The reversible USB Type-C connector is turning heads at CES

A cable connector is an odd thing to get excited about, but when it's something as ubiquitous as USB you can perhaps forgive people for getting a little worked up.

The new Type-C connector has been making some appearances at the International CES this week, and it brings several improvements that are worth paying attention to if you're a USB user, which most people will be for some time yet, at least until everything goes wireless.

Having handled a Type-C connector here I can tell you that it felt very sturdy, so despite being as slender as a Micro USB connector it doesn't seem like we'll have a "bendgate" over USB Type-C.

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One of the chief benefits is that the connector is reversible, so you won't have to worry any more about plugging it in upside down. Also, both ends of a Type-C cable can be identical, so there's no small end for your phone and big end for your PC, as with Micro USB.

It's also faster. The Type-C connector works with the latest USB 3.1 standard, which operates at up to 10Gbps. That's twice as fast as the USB 3.0 standard supported by current USB connectors. (The letter refers to the shape of the connector, while the USB version number denotes its speed and other capabilities.)

A third benefit of Type-C is that it can deliver greater amounts of power -- up to 100 watts. That means you should be able to charge something as big as a laptop via a USB cable, as well as the phones and other small devices you can charge today.

The USB Implementers Forum has been demonstrating the technology this week at CES. On Monday evening it showed it transferring data between two SSD drives and a computer at sustained speeds over 800 MBps.

Jeff Ravencraft, president and COO of the USB Implementers Forum, pointed out to us that that was first-generation silicon being used and that the SSD drives were at capacity. He's confident he'll soon get to throughput of well over 1GBps.

He also noted that the cable itself is only one piece of the puzzle. It will be up to device makers and PC makers to build support for Type-C connectors and USB 3.1 into their products.

Taiwanese systems builder MSI is showing a gaming motherboard at CES with USB 3.1 and a Type-C connector. And DisplayLink, which makes docking stations, is demonstrating compatibility between Type-C and standard Type-A connectors at its booth.

Nokia's N1 tablet is among the first products that have been announced with a Type-C connector port. Nokia has said it will go on sale in February in China and soon after in other countries.

Although the USB 3.1 spec was only recently finalized, the Implementers Forum is already researching ways to increase its speed, which will make it more competitive with the Thunderbolt technology developed by Apple and Intel.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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