Each new version of USB connectors and ports has become more functional. This allows for lighter, more portable, and smaller devices. New standards offer more power, speed, and versatility, but they also provide various capabilities and features to consider when choosing the suitable cable or peripheral for your application.
What is a USB?
In the 1990s, office desktops were full of proprietary, parallel, and serial cables. The Universal Serial Bus (USB), which simplified computer connectivity via a small and inexpensive interface, changed everything. The dominant wired interface for smartphones, tablets, and laptops is USB, which has serval of devices.
USB evolved through several standards (see Table 1), which specify how cables connect, communicate, and supply power to computers and mobile devices. USB4 is the latest version and represents a leap forward in data transfer speed and video resolution.
Types of USB Connectors
The connector at either end of a USB cable can be used to distinguish them. These are the most popular types.
This connector is found at the end of most USB cables. This connector is rectangular and only works in one direction. Virtually every laptop and the desktop computer has several USB-A ports. You’ll find one or more USB-A ports on many TVs, games systems, cars, media players, and other devices.
There are no USB-A cables on either end. This is because there isn’t any situation where this would be of use. Connecting two computers using a USB-A cable can cause damage to them both.
This connector is an older one that isn’t used as much nowadays. It is almost square at the end and plugs into a printer or another similar device. It’s been mostly replaced by the more recent standards below.
This is a smaller type of connection that can be used for mobile devices, as the name implies. Although it has been replaced mainly by micro-USB in recent years, you will still find it on specific cameras and MP3 players.
This connector is small and easy to use on all types of portable devices. A micro-USB port is used by everything, from Android phones to Bluetooth headphones to external battery packs. Some smartphones, however, have switched to the USB-C port.
This is the latest standard for USB. USB-C can connect two devices with USB-C ports, unlike older cables with USB A on one end and another type of cable. It can also be used in reverse,
Which is another difference from the other types?
Manufacturers are slowly adopting USB-C. Manufacturers are slowly adopting USB-C for newer Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S9 or Google Pixel. Apple’s latest MacBook Pro and MacBook Pro models also have USB-C ports.
Thunderbolt is a hardware interface that connects to USB-C. This standard allows a USB cable and port to transmit data at high speeds, connect to high-resolution displays, and perform other tasks.
Thunderbolt 3 is not supported by every USB-C port. Apple’s latest MacBook Pro models have several Thunderbolt 3 USBC ports. Thunderbolt 3 support is not available on the standard MacBook’s USB-C port.
Although this is not a USB standard, we included it because it was complete. Apple uses the Lightning cable as a connector in its mobile devices since late 2012. It’s reversible, just like USB-C. Apple iPhone and iPad users can plug in a Lightning-to-USB-A cable to charge their devices, connect to a computer, and much more.
USB Speed Standards
USB has made several updates to its standards throughout its existence. Its speed defines each USB cable and port.
Although USB 1.0 was first released in 1996, it wasn’t until 1998 that USB 1.1 was available. This officially launched the era USB. It could only use USB-A or USB-B connectors and was therefore considered outdated by modern standards. It is doubtful that you will find any USB 1.x cables or devices today.
With the 2.0 update in 2000, USB received a significant overhaul. It supports faster speeds than version 1 and includes support for many of the ports. It also supports USB OTG (On the Go) support. This allows two USB devices directly to communicate. An adapter can be used to connect an ordinary USB keyboard to an Android smartphone.
USB 2.0 can still be found in less expensive flash drives and many keyboards and mice. It’s most likely USB 2.0 if a cable or port does not have USB 3 markings as described below.
USB 3.0 was launched in 2008. Later, iterations of 3.1 and 3.2 were added. The biggest improvement is transferring data at speeds up to ten times faster than USB 2.0.
The blue color and lightning bolt logo will identify USB 3.x ports and cables. These devices can be plugged into any USB 2.0 port or vice versa. This will limit you to USB 2.0 speeds.
