USB Type-C speed test

Gor­don Mah Ung re­veals why your lap­top’s ports could be slower than you ex­pected

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

USB Type-C is the in­trigu­ing new port that be­gan ap­pear­ing in lap­tops, tablets, phones, and other de­vices well over a year ago, but we had no real way to test its through­put per­for­mance un­til now. Thanks to San­Disk’s Ex­treme 900, we’re fi­nally able to push that tiny re­versible port to its lim­its. To do that, we gath­ered up eight lap­tops equipped with USB Type-C ports, and threw in a desktop PCIe card for good mea­sure, too.

What your USB Type-C port isn’t telling you

USB Type-C is sup­posed to be a univer­sal stan­dard, but it’s just uni­ver­sally con­fus­ing. It can run at ei­ther 5- or 10Gb/s and still be la­belled USB 3.1 by the lap­top maker. Type-C even tech­ni­cally sup­ports USB 2.0 speeds at a pa­thetic 480Mb/s. So when you see a Type-C port, the only as­sump­tion you can make is that its trans­fer speeds can vary from as low as 480Mb/s to a high of 10Gb/s.

To muddy things even fur­ther, In­tel’s Thun­der­bolt 3 tech­nol­ogy uses the same Type-C port for trans­fers over PCIe. It’ll also sup­port USB 3.1’s 10Gb/s.

There’s a longer dis­cus­sion to be had about Thun­der­bolt 3 and video-out sup­port over USB Type-C, but that’s for another day. We did, how­ever, write about Power De­liv­ery and not-so-univer­sal charg­ing on Type-C.

What’s prob­a­bly in your lap­top

A few key fac­tors im­pact per­for­mance over USB Type-C. Ob­vi­ously, the first is your com­puter’s source drive. If you’re copy­ing from an in­ter­nal hard drive, for ex­am­ple, you won’t get near the speed of the port, be­cause most drive in­ter­faces can’t match Type-C’s top speed.

The other ma­jor fac­tor is the con­troller chip that’s used for the port. There are two pop­u­lar pro­ces­sors on the mar­ket to­day. The first is ASMe­dia’s ASM1142. It’s a USB 3.1, 10Gb/s chip found in a lot of the early lap­tops and desk­tops that im­ple­mented USB-C. We didn’t have a lap­top with the con­troller, so we threw an Atech Black­B1rd MX1 PCIe card with the con­troller into a desktop sys­tem. The per­for­mance should be pretty much the same as you’d get out of a lap­top. In­tel’s pricey Thun­der­bolt 3 chip, which in­cludes USB 10Gb/s ca­pa­bil­i­ties, is another can­di­date.

The last op­tion you’ll find in many lap­tops is the USB 3.0 con­troller built into the In­tel core logic chipset. This same chip con­trols the stan­dard USB 3.0 Type A square ports. Many PC mak­ers sim­ply plumb this sig­nal into the oval USB Type-C con­nec­tor. This is the most com­mon so­lu­tion be­cause it’s cheaper and doesn’t consume more power. How­ever, its pres­ence also means that any USB 3.1 Type-C port is stuck at USB 3.0’s max­i­mum speed of 5Gb/s.

How we tested

For our test, we used San­Disk’s Ex­treme 900 SSD, which sup­ports USB Type-C at 10Gb/s speeds. San­Disk builds this 2TB drive by wiring two M.2 SSDs in RAID 0 in­ter­nally. It’s blis­ter­ing fast for a USB drive. Plug­ging into each lap­top’s USB Type-C port, we then ran the AS SSD stor­age bench­mark for pure se­quen­tial trans­fer speed across the port.

The re­sults speak for them­selves in the bench­mark chart op­po­site, ranked from high­est- to low­est-per­form­ing. Each en­try lists the lap­top make and model along with the USB con­troller.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the lap­top mak­ers that re­sorted to the low­est-cost op­tion (wiring the in­cluded In­tel USB 3.0 5Gb/s con­trol-

ler to the USB Type-C port) give you 5Gb/s per­for­mance. We didn’t test a 12in MacBook be­cause AS SSD doesn’t run in OS X, but it uses the same con­troller, so ex­pect it to be sim­i­lar to the oth­ers here.

Of greater in­ter­est is the per­for­mance of the 10Gb/s chips: the ASMe­dia chip and the Thun­der­bolt 3. In the chart, that’s rep­re­sented by the two Dell XPS lap­tops for Thun­der­bolt and the ASMe­dia chip in the desktop. In th­ese tests, the ASMe­dia has a slight edge on the Thun­der­bolt 3 con­troller. Ven­dors have told us their own in­ter­nal test­ing backs that up.

There’s one more rather in­ter­est­ing wild­card in the test, and that’s the Sam­sung Note­book 9 Pro lap­top. This 15.6in lap­top takes an un­usual ap­proach with its USB Type-C port by in­te­grat­ing an In­tel Alpine Ridge Thun­der­bolt 3 chip, but opt­ing to use only the USB sup­port in it. In the de­vice man­ager, it even shows up as an In­tel USB 3.1 con­troller as you can see from the screen shot above.

Sam­sung of­fi­cials con­firmed the lap­top doesn’t sup­port Thun­der­bolt 3. We even tested it with an Aki­tio Thun­der­bolt 3 drive to con­firm. Why Sam­sung did this we don’t know. We do know that the per­for­mance was slower. It was faster than the USB Type-C port that uses the In­tel chip, but slower than the ASMe­dia and full Thun­der­bolt 3 lap­tops.


One look at the bench­mark chart should tell you that there are real ben­e­fits to hav­ing a full USB 3.1 10Gb/s port in a lap­top or desktop PC. The most ob­vi­ous is the time saved wait­ing for files to copy to your USB drive. The other is tak­ing full ad­van­tage of that great new USB 3.1 10Gb/s drive you just bought. As USB Type-C ports start ap­pear­ing on more ma­chines, it’ll pay to read the fine print in the spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

The San­Disk Ex­treme 900 drive is among the first true USB 3.1 10Gb/s drives

Not all USB Type-C ports are cre­ated equal

The Sam­sung Note­book 9 Pro ap­pears to use just the USB 3.1 por­tion of an In­tel Thun­der­bolt 3 con­troller

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