A hidden part of electronics that often is overlooked are the connectors that seamlessly integrate our devices. And although many stubborn elements of Silicon Valley would have you using multiple different kinds of connectors when just one would be enough, the USB-C connector is as close as we’ve gotten to a universal connector.
USB-C, a shorthand for universal serial bus, is the most common type c connector that you use in everyday life. USB power delivery cables are used for many types of connections, such as the external keyboard for your 2-in-1 laptop, mouse, telephone charging ports, and speakers – they’re all likely to have a USB-C port or USB- C connector.
But unless you’ve taken a college class in computer science, USBs and different types of data transfer devices may be a mystery to you. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a quick catch-up on everything USB-C as well as the other devices you may be interested in. Which one is the best or will work for your device, stick around and find out!
What is USB-C Anyway?
Let’s start by covering what is USB-C anyway! As we’ve mentioned before, USB stands for universal serial bus and has taken one of the top spots for an industry-standard connector when it comes to transferring data (such as transferring pictures from your camera to your laptop) and transferring power (with many charging cables for phones and devices).
It was developed by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) and has been adopted by some of the largest electronic companies in the world like Microsoft, Dell, Apple, and Samsung. You’ll often see many electronics from these device makers will have USB-C cables or USB-C device connectors, from phones, cheap and expensive laptops, and other utility devices.
The only true deviant from this near-universal standard is Apple, who has quite readily used their Lightning cable connectors and MagSafe connectors, but recently declarations by the EU (European Union) have stated that they want to make USB-C cables the mandatory charging cables for all devices starting in 2024 – even Apple devices.
Different USB Types & Classifications of USB – Explained
USB-C is certainly the most dominant type of connector that you can have access to but is it the right type of connector that you should be looking for? It’s always important to discern what exactly you’ll be using your USB connector for, as the operation can determine which USB type will work for you – whether it’s for gaming or your office.
Before we dive in, it’s best to clear up any possible confusion that may arise when speaking about different types of connectors. The C in USB-C refers to the shape of the connector for your device, and the number in USB 3.2 refers to the speed at which data transfer takes place.
A USB-A cable may have a higher data transfer speed than a USB-C even though USB-C is becoming more dominant and a USB 3.2 could be referring to either shape. Other industry terms we’ll dive into as they pop up. Read on to discover how USB-C compares to other common connector types.
Micro USB Connector
If you have a smartphone or digital camera, then you’ll likely own a Micro USB connector. Similarly, if you’re planning to buy a new charger for your smartphone or camera, then the Micro USB cable is what you’re looking for.
You’ll usually find these in a USB-B shape, and less commonly in a USB-A shape. It’s important to remind that if you have a USB-C connecter, it won’t be compatible with a Micro USB. We recommend you pick up a Micro USB for your more compact devices thanks to their extremely high data transfer speeds compared to other cables like Mini USB.
For the most optimal way to transfer data from your compact devices, consider purchasing a Micro USB 3.0 or higher cable.
USB 3.2 Connectors
In the natural evolution of technological progress, USB connectors have grown and become extraordinarily quick in the way they can transfer data and charge devices. USB 3.2 is one of the latest iterations of USB-C connectors, although they come in other forms like USB-A.
The 3.2 in these USBs refers to the speed at which they transfer data, although this can also vary depending on the type of USB 3.2 you’re using. You should invest in a high-speed connector if you need high data speeds for your laptop device, like with data science.
For quick reference, USB 3.2 Gen 1 has a maximum throughput of about 5 Gbps. USB 3.2 Gen 2 increases this further to 10 Gbps, and the USB 3.2 2×2 has a maximum of 20 Gbps! The speed is only the true differential between USB 3.2 connectors, but it is worth knowing what type of USB (A, B, C, etc) your device and its monitor need as well.
Thunderbolt cables are different yet the same when compared to a USB-C port. This is due to Thunderbolts seeing the most use in Apple devices, which has been staunchly stubborn in adhering to a standard connector in their product line.
There is backward compatibility for Thunderbolt cables to USB-C, meaning that if your device has a USB-C port, then you should be able to use a Thunderbolt cable there too. That being said, newer Thunderbolt cables offer unparalleled speed compared to standard USB-C 3.2 connectors.
