What is USB C? A Quick Primer – GRANDMAX

Posted on by Bruce Wilson

The USB Type-C connector is the standard in many modern smartphones, laptops and tablets todayit's definitely here to stay. Even though USB-C is quickly becoming the standard, it’s not always easy to spot the differences in USB connector types, USB ports, or USB cable types.

 

white usb type a connector

What most of us think of, when we hear USB

USB Types: Connectors, Cables, Ports

USB Connector Types:

You may have heard people refer to USBs as “Type-A”, “Type-B”, or the modern standard: “Type-C”, sometimes simplified to USB-C. Generally, people are referring to the connector types, meaning the tips of a USB cable. Every USB cable has two connectors, and they’ve historically not been the same type. For a long time, many phones charged using a USB cable that had Type A on one end, and Type Micro B on the other end. It looked like this:

 Micro USB B

USB Type Micro B

Today, many USB cables have Type A and Type C connectors, which is especially useful when connecting older devices that have Type-A ports to newer devices with Type-C ports.

Historically, USB cables most commonly had Type A to Type B connectors. It’s important to note that the connector themselves don’t always dictate important metrics like transfer or charging speeds. Generally, it’s the version of USB at use and the port that determines transfer and charging speeds. Here’s a quick visual to help you identify each USB connector type:

USB Type A to Type B

Type A to Type B connections are common and they’re generally seen when connecting peripheral devices to PCs—think printers to PCs.USB Micro Type

Micro USB connectors are thinner and slimmer versions of regular Type A/B. These are also common and were used as the connectors for phone charging for some time. A common modern version of these connectors is in a Micro USB to USB C cable.

USB Type C

Type C USB connectors are the latest iteration of connector types. Today, they are the standard in the latest devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets. They were built to be reversible, thinner, faster, and more universal. Devices must have a USB C port.

USB Lightning Connector

Lightning connectors are not technically an official USB connector type, however, they’re so common it’s worth mentioning. These are proprietary Apple connectors and only seen with charging Apple devices. Because Apple devices are so common, one of the most common USB cables is Type A connector to Lightning.

 

USB Cable Types:

USB Type A CablePVC Construction

braided cable

Braided Construction

USB Cables come in many forms. For this article, we refer to the cable as the long wire-y portion of a cable. Primarily, when thinking about the cable itself, there is the construction and the length. When someone refers to a USB cable as a USB Type C Cable, they generally mean a USB Cable that has the same Type C connectors on each end, but that doesn’t mean that Type C connectors cannot be paired with other USB connector types. In fact, because many devices today still use USB connector types older than Type C, USB C cables often have different connectors like Type A to Type C.  

Be wary of which USB cable length you need when buying: a 6 in. cable versus a 6 ft cable makes a big difference. When in doubt, we recommend buying the longer cable for flexibility.

 

Types of USB Ports:

The USB Port combined with USB Connector Types determine the transfer speed of data and also determine the "generation", or "version" of USB used. When transferring data, the speed is always limited by the lowest maximum speed on either the port, or the connector. Today, there are many versions of USB, each with their own theoretical transfer speeds and it can get overwhelming quickly. Since our focus is on USB-C, we should know that the default protocol for USB-C connectors is USB version 3.0, which means it can transfer data at speeds up to 5Gbps (gigabits per second), twice as fast as its predecessor. Here is a quick runthrough of different USB versions, common connector types, and their transfer speeds:

 USB versions and connector types infographic

What Makes the USB Type C Connector Special?

Large USB Type C infographic

For this article, we want to focus our attention on the USB C Connector, as it’s quickly becoming the standard connector type. Here are some quick facts and advantages for Type C connectors:

  • Type C connectors are reversible and look like rounded rectangles
  • Even the oldest version available is USB 3.0, with transfer speeds of 5 Gbps.
  • More universal: many modern devices have USB-C ports as the standard, and USB cables increasingly have USB-C connectors on both ends, eliminating any need for different types of connectors. 

Some things to keep in mind, despite the advantages of USB-C:

  • USB-C doesn't always mean faster. There are USB versions with legacy Type A/B  connectors that have equal. or faster transfer speeds than the oldest USB-C.
  • Even though the newest devices commonly have USB-C, there are still many devices that use USB-A ports. Examples include: Apple's iPhone power block, Apple Watch magnetic charger, wireless mouse receivers, PS4 controllers, etc. It's still common to use a USB cable that has Type-A connector to Type-C connector.