Guide: From A to C: These are the differences between the USB cable types

How nice it would be if every electrical device used the same plug.

Guide: From A to C: These are the differences between the USB cable types

How nice it would be if every electrical device used the same plug. In fact, the European Union is working to enforce the USB-C connector as a uniform charging standard by the end of 2024. The rule will apply to mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones, headsets, portable consoles, portable speakers, e-readers, keyboards, mice, earphones and portable navigation devices and laptops.

This makes sense in any case, as the law avoids electronic waste and the consumer avoids unnecessary costs for cables and/or chargers. Until then, we still have to deal with different types of USB cables. The most common in 2023 are:

Important: There are of course various subtypes of the ones presented, such as USB-Mini-A. But they are extremely rare.

The cable types differ in their appearance and were originally designed for different purposes. The most well-known USB type is USB-A. It's the chunky, square USB connector that's still commonly found on laptops and computers.

The USB-B type is now installed less frequently. It is mostly found on monitors that have a USB hub. The monitor connects to the computer and forwards the data from the USB hub.

The distinction between USB 2-B and 3-B is important here because the fit is different. Very old external hard drives or printers still work with USB-2-B.

USB-Mini is a smaller version of USB Type-B. It was developed for smaller products such as cameras or game console controllers because a normal USB port on these devices would be too bulky and large. USB Mini-B only supports the USB 2.0 protocol and is therefore obsolete.

An even smaller form of USB connection is USB-Micro. Compared to Mini-USB, Micro-B also supports USB 3.0 protocol. USB-Micro-B can mainly be found on older Android smartphones, e-book readers or cameras.

Although Micro-USB supports the USB 3.0 protocol, it looks different: The USB Micro 3.0 cable is a bit bulkier than its 2.0 counterpart.

USB-C is the latest USB type that combines the strengths of its predecessor generations. The connector is oval and flat, making it suitable for laptops, computers, tablets and smaller devices such as smartphones and cameras. In addition, USB-C supports every USB protocol and newer Thunderbolt sockets are also wrapped in the guise of the USB-C connection.

A common misconception about USB connections is that USB-C is generally faster than USB-A or B. It's true that USB-C is the newest USB type. What is wrong is that the latest USB type always works with the latest USB protocol. Because only the USB protocol decides how quickly, for example, computers and external SSDs exchange data.

A USB-A socket, for example, can work with the USB 3.2 protocol and a USB-C socket only has USB 3.1. The protocols are all compatible, but can slow each other down: A USB-A stick with USB protocol 2.0 also transfers data to a USB-A 3.0 socket - but much more slowly than a USB 3.0 stick would do. The table reveals how much slower.

Protocol

transfer rate

USB 2.0

480 Mbit/s

USB 3.1 (or also 3.0)

5 Gbit/s

USB 3.1 x2 (3.1 Gen. 2):

Dual Lane, 2 x 5 Gbit/s

USB 3.2 (Gen. 1)

10 Gbit/s

USB 3.2 x2 (Gen. 2):

Dual Lane 2x 10 Gbit/s

USB 4

40 Gbit/s

USB connections are not only suitable for exchanging data. The interface also charges mobile end devices or forwards image signals from the laptop to the monitor. Unfortunately, not every socket can do everything, which is why manufacturers sometimes label the inputs. A double "S" on the socket indicates that it can supply power to an end device.

"DP", on the other hand, stands for Display Port and means that image signals can be forwarded. Unfortunately, manufacturers are free to label their USB ports and very few do. For example, if you are looking for a USB-C monitor that both charges the laptop and forwards image signals via its USB-C socket, you have to take a close look before you buy.

If you are only looking for a charging cable for your smartphone, a magnetic USB-C cable is a good choice. Attention: Such a cable does not transmit data! It consists of a magnetic head part, which is plugged into the USB-C socket of the device to be charged, and the cable, which finds its place in the charger. The advantage of this is that the cable and smartphone come loose if you trip over them, for example. Apple users are familiar with the magnetic charging connection from the MagSafe connector on their MacBooks.

Sources: European Parliament, heise.de, usb.org

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