Jamie Balfour BSc

Welcome to my personal website!

Technology enthusiast

I am very interested in technology, particularly relating to computer science. I am most interested in web design and development.

My main hobby is programming. One of my most well known products from this is ZPE. I also am the sole creator of BalfBlog, BalfBar and BalfSlider.

A little bit about me

In 1997, when I was six years of age, I got my very first computer. I was always very interested in the ins and outs of it and dismantled it to see how it worked.

Years later, in 2016 I received my BSc (with honours) in Computer Science, obtaining a First class degree.

I'd like to welcome you to my website and hope you enjoy using it as much as I have enjoyed building it!

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Jamie Balfour BSc
Full stack developer

Personal Blog

USB-C

USB-C seems set to take over now

The future of physical connectivity in computer systems looks very limited. One day in the future I can foresee all devices connecting with a connection not too dissimilar to USB Type C. The reversible USB connector that was released a year back with the new MacBook was received with both positive and negative responses. For me, it was an incredibly positive product since it does a lot of things in one.

Apple just didn't get it right by releasing it with just the one connector. At the moment, adapters are still not everyone's cup of tea. In fact, for most people, adapters never will be a good solution. 

Anyway, the main point of this post is not talking about the MacBook, it's talking about something that I feel strongly about, physical connectivity.

One connector for all...

I don't really like this one connector for all since I've always liked the idea of different connectors for everything. 

You know, I remember when I made the switch to FireWire over USB about 7 years ago, I thought that buying all my drives with FireWire would be great since it's going to be the future of data connectivity. I know I was late in coming in, but I didn't expect it to be removed from all of my devices within a few years! I mean take my Macs for instance, my Retina MacBook Pro does have a Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter available, but this isn't ideal and it's expensive. My Mac Mini does have a FireWire 800 connector on it but the new models also require the adapter since they no longer feature FireWire on them. My PC is just as annoying however, since it doesn't even have a FireWire header on it. My previous PC (the Zebra, built in 2011) featured a Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3 motherboard which had 3 FireWire connectors (including headers) and then all of a sudden, an upgrade 2 years later to a Gigabyte GA-Z87-UD3H motherboard and a Haswell architecture, and I've suddenly got no FireWire connectors. 

Actually, one of the most annoying things is all of my PCI cards (not PCI-Express) which I've been using since about 1998 when I got my first PC, including a really old, but still useful, video capture card (circa 2000), no longer work on my system since there are no free PCI slots in my system (I have a serial port card and a TV tuner in them). 

A single connector for all also bring about the concern of overloading buses or whether or not everything is polled (as USB is). Speed can become an issue when one connector is used for everything. 

However, one connector for all is a good thing too, since every device you use will use that connector and it's easy to remember what you need to use the device (i.e. a USB-C cable). But many companies, such as Apple, are difficult and try too hard with their own connectors and make the one for all difficult. Look at the Lightning connector for example, every other smartphone uses Micro USB 2.0 or Micro USB 3.0 meaning you can share your charger with any other smartphone user; that is everyone except iPhone users. It never works. One for all is too difficult.

Complications also arise when you are working with very specific applications. I for one still use the 1980s RS232 standard for many things such as electronic circuit boards for experiments (although I'm looking into using a RPi for this in the future) and for control commands for my projector. With a connector like USB-C, this becomes more complicated since RS232 was a highly simple connector, it becomes harder to emulate old standards. 

Another even more annoying thing is having to buy an adapter to make it work with your older devices such as serial port devices. These devices may be hard to come by, but the bigger issue is if we end up needing all these adapters we've got to pay for them, and more specific adapters will probably be fairly expensive.

Here is a comparison table showing how Thunderbolt has changed over the years:

Version Maximum Speed Maximum Power Output Connector Type
Thunderbolt 10Gbps 10W Mini Displayport
Thunderbolt 2 20Gbps 10W Mini Displayport
Thunderbolt 3 40Gbps 100W USB-C

Notice any similarities between Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C that was announced on the new MacBook? That's because they will likely merge.

