USB Types and Cables: what are they and how to identify them?

We are going to explain how you can identify the different types of USB cables that exist in the market. For this, we are going to go over the types of USB, since it is going to be something essential if you want to identify the cables that contain them. Because in the end cables are just a way to connect devices using the existing USB standards.

We are going to divide this article into three parts. First, we will start with the basics, with two parts showing you the different versions of the USB standard so that you can differentiate which one you should have, and also the different types of connectors you can find. And then we’ll finish with some tips on how to identify and choose the USB cable you might need.

Versions of the USB standard

USB Standard

The first thing you need to look at on a cable is going to be precisely what you can’t see clearly. It is the version of the USB standard you are using because depending on this, the transfer speed will be higher or lower. The USB was officially launched in 1996, and since then it has been evolving with different versions that have been improving its characteristics:

  • USB 1.0: These are the oldest, and the lowest speed USB standard. Its transfer rate is up to 1.5 Mbit/s (188 kB/s), and it is mainly used in human interfaces such as keyboards, mice, or webcams.
  • USB 1.1: This is the upgrade of 1.0 known as full speed or “plug and play”. Its transfer rate goes up to 12 Mbit/s (1.5 MB/s), although it was still far from the speeds that the following standards would reach.
  • USB 2.0: Also known as high-speed, it reaches transfer rates of up to 480 Mbit/s (60 MB/s), although in practice it usually remains at 280 Mbit/s (35 MB/s). It is the most widespread standard at the moment and has two data lines and two high-speed power lines. It can also charge devices at 2.5 W power.
  • USB 3.0: Also called super high-speed, it has a transfer rate of up to 4.8 Gbit/s (600 MB/s), ten times faster than USB 2.0 thanks to its five additional contacts.
  • USB 3.1: This is called SuperSpeed+ or SuperSpeed, and doubles the speed of its predecessor, with a transfer rate of up to 10 Gbit/s (1.25 GB/s). It is the one typically used by Type-C connectors, which we will explain a little later.
  • USB 3.2: Introduced in February 2019. It will be able to offer transfer rates of up to 20 Gbit/s (2.5 GB/s), and the first peripherals to use it arrived in 2020.
  • USB 4.0: Also introduced in 2019, this is the newest standard to date. USB4 will be able to offer transfer rates of up to 40 Gbit/s (5 GB/s), and the first devices to use it have arrived in 2021.
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To find out what type of standard the USB cable in front of you is using, you will need to look where it is marked on the box. This is very important, because you may end up buying a very cheap USB cable in a bazaar only to find out that the file transfer with it is done at a snail’s pace.

It is advisable to look for cables that have the USB connector with the plastic in blue instead of black, as it started to be used in USB 3.0 to differentiate it from the previous ones. And considering that the USB 3.0 standard is the most advanced standard for Type-A connectors, it is highly recommended that you make sure that any cable you have with a USB Type-A header has this color.

Types of USB connectors

USB Connectors

In the previous point, we have finished mentioning type-A connectors. Just so you understand, we are now going to tell you what the different types of USB connectors are, because beyond the standard that dictates the transfer speed, then there are different slot types.

  • USB Type-A: It has been the predominant connector among peripherals and mainstream computers until the arrival of smaller ones. USB Type-A can be used with USB 1.0, 2.0, as well as USB 3.0 and 3.1 standards. However, connectors using the 3.0 standard differ from the rest by having an internal tab, like a small blue plastic. Therefore, if it does not have it, it is because it is of lower speeds.
  • USB Type B: This has been the connector most commonly used to connect to peripherals such as printers and scanners, although often only to provide power. There are two different types of Type B connectors, the “conventional” one for USB 1.0 and 2.0 standards, and one with a slightly different shape and a blue tab inside for USB 3.0.
  • USB Type C: This is the most modern type of connector, and is the successor to the MicroUSB. It is characterized by being completely reversible, so you can always connect it on either side. These are also the connectors used by Thunderbolt 3, an alternative standard to HDMI.
  • Mini USB: It was the first type of USB that was reduced in size to connect smaller peripherals. It was widely used by cameras and cell phones, especially in the Mini B model, but that was quite a few years ago.
  • Micro USB: The successor of the Mini USB, it has been very popular and the most used for small devices. Possibly, if your mobile is of a lower range or is a couple of years old, you will still find it, although it has also been used in many other types of peripherals.
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Important tips for choosing a USB cable

USB Cables

The first thing to keep in mind when buying a USB cable is that the type of connector must correspond to the port on the device you want to use it with. For example, you will not be able to connect a cable that is a USB type C to a device that has a USB Type-A port.

The most common connectors are Type A and Type C connectors. The others are good to know and know how to identify them in case you come across a different device, but it is normal to have a “traditional” Type-A connector or a small reversible Type C connector.

You can plug USB Type-A that are of a higher version into a lower slot or vice versa. The only thing you should keep in mind is that the transfer speed will be that of the head or slot with a lower version, so if you have a device with a USB 3.0 connector, but you buy a cheap cable that is with USB 2.0 technology, the speed will be that of the 2.0.

Hence the last tip, you should take a close look at the USB version of the cable you are going to use. This should always be indicated on the box, and if it is not, it is best not to buy it, as it could be an attempt to hide an outdated version. If in doubt, remember that USB 3.0 cables have a blue plastic connector head instead of black.

You should also know that you can find cables with two types of connector heads so that you can have one end with a Type A connector, and the other with a Type C connector. These cables are common for connecting modern mobile devices to older computers that do not have a Type-C slot.

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