USB 3.0 is used by many external hard drives and flash drives. USB-C cables can always be used as USB 3. For USB 3.0 compatibility, older cable types like micro-USB require a special connector. This connector is often found on external hard drives to take advantage of USB 3.0 speeds.
You now know the different types of USB cables available and how they are used. You can generally plug standard devices such as keyboards and mice into a USB 2.0 port. Speed is not a priority. However, for best results, any device that transfers data (e.g., an external hard drive) should be connected to a USB 3.
It will be interesting to see if USB-C replaces the older standard. We’ll still have USB-A ports for many years to support older devices.
What’s new in USB4?
USB 4 (officially, “USB4” with no space) is an important update. It helps resolve confusion about USB 3.x naming and provides users with a consistent and predictable experience. A USB-C-to-USB-C cable is required for the USB4 protocol.
Data transfer rates up to 40Gbps- USB4 devices must support 20 Gbps (2.4 Gb/sec). If they use the Gen 3 shorter cable, they can support 40 Gbps (4.8GB/sec).
Multiple Data and Display Protocols- Protocol tunneling is a method that allows USB4 to support USB 3.2, Display Port 1.4a, and PCIe. Alt Mode supports Thunderbolt 3 and Display Port 3.2.
Backward compatibility- USB 3.2, USB 2.0, and Thunderbolt 3 USB4 are compatible with older versions of the USB specification. It also supports TB3 Alt Mode thanks to its Thunderbolt 3 foundation.
Video and data bandwidth optimization- USB 3.2 gave video 100% bandwidth, or data only, and in DP Alt Mode, it did the same. Based on actual usage, USB4 dynamically allocates bandwidth for video and data.
100 Watt Charging- All USB4 devices can support USB Power Delivery. USB PD creates a contract to supply power to a USB4 device connected to a USB4 port.
What is Protocol Tunneling?
Devices communicate with each other using a protocol. A connection can only be established if both devices can understand and speak the same protocol. Protocol Tunneling is a way to create a connection between two devices using one protocol.
The pipe can then be used to send data in another protocol. USB4 Protocol Tunneling is creating a USB-C tunnel that DisplayPort and PCIe data can pass through. USB4 Protocol Tunneling works similarly to Alt Mode but does not require a DP controller or PCIe controller.
What is USB4 Fabric?
Fabric is a metaphor that describes a network of interconnected nodes such as switches. The crisscross pattern looks like woven cloth when illustrated. The USB Implementers Forum adopted this term to describe the dynamic management of the USB4 routers’ connections. It allows multiple protocols to share the fabric’s resources.
Apple to Support USB4?
Apple’s new MacBooks will be the first to utilize Apple Silicon’s Arm-based processors. There was also some uncertainty about USB4 support. Apple was able, however, to support both Thunderbolt 3 and USB4 in time for product rollouts.
USB Port Color Coding
Sometimes, USB connectors and ports are color-coded to indicate their support for specific features and specifications. These colors are optional and not required by the USB specification.
Equipment manufacturers may not be the same. Intel, for example, uses orange to signify a charging port. A manufacturer of components in industrial equipment chooses orange to signify a USB port with strong retention.
At its most basic, USB standards allow a host device, such as your tablet or computer, to communicate with other devices via USB. As specifications improve, USB is more than just a data interface.
A single USB-C cable can deliver up to 100W power, so there is no need for separate power bricks. This is particularly useful for peripherals that require higher power levels, such as external hard drives. Some devices and ports may not support USB Power Delivery.
Battery Charging 1.2
You’ve probably used the USB port to charge your phone. BC 1.2 defines a new type of charging port that is compliant with standards. This will ensure your battery recharges safely and reliably.
This allows devices to draw more power than standard USB ports for faster charging. A USB 2.0 port can provide up to 500mA (0.5A), while a USB 3.0 port can provide up to 900mA (9.1A). An adapter that conforms to BC 1.2 allows for 1.5A while transmitting data. This allows the device to communicate with the USB charger its charging needs, ensuring a perfect charge.