-C. The new design promised to fix the age-old issue of orientation when plugging a connector to a port. There’s no “wrong” way when plugging a Type-C connector since it’s reversible. Another issue it addresses is how older connectors hinder the creation of thinner devices, which isn’t the case for the Type-C connector’s slim profile.

Here’s how a USB Type-C connector looks like. Left: Type-A to Type-C cable, Right: Type-C to Type-C cable (Image credit: Belkin)

From the looks of it, the Type-C connector could become the only connector you’ll ever need in a device. It has high bandwidth for transferring 4K content and other large files, as well as power delivery that can power even most 15-inch notebooks. It’s also backwards compatible with previous USB versions, although you might have to use a Type-A-to-Type-C cable, which are becoming more common anyway.

Another big thing about USB Type-C is that it can support different protocols in its alternate mode. As of last year, Type-C ports are capable of outputting video via DisplayPort or HDMI, but you’ll have to use the necessary adapter and cable to do so. Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 technology is also listed as an alternate mode partner for USB Type-C. If you aren’t familiar with Thunderbolt, it’s basically a high-speed input/output (I/O) protocol that supports the transfer of both data and video on a single cable. Newer laptops have this built in.

A USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 port (with compatible dock/adapter) does everything you’ll ever need when it comes to I/O ports (Image credit: Intel)

Rapid adoption of the Type-C port has already begun, as seen on notebooks such as Chromebooks, Windows convertibles, and the latest Apple MacBook Pro line. Smartphones using the Type-C connector are also increasing in number.

Summing things up, the introduction of USB Type-C is a huge step forward when it comes to I/O protocols, as it can support almost everything a consumer would want for their gadgets: high-bandwidth data transfer, video output, and charging.

SEE ALSO: SSD and HDD: What’s the difference?

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What you need to know about Elon Musk’s Starlink

The much-awaited internet service is coming sooner than later

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Image by GadgetMatch

Over the last few weeks, reports started pouring in about the possible arrival of Starlink internet service to the Philippines under a partnership between Converge ICT and SpaceX. These reports came after a senator’s meeting with representatives of SpaceX discussing the benefits, possible timeline, and requirements needed from the internet service.

These reports quickly became the talk of the town especially with the frenzy surrounding Starlink. You may have heard it before given the media attention it had received in the past. SpaceX — the company behind Starlink — promised fast network speeds and coverage almost anywhere around the planet with its internet service. There’s so much more to that though, so here are the things you need to know.

What is Starlink?

For those out of the loop, Starlink is a satellite internet service provided by SpaceX. SpaceX is a company founded by Elon Musk that builds next-gen space exploration technologies. The company is also behind the high-profile launches of reusable rockets as well its plans to bring people to Mars.

Starlink works through a constellation of small satellites. These satellites are placed in low to medium Earth orbit, communicating signals through an array of antennas and lasers. They work in tandem with dedicated ground transceivers to receive from and transmit signals to the satellites. In effect, the internet service relies on satellites instead of physical cables to provide an internet connection to consumers.

Image by GadgetMatch

The technology behind Starlink is not a novel one, with the first satellite internet service dating back to the 1990s. However, most of these services ultimately failed due to logistical constraints and the prohibitive costs involved in setting things up. Granted, there had been few services that have seen some success but their adoption is few and far between. Reducing latency and lowering costs for consumers remain major challenges to many satellite internet providers.

Wanting to improve the whole situation, SpaceX began product development of Starlink in 2015. By 2018, it began testing its satellites which culminated in the launch of operational ones last 2019. Just last year, the company reached a milestone by launching up to 60 satellites at a time. This 2021, it is setting its sights for the global coverage of the populated world. Ultimately, SpaceX aims to put about 42,000 satellites in orbit in the future.

One goal of Starlink is to provide people in remote areas with a fast and reliable internet connection, which means a lot for developing countries like the Philippines.

How do I sign-up for the service?

Right now, the company is offering a limited beta service in the US and Canada. If you live in areas where the service is available, you can go ahead and sign-up for the service on Starlink’s website. Not all who signed up can avail of the service though since they are limiting their users at the moment on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you’re lucky, you may receive an email containing further instructions.

