2nd November 2020

Ultimate Buying Guide for USB Connectors & Cables

Ultimate Buying Guide for USB Connectors & Cables

In a world where most homes have a multitude of electrical devices and technology is ever-changing, it is no surprise that many of us complain that there are too many cables and wires to keep a track of.

The image of a drawer, box or cupboard filled with random electric cables is all too familiar to many of us. For many, the USB port has become a household name for electrical devices, but most people have no idea about the varieties of USB connectors and cables and the importance they bring.

In this buying guide, we hope to make sense of all the different USB connectors and cables on offer by explaining how they work, which to pick and what the difference between them all really is.

What is USB?

USB stands for “Universal Serial Bus” and was created as an industry standard for connectors and cables worldwide on electrical devices such as computers, phones, appliances, and other peripherals. Before the advent of USB, electrical manufacturers created their own power and connector cables tying consumers into purchasing their cables, chargers, and power adapters. Global adoption of USB technology meant that electrical device users could start to rely on a technology that was flexible and compatible across a wide variety of accessories and other devices.

The purpose of a USB cable is to connect to a USB port via a USB connector. The USB port is often found as part of the device and the USB cable is used to either power this device or connect/communicate with other external devices.

The universal nature of the USB port, connector and cable has meant that they have become increasingly common must-have items on modern electric devices such as printers, keyboards, cameras, video game controllers and mobile phones.

What is a USB connector?

A USB connector is the physical connecting point from a USB cable to a USB port. A USB connector allows for a stable and properly connected USB. One way it does this is by ensuring that only a specified type of USB cable can be connected to a specific USB port. Without the proper connector, there would be much higher cases of users attempting to connect the wrong cables into USB ports.

What are the different types of USB connectors and cables?

To understand the different varieties of USB cables and connectors it is important to make a distinction between “USB type” and “USB version”.

“USB type” refers to the physical nature of the connector and corresponding USB port. Differences across “types” can often be easily identified by the connectors at the end of the USB cable.

A USB Type-A connector is usually standard on most USB cables as it is designed to fit the most found port – the USB Type-A port. However, the type of USB cable will usually take the name of whichever connector is not USB Type-A found at the other end of the cable. This is where you start to notice a difference between Type-A, Type-B, Type-C, micro and mini connectors, and cables.

USB Type A Connector

What is USB Type-A?

  • The oldest in design and as such, the most common. USB Type-A is usually compatible from USB 1.0 upwards.
  • Most found on mobile devices, computers, laptops, and flash drives.
  • The connector is rectangular in design and can only be inserted into a USB-A port one way.
USB-A Connectors

What is USB Type-B?

  • Type-B connectors are usually used for the purpose of powering devices and as such you are more likely to find them on larger electrical items like printers or scanners.
  • The design of the Type-B connector is obvious as it takes more square shape with a wider aperture for the connectors.
USB Type C Connector

What is USB Type-C?

  • USB Type-C cables are the latest on the marketplace and are notably smaller/flatter connectors.
  • The major difference in USB Type-C cables is their ability to carry video and data at a much higher and faster level. For example, the USB-C can support data transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbps. Type-C are increasingly more common on the very latest laptops, mobile devices and charging hubs.
  • Type-C is compatible from USB 1.1 to t USB 3.2
USB-C Connectors
Mini USB Connector

What is Mini USB?

  • The clue is in the name! The Mini USB is a miniature connector, making it ideal for mobile/handheld devices that require smaller ports.
  • Mini USB is most found on digital cameras and camcorders.
  • Increasingly, the Mini USB has been phased out in favour of the newer Micro USB cable and port.
Micro USB Connector

What is Micro USB?

  • The Micro USB is an even smaller and slenderer version of the Mini USB and most found on modern smartphones, digital cameras and handheld devices like the Amazon Kindle or GPS SatNav systems.
  • The Micro USB is compatible for USB 2.0 and 3.0

What are the differences between USB versions?

One of the most asked questions is understanding the difference between USB 1.0, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and USB 3.1. Most computer users never even notice the different version but knowing the difference is important when picking a USB cable if you want to use the cable for a specific purpose.

Power supply/charging

USB 2.0, 3.0 and 3.1 all support power supply and charging. The older USB 1.1 version does not.

Video

If you need a USB cable for supporting video data, you will need USB 3.0 or 3.1. Older 1.1 and 2.0 versions are not able to support video.

Fast data transfer

Picking the right version depends on how fast you want to transfer data. If you need to transfer high volumes of data, then you may want to opt for USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 which transfers at 5Gbps and 10Gpbs, respectively. If you only need to transfer smaller packets of data, then 2.0 may suit at 480 Mbps. USB 1.1 can still transfer data but only at a speed of 12Mbps.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes. USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 are backwards compatible. This means that they can be used on older ports. However, this will only operate at USB 2.0 speeds.

Whilst USB Type-C connectors and cables are backward compatible, it is important to understand that simply buying a newer type does not mean that you will get the results you expect. A common issue many consumers face is that they purchase a USB Type-C cable/connector with the view of using it to charge a smartphone but connect it to a USB Type-A port. As previously mentioned above, USB Type-A ports were not specifically designed for powering many new smartphones. The best-case scenario is that you may find your new “fast charging” Type-C cable takes much longer to charge. The worst-case scenario is that using the wrong cable may damage your device. In this case, a well-designed USB cable should reduce the risk of damage by preventing a device from drawing too much power from a Type-A port. However, there are numerous cheaper and poorly designed USB cables that do not have this prevention system that will attempt to draw too much power from the port to the connected device. This can cause damage to both the connected device and/or the device the port is contained within. You should always check that the USB cable is compliant and compatible for the devices and ports you intend to connect it to.

Expert guidance from the USB Implementers Forum suggests that cable length is based on transfer rate. The longer the cable, the slower the data transfer is likely to be as the distance it travels is longer. If the cable is too long, it may not even be able to deliver power either The guidance states that a USB 3.1 cable (operating at about 5 Gbps) should be at the most, 2 meters. The USBIF states that a USB 3.1 cable (operating at about 10 Gbps) can reach up to about 1 meter. Slower USB cables (such as those that use USB 2.0) can be slightly longer up to 4m.

USB OTG or “on-the-go” is a specification of USB that allows a device to obtain and transfer data without the need for a PC. USB OTG devices essentially turn the USB into the host. For example, most modern Android phones have USB OTG and allow for the smartphone to be connected to devices like printers or hard drives. To make this work however, you will need an OTG compliant cable and connector, so do check before making any expensive purchases.

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