USB Terminologies for Normies: Key Definitions in Simple English

by Dan

It’s a data-driven world where people have a constant need to access their files wherever they may be. Before the cloud, USB flash drives were the main conveyances to move and store large files between computers. A flash drive with 64-megabyte memory was a big deal. Plus, memory sticks are more reliable than diskettes, which have faded into oblivion, and are more convenient than CDs.

USB has also paved the way for universal and better-looking ports, like those multicolored ones found at the back of older computers. You can refer to this chart to get familiar or reacquaint yourself with the numerous computer ports.  

For all its popularity, the world of USB is shrouded in mystery. It comes with letters, numbers, and terms that can be confusing to some. To clear up misunderstandings, here are essential terminologies worth remembering.

USB

USB pendrive

It stands for Universal Serial Bus, a standard that sets the specifics for cables, connectors, and protocols, per Wikipedia. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) oversees the promotion and marketing of USB. The group consists of companies like Microsoft, IBM, and Intel, which developed the standard.

USB Specification (USB 1.0 Etc.)

It can also mean the version of USB. These relevant specifications dictate the speed of transferring data. These versions are listed below in chronological order:

  • USB 1.0 Full Speed. It was released in 1996 and provided a data transfer rate of 1.5 Mbit/s at low speed and 12 Mbit/s at full speed. USB 1.1 was released two years later, taking on the full-speed 12 Mbit/s.
  • USB 2.0 High Speed. It was launched in 2000 and promised a maximum transfer rate of 480 Mbit/s.
  • USB 3.0 Superspeed. This version was released in 2008 and offered up to 5 Gbit/s in data transfer speed.

USB 3.1 Superspeed+. It was introduced in 2013 to replace USB 3.0 but kept the maximum transfer rate of 5 Gbit/s. USB 3.1 Gen 2 introduced a faster data transfer of up to 10 Gbit/s.

USB 3.2 Superspeed+. The replacement of USB 3.1 came in 2017 and retained the Superspeed+ transfer rate of its predecessor. A second-generation of USB 3.2 provided two Superspeed+ transfer modes in 10 and 20 Gbit/s, respectively. 

  • USB 4. Its creation was announced in 2019 with the said standard built on the architecture of USB 3.2 and 2.0. The official announcement says that USB 4’s data-transfer rate reaches up to “40 Gbps operation over 40 GBps-certified cables.” 

USB Connector (Type A, etc.)

Connectors that are attached to cables are the physical aspects of USB. They facilitate communication between hosts and peripherals. Interestingly, connectors can be male or female:

  • Female refers to the receptacle, or jack, found in the computer or host device.
  • Male refers to the plug, usually for peripherals. 

The three main types of USB connectors are the following: 

  • Type A. It is arguably the most commonly used in computers with its characteristic flat and rectangular shape.
  • Type B. The connector figures predominantly in peripheral devices like scanners and printers, shaped like a square with a rounded edge on the top. 
  • Type C. It is hailed to replace all other connectors because of its high data-transfer speed and power capability. The oval-shaped connector is also reversible, so you can plug it whichever way. 

Moreover, USB mini- and microconnectors are made for MP3 players and digital cameras. 

Notably, USB 3.0 standard uses Type A and B connectors, while faster standards like USB 3.1 use Type C connectors. Laptops are incorporating Type C into their devices, and the likes of USB-C to HDMI adapters will connect the computer and the external monitor or TV. Aside from having a 4K display port, certain adapters can have ports for memory cards and USB flash drives.  

USB Power Delivery (PD) power delivery charging

It can be synonymous with quick charging by increasing the power levels to 100 watts, per the official USB site. While Type C and power delivery are not the same, the former’s power-capability quality makes it a perfect connector for the latter. 

Under USB power delivery, the host or peripheral (whichever has the power) can charge the other. The specification also allows multiple peripherals to communicate and negotiate the power requirement of each device, according to Make Tech Easier.

These terms will likely come up when you shop for USB cables, hubs, and devices. As the use of USB is widespread, additional knowledge about it will surely help. 

Stay tuned for more updates. 

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