All About USB-C: Resistors And Emarkers

If you’ve been following along our USB-C saga, you know that the CC wire in the USB-C cables is used for communications and polarity detection. However, what’s not as widely known is that there are two protocols used in USB-C for communications – an analog one and a digital one. Today, let’s look at the analog signalling used in USB-C – in part, learn more about the fabled 5.1 kΩ resistors and how they work. We’ll also learn about emarkers and the mysterious entity that is VCONN!

USB-C power supply expects to sense a certain value pulldown on the CC line before it provides 5 V on VBUS, and any higher voltages have to be negotiated digitally. The PSU, be it your laptop’s port or a charger, can detect the pulldown (known as Rd) because it keeps a pullup (known as Rp) on the CC line – it then checks if a voltage divider has formed on CC, and whether the resulting voltage is within acceptable range.

If you plug a device that doesn’t make a pulldown accessible through the CC wire in the cable, your device will never get power from a USB-C port, and would only work with a USB-A to USB-C cable. Even the smarter devices that can talk the digital part of USB-C are expected to have pulldowns, it’s just that those pulldowns are internal to the USB-C communication IC used. A USB-C port that wants to receive power needs to have a pulldown.

This part is well-known by now, but we’ve seen lack-of-resistor failures in cheap devices aplenty, and the colloquial advice is “add 5.1 kΩ resistors”. You might be afraid to think it’s so simple, but you’d be surprised. Continue reading “All About USB-C: Resistors And Emarkers”