The conclusion

Here's my solution: make the one connector for all a reality, just keep the old connectors alongside this new connector, thus giving people, like me, the option to use older connectors without needing to buy the adapter. This keeps costs down, but also leaves users of older devices able to continue to use them. Don't cut out USB Type A and replace all mice and keyboards with USB-C connectors. 

We cannot live in a world where we need to keep all of these dongles for everything, it's simply ineffective and expensive, especially when one breaks down. I believe because we have come from a world of loads of different connectors into a world wanting a single connector for all that we will be faced with many problems. This is particularly the case with industries such as the music industry, where devices of today really lack in the connectivity side of things. I mean the world got rid of the Gameport (or MIDI port) without any major problems, but for those who had purchased MIDI devices that used the Gameport-style connector as the input, they had to go out and buy adapters or get new devices. The change can come on too rapidly, especially for some. The slow but very painful disappearance of FireWire in the last few years has made it's mark, even for me since I can no longer connect my FireWire drives to my PC (I can with my Mac mini thankfully). And now companies are phasing out audio jacks and in particular the multi audio jack system, and all in favour of USB or single audio jack solutions.

Let's be clear here; for the majority of Mac users, Thunderbolt is only ever used as a display connector, only utilising the DisplayPort properties of this interconnect. 

Apple and Intel's joint venture surprised many and was one of the key reasons I bought myself a MacBook Pro when I did. Since the MacBook Pro I originally owned (a late 2011 13" Thunderbolt version), Thunderbolt has progressed a long way. Not only has speed been increased, but in terms of the devices using it. Nowadays, it is not surprising to see a docking station adding more video ports, more USB 3.0 ports and gigabit Ethernet to a laptop which has but a few physical connections. Thunderbolt 2 was released in 2013 with a maximum theoretical speed of 20Gb/s compared to the original Thunderbolt specification which could achieve 10Gbps. This was due to the fact that instead of using PCI-Express version 1, Thunderbolt 2 used PCI-Express version 2, which achieves 500MB/s per lane, equivalent to 40Gb/s over a single lane. 

As many of you will know (if you read my website), my biggest interest in computing is physical computer connectivity, which I have had since about the age of 7 or 8 (where I became obsessed with PS/2 and parallel ports).

To me, physical connectivity is the way forward, wireless is a step backwards (in terms of data, not networking, although I still use almost all of my devices through our rather dated [1997/1998] network in the house which only receives moderate upgrades from time to time). This is why I have backed FireWire and Thunderbolt over many wireless standards.

At the same time, Intel has been busy (again working with Apple) developing USB-C, a full-speed USB 3.0 port which has the physical footprint of a Kensington Lock, allowing computers to get thinner and thinner as well as the ability to send video signals (including DisplayPort) and power (back to the device) over the one cable.

Combine USB-C and Thunderbolt together and you get Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 3 supports PCI-Express 3.0 which achieves 78.8Gb/s or 985MB/s per lane. Thunderbolt 3 itself is given a maximum speed of 40Gb/s, which is a crazy amount of speed. What this now means is that a PCI-Express version 2 graphics card could be used external through the Thunderbolt 3 interface with no real problems. Intel even demonstrated this with the release of Thunderbolt 3.

What I am really hoping for now is Apple to release a USB-C-Thunderbolt 3 combination display that also features more than one damn input (this is the reason that I still do not have one of these displays and probably never will). This way they could ditch the MagSafe power lead and replace it with the single connector and it really would be the most fantastic way to dock your Mac.

Other than that, the bonus speed Thunderbolt 3 offers would be nice too, but perhaps not worth the extra money for a new computer at the moment.

To me personally, the release of USB-C was one of the most important releases of the last decade due to the fact that it really could become the connector that appears everywhere (oh how this saddens me too).

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