A Thunderbolt cable can transfer data at speeds of 40 Gbps, compared to the 3.2’s 20 Gbps, perfect for uploading your Cricut creations. Although USB 4.0 does exist and can match these speeds, it is not widely adopted or used just yet.
Lightning Cable Connectors
Another starkly different connector thanks to Apple, is the Lightning connectors that are used to connect Apple products. This could be used to connect pictures you’ve taken on your iPhone to your Apple Macbook Air for example, and the USB standard of USB-C won’t be able to connect to many of your Apple products for this reason.
These cables may be short-lived, as Apple will likely switch to more standard USB-C connectors and power delivery systems due to changes in the European Union’s regulation but we thought it good to mention it as they’ll be around for a while longer.
This may mean that you’ll soon be able to connect Apple devices to other non-Apple devices, possibly making it easier to connect your iPad to a 2-in-1 laptop or Windows laptop soon!
Transferring from USB-C to DisplayPort
One of the best features of the USB-C is its ability to connect compacted devices like phones and speakers to your laptop and act as a charger of sorts. Simply connecting your device via USB-C ports will make it charge, no matter how cheap or expensive your laptop is.
What’s more, the versatility of USB-C devices doesn’t stop there! If you have the right adapters, possibly an HDMI adapter, then you could also connect your DisplayPort to your laptop via a USB-C cable. This may not work with every PC or Display, as some makers don’t include this feature within their device but if you have a spare USB-C plug spare then it’s well worth trying out!
You could potentially project your Zoom calls to another screen with this method, allowing for a larger screen space and more place to do work.
If you’re planning to update your USB-A adapters or want to add more versatility to your USB 3.0 ports, then using a USB-C for your laptop or mobile devices is well advised.
If you’re having trouble connecting the USB-C connector to your previous Type A or B connector, then you’ll likely need a USB-C hub or convertor. This opens up even more options, as there are plenty of other adapters, light the aforementioned Lightning, and HDMI connectors.
It’s easy to find adapters like this, and you can convert your USB-C to plenty of others with ease. No matter if your laptop is inexpensive or you’re planning to have your younger children use a laptop, then having an adapter on hand in this way could be handy!
Please keep in mind that this unfortunately doesn’t extend to Thunderbolt cables.
Frequently Asked Questions
We often receive some frequently asked questions when it comes to USB-C and other types of connectors, and rightly so! Topics like power delivery, backward compatibility, and USB type C connectors can be confusing topics of discussion, and you may have had some questions spring up in your mind while reading our article.
What is the difference between USB and USB C?
USB cables and USB-C may sound similar, but there’s an actual difference between the two. Think of USB as a blanket term for the universal serial bus, while USB-C refers to the C-type of the USB ports.
There are many different types of USB connectors, including Type-A and Type-B. If you have a large SSD laptop or are aiming to use your laptop for Google Classroom, then you have to need a specific type of USB-C connector.
What is a USB-C port used for?
There are many things that you can use a USB-C port for – including transmitting data between devices, including video and audio, as well as being a great way to charge your phone by connecting it to your gaming laptop.
You can also learn about how to remove stickers from your laptop, if you’re interested.
Can you plug a USB-C into a USB port?
If you have a USB-C connected to a USB adapter, you should be able to connect your USB-C to a USB port like an iPad or Apple device.
And that’s all she wrote! Well, feel free to look up some more information about USB-C and other of the connectors we’ve mentioned. Hopefully, you’ve become more enlightened regardless and figured out what kind of USB-C port you need.
Writer Graham Grieve brings two decades of technical communications experience to The Holy Tech coverage. Isaac contributes articles on laptops, tablets and PCs, alongside various software and hardware guides. Isaac is a former newspaper journalist who also worked in tech communications for some of the country’s biggest corporations. He also counsels and creates material for other technology publications and hosts a podcast.
Isaac’s in-depth reporting and knowledge of hardware and software issues helps The Holy Tech’s readers learn how to choose the right products, or solve tricky problems.