What does it feel like to use the service?

During its beta phase, Starlink claims speeds of 50 to 150 Mbps. Latency — which is also a crucial factor in internet-related tasks such as gaming and streaming — ranges from 20ms to 40ms. These figures are far from the advertised 1Gbps speed, as well as the advertised latency of 25ms to 35ms.

Still, those figures are fast enough for everyday use, especially when compared to other satellite internet services. Those figures are also close to the actual experiences by people participating in the limited beta service. For its part, Starlink promises continued improvement to network speed, latency, and software.

Image by GadgetMatch

At the moment, the cost of signing up for Starlink is much higher than availing of a cable internet connection. The satellite setup kit is reported to cost around US$ 499 (PhP 24,000) while monthly fees start at US$ 99 (PhP 5,000). In comparison, PLDT’s internet plans max out at PhP 6,099 for 300Mbps while Globe’s internet plans max out at PhP 9,499 for 1Gbps.

To get connected, Starlink users must configure their setup kits and download the respective app. Each setup kit consists of the satellite dish, Wi-Fi router, power supply, cables, and a mounting tripod.

A clear view of the sky is also a prerequisite for a stable connection. As a note, weather disturbances can affect the connection between the user and the satellite infrastructure.

Starlink also requires its setup equipment to be stationary at all times. This is unlike cellular networks, which are designed to be mobile. While it offers a “wireless” connection to the internet, it still is “fixed” in the sense that it requires constant communication between the transceiver (the satellite dish) and the orbiting satellites.

When is it really coming to the Philippines?

Recent reports suggest that Starlink is coming soon to the country, but no definitive timeline has been given. Rumors suggested that the service will arrive later in Q3 2021. The most recent development squash any hopes of imminent arrival though, with Converge ICT stating that the partnership is still “premature”.

During the later weeks of February, however, Filipinos who signed up for Starlink started receiving a reservation email. The reservation fee costs around US$ 99 (approximately PhP 5,000) though it is fully refundable too. The email also details a possible coverage of the whole country by 2022. The exact date, however, remains unclear at the moment.

Likewise, the internet service still has many obstacles towards its widespread adoption in the country. The initial cost for would-be subscribers comes to mind. As mentioned, the approximate cost of Starlink hovers at PhP 24,000 with a monthly fee amounting to PhP 5,000. For that cost, you are getting better speeds with local telco offerings.

Despite its high cost, the promise of a fast and reliable internet connection is tempting especially in far-flung areas. Reaching out to these far-flung areas is a major challenge for all local telcos since the necessary physical infrastructure is non-existent or hard to setup.  Starlink could reach these areas easily, providing internet connection to those willing to shell out money.

Are there any other things that I should know about the service?

Starlink has garnered some concerns as well, with most directed towards its potential to cause light pollution. The potential to contribute to light pollution is a particular concern for astronomers. Apparently, Starlink’s satellites are bright enough to leave a trail of light, “photobombing” shots of the night sky. To this end, SpaceX said that it is already working on a solution to amend the problem.

As Starlink continues to push forward, more and more people are hoping to get aboard with the service. After all, a fast and reliable internet connection is still far from reality for many people living in remote areas. Hopefully, the service would come sooner as this will greatly improve the current situation of the internet in the Philippines.

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The industry’s next big thing: Cloud gaming explained

It’s gaming on the go, but for internet that’s not slow

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Everybody’s getting into gaming these days, and you can’t blame them. With the pandemic continuing its ravaging ways in the world, people turn to their consoles or PCs for some action. However, not everyone can afford all the expensive PCs and the next-gen consoles when they come out.

Instead, a new player comes into the fray with a pretty great idea. What would happen if you can just play your favorite games from any device? Also, what if we told you that this won’t take up space on your device at all? This is basically what cloud gaming offers to you: a way to play games from any device at any time!

So, how does that actually work? What do you need to ensure quality gameplay, and should you even consider it?

