A new world of adaptor angst
Clear up your connectivity confusion with a little adaptor advice
The new models of MacBook Pro have Thunderbolt 3 ports, which use a USB-C connector, but aside from a 3.5mm headphone jack they lack any other kind of
connector for peripherals. There isn’t even an SD card reader. You’ll need adaptors to connect devices that use a different connector, whether that’s a display, a printer, external storage or something else.
Apple makes a few adaptors, but there are other options that cost less if you only need to use one external device, and more flexible options if you need more ports than that. Here are things to consider.
What’s in a name?
USB-C, or USB Type-C, is the physical connector used by both Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1. Like Apple’s Lightning connector, it’s reversible, so there’s no fuss working out which way to insert it into a port.
On a 12-inch MacBook, the USB-C ports are limited to USB 3.1 Gen 1’s 5Gbps maximum transfer rate, which is the same theoretical peak as you get from USB 3.0. Apple’s brand-new MacBook Pros are the first Macs to support USB 3.1 Gen 2’s increased bandwidth of 10Gbps, which matches first-generation Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt 3 is the king of throughput, though, with a maximum rate of 40Gbps.
Using a USB-A device
Apple sells its own USB-C to USB-A adaptor for £19, which includes a short length of cable between the two ends. You could use that with an older USB hub to add more of the older port type. Satechi sells a similar adaptor that dispenses with an integrated extension cable. It’s just £8 (amzn.to/2fLaV0W). Thunderbolt 3 docks are already on the way. Belkin has an eight-port model with a £350 price tag, and OWC’s offering has 13 ports for $300 (about £240). You don’t have to go to such expense if you won’t be using high-performance Thunderbolt 3 devices; a USB 3.1 dock may meet your needs. Satechi’s Slim Aluminium Type-C Multi-Port Adapter (£58, amzn.to/2fdWuji) is equipped with two USB-A ports, a USB-C charging port, and a 4K-capable HDMI port (limited to a 30Hz refresh rate).
Adding a display
Apple’s two USB-C multiport adaptors have either a VGA or an HDMI port (with the right cable, you can connect a DVI display). Each has a USB-C power port and a USB-A port.
To connect a screen over full-size or Mini DisplayPort (say, to get a 60Hz refresh rate from a 4K monitor), ignore Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adaptor – strangely, it works with Thunderbolt displays but not DisplayPort; Google sells a USB-C to DisplayPort cable (£33, bit.ly/2fyLME6), to which you might add a Mini Displayport (1.2) adaptor, though we haven’t tried it.
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Apple’s USB-C to USB-A adaptor is £19. However, adaptors that are both less expensive and smaller are available.