Does this sound like a familiar situation?
You need to connect to a printer, camera, or cellphone, but you can’t find a USB cable. You frantically search through your cupboards, drawers and bags, untangling the wires as you go. Once you finally come across a USB cable, you try plug it in, only to realize that the connector just doesn’t fit.
We’ve all been there. The reality is that not all USB cables are created equal. While you might not have realized it, you probably found USB 2.0 printer cables with a Type B connector, when what you needed was a Mini-B connector or vice versa.
So how can you tell the difference and learn which cables connect to what? Here’s a quick guide to figuring out the difference between all of the cables you have in your arsenal.
First things first, there are two different type of connectors: male and female. This applies to all cables, as well as other connectors and fasteners. The male connector fits inside the device. For an iPhone charger, the end that plugs into your laptop or brick is the male connector. A female connector is often referred to as the port. It is where the male connector plugs in. That makes the USB ports on your laptop all female.
Next, what is a USB cord anyway?
It stands for Universal Serial Bus, which was developed in the 1990s as an industry standard. This defines the cables, connectors, and communication protocols that facilitate communications and power delivery between computers and/or electronic devices. As time has gone on, the USB standard has evolved to become more efficient and adoption among device manufacturers so wide spread as to make it ubiquitous.
More recent specifications.
USB 2.0: The USB 2.0 specification was released in 2000 and increased the amount of bandwidth from 12 Mbit/s to 480 Mbit/s (Megabits per second).
USB 3.0: In 2008, USB 3.0 was released. This new specification introduced more bandwidth for transferring data, an increase in power output to improve charging and powering of devices and more robust power management. USB 3.0 cables are compatible with USB 2.0 devices, but the performance of these connections is only as fast as it would be at 2.0 level.
Plugs, Connectors and Ports oh my!
USB A-Type: This is the standard rectangular female port found on computers and other devices.
USB B-Type: Most USB 2.0 printer cables, scanner cables and some external hard drive cables are B-type connectors. They are small and square.
USB C-Type: These are the newest USB connectors on the market. They have a symmetrical design that eliminates that age old orientation annoyance when plugging in a USB cable. You are most likely to see the C connector on the device side for now as most computers are sticking with Type-A ports. This excludes the latest Macbook Pro which sports Thunderbolt 3 ports, designed by Intel, which happen to support USB C. You will find plenty of USB A to USB C cables that work on both USB 2.0 and 3.0. Just be mindful that charging rates will ultimately be limited by the USB version.
Micro USB B-Type: Until the C connector becomes more utilized, this is likely the connector that people associate the most with USB. Micro USB B-Type is found on phones, tablets, external drive cages, some cameras, and many more devices. Due to its small dimensions and relatively cheap licensing, this connector/port is all over the place and unlikely to go away any time soon.
USB Mini-b (5-pin): If you’ve rummaged across a USB cable slightly too big to fit your cell phone, it may be a Mini-b 5 pin. This is found on digital cameras, GPS units, some DV cams, external drive enclosures and similar hardware. This connector is slowly being phased out in favor of the Micro USB B-Type.
USB Mini-b (4-pin): This connector made the rounds some time ago and probably didn’t need to exist. However, given that it did exist on quite a few cameras and smaller devices, we will reference it. Smaller even than the Mini-B 5 pin, the Mini-B 4 pin was also replaced by the newer Micro USB type B.
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