The basics of playing on a cloud

On paper, it’s pretty easy to understand how cloud gaming works. Basically, you have access to a library of games from a cloud storage service. When you subscribe to the service, you can virtually play your library from any device regardless of the specs. Also, you don’t have to worry about storage problems since these games are stored on a server.

It’s no joke when these companies tell you that you can play your games on any device. With their dedicated data servers, they make sure that the games run smoothly once you access them from the cloud. On your end, you will need a strong and consistent internet connection to play the games smoothly.

Several companies already have cloud gaming software available for people to subscribe to. Some examples include NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, Microsoft’s xCloud, and Google Stadia — all of which store PC games on a server. These companies even take the time to update their server hardware every so often to bring the best possible quality.

System requirements for cloud gaming

Much like your ordinary PC or gaming console, companies that run cloud gaming servers need certain equipment to run smoothly. First, these companies must set up active data centers and server farms that run the games. These data centers ensure that games are up and running, while reducing latency. In other words, these serve as the powerhouse of cloud gaming.

Next on the list is the network infrastructure necessary to send these to the users. To ensure that people don’t experience lags when they play their games, companies also invest in acquiring proper data connections. However, in most cases, this isn’t something these companies have control over; it’s mostly coming from their available internet service providers.

On the front-end, companies also provide dedicated hardware and software to house the cloud. For example, NVIDIA integrated GeForce Now into their own cloud streaming device, the NVIDIA Shield back in 2013. Meanwhile, Google Stadia relies heavily on using pre-existing Google software like Google Chrome and the Stadia App.

Something great to offer, for the most part

Cloud gaming services offer something unique in the industry. Essentially, it eliminates the user from investing so much into buying expensive PCs as it allows people to play from virtually any device. Whether it’s on a smartphone, laptop, or even a smart TV, people get access to games at high frame rates without an RTX 3080.

Furthermore, the game and save files are stored on the cloud, and don’t take up any storage on your devices. This is greatly beneficial for people who are already running on limited storage space, especially if they play Call of Duty: Warzone. With everything stored on the cloud, you don’t need most of the 512GB of SSD storage.

However, one of the biggest issues with cloud gaming revolves around the thing it’s based on: the internet. Specifically, it’s on the user’s internet connection as these services require the fastest internet to run smoothly on any device. Basically, you will need either an Ethernet or a 5G wireless connection to ensure the lowest latency possible.

That infrastructure isn’t readily available in most markets, which is a prominent issue among several third-world countries. Furthermore, even if there are companies that have 5G in their pipeline, these same providers also put data caps on it. Even if the user can play at an optimal frame rate, they’re doing so with a restriction in place.

Does this new player have any place?

With the world continuously opening its arms to the gaming industry, innovation becomes the forefront of success. Companies come up with a variety of gaming technologies that seek to cater to a wide variety of people. From individual hardware to pre-built systems, gaming often revolved around these things.

With cloud gaming, it gives people not just another option within the mix. Rather, it seeks to challenge the notion of availability and accessibility, and give it a viable solution. Essentially, it takes away the physical hardware limitations on the user’s end, and makes it available for everyone.

But like most gaming technologies, everything is still limited somehow. These systems still experience bottlenecks both on the manufacturer and the user’s end. In the end, it will depend on how much you’re willing to shell out for them, and how willing you are to accept the risks.

Illustrations by Raniedel Fajardo

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Your MagSafe Questions Answered

Do you really need it?

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If you’ve ever owned an old MacBook before, you’ll know that those chargers magnetically snap onto place. That particular technology is called the ‘MagSafe’.

After the MacBook Pro touch bar and USB-C overhaul last 2016, everyone thought MagSafe ended for good. Not until they announced the new MagSafe for the iPhone 12 series four years later.

The MagSafe technology might not be new but the implementation for the latest iPhones makes the technology even more usable. Other than the securely-placed phone for wireless charging, there are a plethora of case manufacturers who continuously work on future accessories that support MagSafe existing ecosystem.

But is the Apple MagSafe more than just a gimmick? And do you really need it?

Watch our in-depth Apple MagSafe explainer here.

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