USB Ports are great for charging devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops. But there is a lot of confusion about the different types of USB ports on today’s computer systems. It can be hard to know which port to use when you’re in a hurry or just not sure what your laptop offers. Read along as we cover USB port types and speeds compared.
USB ports have become progressively more functional with each new version, paving the way for smaller and lighter devices. However, as they bring more speed to market by introducing more unique standards that also add complexity in deciding which cable or peripheral is suitable for your application.
What Is USB?
In the 1990s, elaborate cable webs sprawled across office desktops. This tangle of wires was a mess and made it hard for people to work with their technology at all times. But in 1997, USB came along and changed everything by simplifying computer connectivity through one small interface that is inexpensive: The Type-A USB port/connector (USB-A). With billions of devices now using this simple connection on laptops, tablets & phones alike every day… it’s no wonder why it has become such an essential part of our daily lives!
Types of USB Ports and Connectors
The USB port is the most common type of connection on computers, tablets, and peripherals. You will typically find at least one of these three types: Type A (Standard), Type B (Mini-B), or Micro-A. Newer devices favor a smaller version called USB‐C which can carry power up to 100W, data transfer rates upwards of 40 Gbps, and 4K resolution video.
USB Port Types and Speeds Compared
Initially released in 1996, the USB (Universal Serial Bus) standard is the older of the two connection types, designed by an assortment of companies, including IBM, Microsoft, Intel, and others, and maintained by the USB Implementers Forum. USB’s purpose was to form a standard that would operate across multiple devices, consolidating the myriad of technologies down to one, as the name suggests.
This necessity on a small selection of robust connectors meant it was more manageable for users to operate and power multiple devices. The initial data transfer speed of 1.56 Mbits/s was extremely fast for that period. USB 1 connection is ideal for connecting devices with low bandwidth requirements, i.e., a keyboard, mouse, etc.
The USB 2.0 specification was released in April 2000, with the first USB 2.0 products becoming available in November 2001. The USB 2.0, or “Hi-Speed USB,” specification contributed many improvements over USB 1.1. The main improvement was an increase in bandwidth to a peak of 480Mbps.
It has been superseded by its successor, the USB 3.1 standard, which delivers even higher speeds and power delivery capabilities than before while remaining fully backward compatible with previous versions of the standard – so you can use your old cables. The additional bandwidth afforded by the USB 2.0 specification is greatly suited for supporting devices needing the high bandwidth, i.e. mass storage devices, data transfer cables, video adapters, etc.
USB 3.0 became the gigabit era by what is termed “SuperSpeed.” USB 3.0 began with a data rate of 5Gb/s when it was introduced in 2008
The new specification includes:
- Increase in bandwidth to a maximum of 4.8Gbps.
- Support for full-duplex communication.
- Increased power available to connected devices.
- Streaming Support
- Fast Sync technology
- Support for higher power
- Better power management
It also retains backward compatibility with older versions of USB so that controller cards can support newer and older versions. With a 10x improvement over its predecessor, it’s no wonder USB 3.0 has been called “the next generation of connectivity” by industry experts. The new specification offers greater power efficiency, bandwidth, and improved performance for devices requiring high bandwidth like large hard drives or video adapters.
USB 3.1 arrived in 2014 with a couple of variants, with Gen 1 retaining USB 3.0’s SuperSpeed mode and 5Gbps data rate, while Gen 2 used “SuperSpeed+” and increased the effective highest data rate to 10Gbps. The new standard, which was officially launched in July 2013, effectively replaced the previous high-speed USB specification and name and number (USB 3.0). Usb.org considers 3.0 and 3.1 Gen 1 to be “synonymous.” USB Type C connectors were introduced at this time, an alternative to USB type-a for USB 3.0/3.1. USB Type-C wasn’t used much until the next generation of USB.
Announced in 2017, the entrance of USB 3.2 kept support for SuperSpeed and SuperSpeed+; however, it added an extra two transfer modes that offered connections at up to 10Gbps and 20Gbps. Furthermore, to achieve the 20Gbps speed, a USB-C connection had to be utilized due to standards developments that took advantage of the connector. Gen 2 is just slightly improved Gen 1, so it didn’t make any sense to label it USB 3.2, mainly since the real 3.2 made such a slight jump in performance and port compatibility.
The USB4 protocol requires a USB-C to USB-C cable. USB4 devices are required to support 20 Gbps (2.4 GB/sec). USB4 can optionally support 40 Gbps (4.8 GB/sec) if they use the shorter 0.8 meters Gen 3 cable. The USB4 specification was based on the Thunderbolt 3 protocol specification. In addition, USB 4 is powerful enough to let you plug external graphics cards into your computer as you can today with Thunderbolt protocol. Every USB4 devices support USB Power Delivery. USB Power Deliver transmits a “contract” to deliver power, reliably providing up to 100 W (5A/20V) USB4 preserves compatibility with earlier versions of the USB specifications.
With the ever-increasing requirements for quicker and more extensive data transfer levels and increased levels of convenience and capability, the concept for USB has evolved.
The levels of functionality available today are immense compared to the first standard release in the late 1990s. Since then, several new versions of the USB standard have been introduced, each contributing to a greater level of performance.
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