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The Many Faces of USB

First, let me start with a little explanation of USB. USB or Universal Serial Bus is an industry standard that was developed in the mid-1990s that helped standardize the connection of computer peripherals to computers. It allowed the two devices to communicate and also gave the peripheral power. Since its development it has changed and evolved over the years and that is what I'd like to tell you about in this post.

In the beginning there was USB 1.x and the cable had a Type-A connector on one end. This connector type is used on most keyboards and mice, PCs usually have multiple ports of this type, and many other devices and power adapters use this type of port for data transfers and/or charging.

Then came USB 2.0 and the cable had many different connectors on one end. The end that plugged into the PC still used a Type-A connector, but the end that connected to the peripheral is one of the following types of connectors:

  • Mini - This is the standard connector type for mobile device and is still used in some cameras that have non-standard connectors.
  • Micro - This is the current standard for all mobile and portable devices, except Apple devices.
  • Type-B - This is an almost square connector that is used mostly for printers and other powered devices that connect to a computer. They’re much less common than type-A.

Next came USB 3.0 and the cable was just like USB 2.0 except that it was much faster and used a SuperSpeed mode. This type was signified on PCs by an "SS" next to the USB port and sometimes the center of the port was blue, but not always. The speed for USB 3.0 was improved to give us USB 3.1 Gen 1. That wasn't fast enough for some so they improved the speed even more to give use USB 3.1 Gen 2.

Finally there is USB-C and the cable is nothing like any of the past USB connectors. It is smaller, reversible, fast and it can both receive and provide a lot more power than previous versions of USB. Apple shocked the world last year when they unveiled a new MacBook with a single USB-C port and nothing else. Take a look at Craig's previous TechBits post entitled "What is USB type C?" for more information on USB-C.

One quick side note: Do you ever have a problem plugging a USB cable in? I know I have. Well I found the answer in an article from David Pogue at Yahoo that's entitled "How to Tell if the USB Plug Is Right-Side Up".  He says: "Only one side of the metal USB connector itself has a seam, a line, going down the middle. That’s the bottom." Take a look at Craig's previous TechBits post entitled "The proper way to plug in a USB cable" for another way to tell.

Here's one picture of the different USB connector types.  If you want to see more then do an image search in Google and you'll finds loads of pictures.

Usb_connectors

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Usb_connectors.JPG

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