What are the types of USB cables?

Black Box Explains

USB, or Universal Serial Bus, was created so connections can be made for many types of devices through a single type of port and cable. Its original purpose was to exchange information. Today, USB cables can not only share information but also deliver power.

USB is the cable of choice for many audio interfaces, laptops, smart phones and tablets. It not only handles the data transfer and minimal charging of previous USB connectors, but it can also provide up to 100W of power to a device.

It is important to understand the type of connectors and the speed standard of the cable itself when selecting a USB cable. One major fact to point out, though, is that USB-C is reliant on the technology in the phone, tablet or computer it is on. If the device does not support transmission of audio/video over the USB-C port, connecting a USB-C to an HDMI adapter cable won't make it work.

Likewise, if the device does not support USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds up to 10 Gbps, connecting a USB 3.1 Gen 2 cable won't change that. Most of the devices in the market currently already support such features, though, and as the technology advances, so too will the capabilities of the devices that utilize it.

Recent changes and advancements in USB technology mean you can choose from a greater range of USB options. Understanding the capabilities of each connector type and cable standard can help you decide which one is right for your application.

USB Standards

USB specifications indicate the speed and function of the cable and is also known as the performance standard.

USB 2.0

In 2002, USB 2.0, (High-Speed) was introduced. This version is backward compatible with USB 1.1. It increases the speed of the peripheral to PC connection from 12 Mbps to 480 Mbps, or 40 times faster than USB 1.1. The port name will include "Enhanced," "Enhanced Host" or "Universal Host."

USB 3.1 Gen 1 (also called USB 3.0)

USB 3.0 (SuperSpeed) (2008) provides vast improvements over USB 2.0. USB 3.0 has speeds up to 4.8 Gbps, nearly 10 times that of USB 2.0. USB 3.0 adds a physical bus running in parallel with the existing 2.0 bus. USB 3.0 is designed to be backward compatible with USB 2.0. The port name will include USB 3.0.

USB 3.1 Gen 2

USB 3.1 (SuperSpeed+) provides 10 Gbps of bandwidth, 3.4 Gbps effective throughput and 900mA of power to the downstream device. Unlike USB 2.0, 3.1 Gen 2 is full duplex. The USB 3.1 Gen 2 standard is backward compatible with 3.1 Gen 1 (or 3.0) and USB 2.0.

What are the USB connector types?

USB Type-A

  • Commonly used in host side such as a PC, keyboard, server, hub as well as cables and small peripherals
  • Rectangular shaped with four pins in a straight line
  • Easily identifiable blue connection

USB Type-B

  • Commonly for peripheral or other powered devices including printers
  • Square shaped with beveled corners on one side
  • Four pins, one in each corner

USB Mini Type-B

  • Rectangular shaped with five pins
  • Typically for use with cameras and other small devices

Micro Type-B with 2.0 Cable Standard

  • Mobile and portable devices
  • Rectangular shaped with five pins with 500 mA

USB Micro Type-B with 3.1 Gen 1 (or 3.0) Cable Standard

  • Mobile and portable devices
  • Provides 900 mA

USB Type-C

  • Supports both host and device, and there is no need of different connectors in both sides of this oblong shaped port
  • Support for alternate modes to allow for more than just USB data to be sent across the connector and cable assembly
  • Can be attached to either port with the functionality defined by the port hardware itself
  • Reversible plug orientation ("up" or "down")
  • Reversible port with symmetrical 24 pins, will attach to the receptacle on the first try
  • Capable of supporting data rates up to 40 Gbps – four lanes with 10 Gbps per lane
  • May be a provider or consumer of power with up to 100W of power delivery
  • Withstands 10,000 insertion/removal cycles
  • Backward compatible with older versions

How to determine the right USB cable standard

It is important to closely inspect the host and the device connections to ensure the ports for each termination are properly selected, then choose the USB cable specification to meet the performance standard for your application.

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