One of the challenges of living in a digital world is dealing with the multitude of cables and connectors that we need to use every day. Among them, USB cables are one of the most common types of cables.
But not all USB cables are the same. There are different types of USB cables that vary in shape, size, and speed, and serve different purposes.
In this article, we will explain the differences between the most common types of USB cables and connectors, and how to identify them. We will also provide some useful information about the USB versions, speeds, and power delivery standards.
So, let’s get started.
What Is USB?
USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, and it is a standard that defines the physical shape, size, and format of the connectors, as well as the protocols for communication and power delivery between devices.
USB was developed in the mid-1990s to simplify and standardize the connection of peripherals to computers, such as keyboards, mice, printers, scanners, cameras, and storage devices.
Since then, it has changed a lot with new versions that have higher speeds and more power. The newest USB standard, USB4, was announced in 2019, but it is still not very common. The USB connectors have also been improved, and the most recent one, USB-C, is a big upgrade from the previous USB-A and USB-B.
USB has evolved to support a wide range of devices and applications, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, gaming consoles, TVs, monitors, audio equipment, and more.
The main goal of USB is to make communication and power sources for computer peripherals more standardized, as the word UNIVERSAL in its name suggests.
USB-C is the latest version that comes close to achieving this goal, but even the earlier versions were much better than the previous connection technologies.
What Was There Before USB?
Before USB, users had to deal with different types of large cables and connectors, such as parallel, serial, VGA, and PS/2 ports for keyboards and mice, which looked similar but were not functionally interchangeable.
One of the benefits of USB over these older connections is that it can transfer data and power at the same time, reducing the need for separate power supplies for external devices.
This also allows users to connect multiple monitors together for a seamless viewing experience.
Some Common Terms You Need to Know About Before Learning About USB Types
To understand everything we’re going to explain from here on, you need to understand some common terms and concepts related to USB types, such as USB port, USB cable, USB connector, USB type, and USB version:
|A slot on a device where a USB cable can be plugged in.
|The laptop has two USB ports on the side.
|A cord that has a USB connector on one or both ends.
|The phone charger has a USB cable with a USB-A connector and a Micro-USB connector.
|The part of the USB cable that plugs into the USB port. There are different types and sizes of USB connectors.
|USB-A, USB-B, USB-C, Micro-USB, Mini-USB
|The physical design of the USB connector and port, based on their shape and size.
|USB-A is flat and rectangular, while USB-C is small and oblong.
|The functionality and speed of the USB interface, based on the data transfer rate and power delivery.
|USB 2.0 can transfer data at up to 480 Mbps, while USB 3.2 can transfer data at up to 20 Gbps.
Types of USB Connectors
There are many types of USB connectors that have different shapes and sizes. Some of them are designed for specific devices or purposes, while others are more universal and compatible with various devices.
Here are some of the most common types of USB connectors that you may encounter:
Type-A is the original and most widely used type of USB connector. It is a flat and rectangular interface that you can find on one end of most USB cables.
It is also the type of port that you can find on many computers, laptops, gaming consoles, TVs, and other devices. It is very much likely that you have a lot of cables in your home with a USB Type-A connector on one end.
Type-A connectors can only be inserted in one way.
Type-B is a square-shaped connector that is mostly used for printers and other powered devices that connect to a computer.
It is not very common these days, as most devices have moved on to smaller connectors. Type-B connectors can also only be inserted in one way.
Mini-USB is a smaller version of the Type-B connector that was standard for mobile devices a while back. It can be used for charging or transferring data from devices like cameras, MP3 players, GPS units, and some older smartphones.
Mini-USB connectors come in two variants: Type-A Mini and Type-B Mini. They can also only be inserted in one way.
Micro-USB is another smaller version of the Type-B connector that is still widely used for mobile and portable devices. It is a tiny 5-point connector.
It is even smaller than Mini-USB and can also be used for charging or transferring data from devices like smartphones, tablets, battery packs, game controllers, headphones, and more.
Micro-USB connectors also come in two variants: Type-A Micro and Type-B Micro. They can also only be inserted in one way.
Type-C is the newest and most advanced type of USB connector. It is a reversible and oval-shaped connector that supports fast charging and data transfer. That means, you don’t have to worry about plugging it in the wrong way, because it works both ways.
It can also support multiple functions such as video output, audio output, power delivery, and alternate modes.
This is great for people who make art or music with computers, want to work faster, or anyone who wants to connect things easily. Also, having more screen space can help you work better and faster, and USB-C can do that for you.
You can find Type-C connectors on most modern devices like
- laptops (including MacBooks),
- smartphones (including Pixel phones),
- tablets (including iPad Pro models),
- game controllers (including PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S|X),
- monitors (including some 4K models),
- docking stations (including some Thunderbolt 3 models),
- external hard drives (including some SSD models), and more.
