Apple has supported USB 3.1 since 2015’s single-port MacBook release, but both it and the updated 2016 model feature the Gen 1 flavor of USB 3.1. Despite its name, USB 3.1 Gen 1 is basically rebranded USB 3.0, also known as SuperSpeed USB. That means that like USB 3.0, transfer speeds max out at 5 Gbps.
With the upcoming release of macOS Sierra, however, there are strong indications that rumored new Mac hardware will support faster USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds.
USB 3.1 Gen 2 affords faster maximum theoretical speeds of 10 Gbps — double that of Gen 1. It’s marketed as SuperSpeed+ USB on logos, and SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps in written form. Indeed, the USB Implementer’s Forum has quite the mess on its hands with the various names, logos, and potentially misleading nomenclature.
That aside, it’s worth noting that none of the Mac hardware that Apple currently sells supports the Gen 2 variety of USB 3.1. With the upcoming release of macOS Sierra, however, there are strong indications that rumored new Mac hardware will support the faster SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps spec.
Text strings from macOS Sierra show that Apple plans to support USB 3.1 Gen 2 from a software perspective. Since there are no current Macs that support USB 3.1 Gen 2 hardware-wise, this indicates that new Mac hardware may likely ship with updated USB components that support faster throughput speeds.
Localizable strings found in the macOS Sierra beta point to the upcoming change. For comparison, here is the current localizable text string from OS X El Capitan:
…and here is the new string found in the latest macOS Sierra beta:
Notice the addition of the super_speed_plus string, indicating future support for 10 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 in upcoming Mac hardware.
While such a string doesn’t paint the entire picture of what we might see when new Macs are unveiled, it does at least indicate that serious attention is being placed on the hardware’s I/O capabilities.
For example, it’s possible that we could see support for Thunderbolt 3 in the highly anticipated MacBook Pro refresh. It’s worth noting that 10 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2 is built in to Thunderbolt 3.
Thunderbolt 3 is particularly exciting, because it not only provides support for 10 Gbps USB 3.1 Gen 2, but it also lets users take advantage of blazing-fast 40 Gbps Thunderbolt connectivity and DisplayPort 1.2. Thunderbolt 3 combines all of these features into a single USB-C port that can handle 4K and 5K display output, peripheral I/O, and power delivery.
If you’ve ever tried to use an external display with the current-generation MacBook, or even USB-C peripherals, then you’ll quickly appreciate how much of an improvement that such changes would make possible.
Whether or not we will actually see Thunderbolt 3 support in upcoming Macs is still to be determined, but the fact that we see USB 3.1 Gen 2 text strings in the macOS Sierra beta makes such an advancement a real possibility.
Needless to say, the potential of upgraded USB-C ports, along with the addition of an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) touch panel, and Touch ID, make the upcoming MacBook Pro one of the most anticipated Macs in recent history.
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