Are There Any Downsides of Using USB Type-C?
USB-C is a relatively new technology, so it may have some compatibility issues with older devices or cables.
Some USB-C devices or cables may not support all the features or modes of USB-C, so you may need to check the specifications before using them. Also, some USB-C cables may be poorly made or unsafe, so you may want to buy from reputable brands or sources.
However, these problems are not very common anymore, as USB-C has become more widely adopted and standardized. Many major manufacturers, such as Microsoft and Intel, have embraced USB-C as the future of connectivity.
The European Union has also proposed to make USB-C the only connector for all electronic devices, to reduce waste and increase convenience. USB-C is here to stay and improve your devices.
Lightning is not a true USB standard, but it is Apple’s proprietary connector for its devices. It has a similar shape to Type-C but it is slightly thinner and narrower.
It can be used for charging or transferring data from devices like
- iPhones (since iPhone 5),
- iPads (except iPad Pro models with Type-C),
- AirPods (except AirPods Pro with wireless charging case),
- iPods (since iPod Touch 5th generation),
- Apple TV remote (since 4th generation),
- Apple Pencil (1st generation),
- Magic Mouse 2 (since 2015),
- Magic Keyboard (since 2015),
- Magic Trackpad 2 (since 2015),
- Beats headphones (some models), and more.
The 8-pins on both sides enable this connector to be used reversibly.
Read this blog post to learn why Apple won’t use Type C on their iPhones even though it’d be great for the end users.
Types of USB Versions
In addition to the types of USB connectors, there are also different versions of USB standards that affect the speed and performance of the connection.
The USB versions are indicated by numbers such as 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 3.1, 3.2, 4.0, etc., which correspond to different generations of development. The higher the number, the faster the speed and the more features supported.
Here is a table that summarizes the main characteristics of the different USB versions:
|Maximum Transfer Speed
|Maximum Power Output
|USB 1.0 / 1.1
|12 Mbps (Full Speed)
|5V, 100 mA
|No longer used by modern devices
|480 Mbps (High Speed)
|5V, 500 mA or 1.5 A via USB Battery Charging standard
|Still used for some devices where slow speed is not an issue; power output may be improved by proprietary fast charging protocols like Quick Charge
|USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen 1 / 3.2 Gen 1
|5 Gbps (SuperSpeed)
|5V, 900 mA or higher via USB Battery Charging standard
|Commonly used for external hard drives, flash drives, and other devices that require high speed; also supports video output via DisplayPort Alternate Mode
|USB 3.1 Gen 2 / 3.2 Gen 2
|10 Gbps (SuperSpeed+)
|5V, 900 mA or higher via USB Battery Charging standard; up to 20V, 5A via USB Power Delivery standard
|Doubles the speed of USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen 1 / 3.2 Gen 1; also supports video output via DisplayPort Alternate Mode
|USB 3.2 Gen 2×2
|20 Gbps (SuperSpeed+)
|Same as USB 3.1 Gen 2 / 3.2 Gen 2
|Uses two lanes of data transfer to achieve twice the speed of USB 3.1 Gen 2 / 3.2 Gen 2; only available with Type-C connectors
|USB4 (aka USB4)
|Up to 40 Gbps (SuperSpeed+)
|Same as USB Power Delivery standard; up to 100W of power at a range of voltages
|The latest and fastest USB standard; supports video output via DisplayPort and Thunderbolt Alternate Modes; backward compatible with previous USB versions; only available with Type-C connectors
How to Identify Different Types of USB Cables and Connectors
With so many types of USB cables and connectors available, it can be confusing to identify what type of cable you need or have.
Here is the visual representation of all the common types of USB cables:
Here are some tips to help you recognize the different types of USB cables and connectors:
Look at the Shape and Size of the Connector.
Compare it with the pictures and descriptions above to see if it matches any of the common types of USB connectors.
Look at the Markings or Labels on the Connector or Cable
Some connectors or cables may have symbols or words that indicate the type of connector or the version of USB standard they support.
For example –
- a Type-C connector may have a “C” symbol on it,
- a Type-A connector may have a “trident” symbol on it,
- a Lightning connector may have an Apple logo on it, and
- a USB 3.x connector may have a “SS” (SuperSpeed) marking on it, etc.
Look at the Color of the Connector or Cable
Some connectors or cables may have different colors that indicate the version of the USB standard they support.
For example –
- a blue connector or cable usually means that it supports USB 3.x,
- a red connector or cable usually means that it supports USB Power Delivery,
- a yellow connector or cable usually means that it supports Always On power, etc.
Look at the Device or Port That You Want to Connect to
Check the specifications or manual of the device or port to see what type of connector or version of USB standard it supports.
Let’s say, if you want to connect your laptop to a monitor that has a Type-C port, you will need a Type-C to Type-C cable that supports DisplayPort Alternate Mode.
How To Choose The Right USB Cable For Your Devices
You need to consider some factors before buying a USB cable, because there are just too many companies manufacturing these nowadays.
Here are some tips to help you pick the right USB cable for your needs.
Know the USB Type and Version
As this article is all about, USB cables have different types of connectors, such as Type-A, Type-B, Type-C, Micro-USB, and Mini-USB.
You need to find the cable that matches the ports of your devices. You also need to check the USB version, such as USB 2.0, USB 3.0, or USB 4.0. The version affects the data transfer speed and power delivery of the cable, as we mentioned before.
Choose a Reputable Manufacturer
Quality matters when it comes to USB cables. You should buy from a trusted brand (like Anker, Ugreen, Cable Matters, or Spigen) that uses high-quality materials and follows safety standards.
Cheap and low-quality cables can damage your devices or cause fire hazards.
Check the Safety Certifications
Safety certifications are proof that the USB cable has passed the tests and inspections of the government or other authorities. They ensure that the cable is safe to use under normal conditions and does not pose any risk of electric shock, short-circuit, or fire.
Look for the certification labels or logos on the cable or its packaging. Here are three of the most common labels:
- USB-IF logos: These logos indicate that the cable has passed the compliance tests and inspections of the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), a nonprofit organization that promotes and supports USB standards.
- 240W mark: This mark shows that the cable can support the new 240W USB-C Extended Power Range (EPR) Cable specification, which allows for faster charging and data transfer speeds. The mark can be displayed on a sticker or on the cable over the mold.
- UL 9990 Outline: This is a safety evaluation and certification solution for the power transmission of USB cables, based on the UL 9990 Outline of Investigation for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Power Cables. This outline reinforces the safety-critical aspects of power transmission, such as fire hazards, electric shock, and arcing mitigation.
Consider the Build Type
The build type of the USB cable affects its durability and flexibility. Rubber cables are common, but they can wear out over time due to environmental factors.
Braided cables are more sturdy and resistant to kinks and twists. They also come in different colors and designs.
USB cables are essential for connecting and powering various devices and peripherals in today’s world. However, there are many different types of USB cables and connectors that have different shapes, sizes, speeds, and features.
By understanding the differences between them, you can choose the right cable for your needs and avoid compatibility issues.
We hope this article has helped you learn more about the different types of USB cables and connectors, and how to identify them. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Types of USB Cables
How Can I Tell If My USB Cable Is 2.0 or 3.0?
One easy way to identify the version of your USB cable is to look at the color of the plastic block inside the connector. This is where the data and power pins are located. If the plastic block is black, then you have a USB 2.0 cable. If it is blue, then you have a USB 3.0 cable. And if it is red, then you have a USB 3.2 cable. This method works for most branded cables.
What Is ‘OTG’ in USB Terms?
OTG stands for USB On-the-Go, which is a feature that allows two USB devices to communicate with each other. This means that one USB device can act as a host for another USB device, instead of both being connected to a computer.
For example, you can use a USB OTG cable to connect a USB keyboard (the device) to your phone or tablet (the host) and type on it as you would on a laptop. This is possible because of a special pin in the USB connector that enables this function.
Can I Use a 3.0 USB Cable With a 2.0 Device?
Yes! You can plug a USB 3.0 cable into a USB 2.0 device without any problem. This is because USB 3.0 cables are backward compatible with USB 2.0 devices. However, you should keep in mind that using a USB 3.0 cable with a USB 2.0 device will not increase the data transfer speed beyond the limit of USB 2.0.
How Long Should My USB Cable Be?
The maximum recommended cable length for USB 2.0 is 5 meters or around 16 feet. This is the longest maximum length of any standard, passive USB cable specification, with USB 1.0 cables restricted to just three meters. However, it is possible to extend USB 2.0 cables out to 30 meters (98 feet) using an active cable
The maximum recommended cable length for USB 3.0/3.1 devices is 3 meters (or about 9 feet and 10 inches) but with a high-quality cable, you should be able to go beyond 3 meters. Active USB 3.0/3.1 cables have a maximum length of 18 meters (59 feet).
How to Dispose of USB Cables Properly?
USB cables are a common source of e-waste that can harm the environment if not disposed of properly. The best way to get rid of your old USB wires is to recycle them through organizations like WEEECharity. They are experts in handling old cables and other electronic devices in an eco-friendly way. Some of them even offer free collection services for your convenience.
Which USB Cables Can Charge Faster?
Some docking stations, charge hubs, and computers have special ports that are designed for fast charging. These ports can deliver more power to charge your mobile devices like phones and tablets faster than normal USB ports and adapters.
There are also specific USB cables that are made for fast charging. These cables can support higher currents and voltages than standard USB cables. To find out the exact charge speed of these ports and cables, you should check the product specifications.