What Is A USB? All USB Versions And Connecters Explained!

USB or Universal Serial Bus is the subject of a few misconceptions that have been revolving around it for years. Ironically, while some consider USB a kind of storage device, others believe it is merely a type of data transfer cable.

what is a usb
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No offense to anyone, but I find it funny that a lot of people often mistake a USB for a USB flash drive, a thumb-sized device used to store the data.

If you are one of those people that have committed this terrible sin, you should read this blog through the end. This is going to be super-helpful for you to be able to make a clear distinction between a USB and an infinite number of the devices that support it.

Yeah sure, a USB is a hardware device but it is not what most people think about. I must say, there is a huge difference between a USB and all the small and big devices it comes with.

I guess it’s time to challenge the misconceptions about the USB and learn what this super-small thing is all about. So, without wasting the time, let’s get started with the definition of a USB.

What Is A USB (Universal Serial Bus)?

A USB is an interface to connect a device to a computer for the purpose of data sharing. USB interfaces are commonly installed in computers which allow them to connect multiple devices carrying the same interface.

This includes, but is not limited to, keyboards, USB flash drives, USB hubs, digital cameras, mouse, and printers. Built to replace the old serial ports, USB is the highest standard interface to bridge the connection between computers and other hardware devices.

The use of USB interfaces is so common that spotting their rivals is absolutely rare. From the next generation computers to laptops and scanners to consoles, USB interfaces have maintained their presence in most tech products.

Features Of USB

A Universal Serial Bus offers some unmatched features which could be seen as one of the reasons it has been used widely. If it wasn’t for these features, USBs would probably have ceased to exist.

High Data Transfer Rate

A USB interface is based on speed-oriented technology to enable fast data transfer between the computer and the connected device. With the help of USB interfaces, we can now transfer the GBs of data from a device to a computer and vice versa.

The concept of fast data transfer between two or more devices has only become possible with the arrival of USBs. Minus the USB interfaces from the devices and we will quickly turn back to the infamous era of slow data transfer.

Hot Swappable

Hot swapping is one of the key features of a Universal Serial Bus and many other latest generation devices. This feature has been added up to a number of hardware components of a computer. A USB is a hot-swappable machine considering the fact it enables a user to plug or unplug a device without shutting off the computer. No matter how long a device is plugged into a USB interface, it can be hot swapped anytime.

Sustainable Connection

USB interfaces are known for creating a sustainable connection between the computer and the connected devices. A USB-based connection between two devices is unlikely to cause any sort of instability. A USB interface offers a stable connection between two devices featuring the same interface.

Power Sharing

While USB interfaces were designed to improve the data sharing process, they have also been commonly used as a backup option for multiple types of devices. The list of these devices includes tablets, smartphones, digital cameras, and many others.

So, by using a USB interface, not only you can transfer data from one device to another but you can use also use it to power up your smartphone or digital camera in case of an emergency.

Different Versions Of USB Ports?

Since the debut of their earliest ancestor in 1996, USB interfaces have gone through some incredibly major changes. To sum it up in a sentence, their speed increased thousands of times, their efficiency multiplied, the number of features increased and their demand skyrocketed.

Today, there are several breeds of USB interfaces or ports powered by different data transfer rates and features which have been discussed below.

USB 1.0

Released in 1996, USB 1.0 was the first USB interface to challenge the serial and parallel ports. Now part of the legacy fleet of USB interfaces, it could transfer the data at the speed of 1.5 Mbit/s. Due to poor performance and glitches, USB 1.0 was soon discontinued in favor of the much better USB 1.1.

USB 1.1

As a successor to the earliest ancestor of the USB interfaces, USB 1.1 was released in 1998 as an improvement to the USB technology. It offered a significantly better data transfer rate of 12 Mbit/s than its predecessor with a revolutionary feature of connecting 127 devices to a computer through tiered star topology.

This was seen as a huge breakthrough in the domain of USB technology and still continues to exist in the latest USB interfaces. Considering the power-sharing capacity of the USB 1.1, it could boost a connected device with a power supply of 500mA.

USB 2.0

The domain of USB technology greatly expanded with the arrival of USB 2.0 in 2000. Nicknamed High-speed USB, it transfers data at a considerably reasonable rate of 480Mbit/s. Although the power-sharing capacity of USB 1.0 and USB 2.0 are the same, it’s their data transfer speeds and the updated features that set them apart from each other.

When comparing you will realize USB 2.0 is better and greater than its predecessor by all standards. Like every other USB interface, it also supports backward compatibility which means it can communicate with USB 1.1 while compromising on its data transfer speed.

USB 3.0

Invaded the USB market in 2007, USB 3.0 or SuperSpeed USB was the first interface to standardize the data transfer speed into GBs. In terms of the exact figures, USB 3.0 is potentially capable of maintaining a data transfer rate of 5Gbit/s. USB 3.0 features 9 connector wires including 5 for backward compatibility to USB 2.0 interfaces.

It can bridge a powerful connection between a computer and a device with a power output of 2.5 W. Since its release, USB 3.0 has been considered one of the most common USB interfaces to date.

USB 3.1

Breaking the speed records set by previous interfaces combined, USB 3.1 interface runs at the blistering speed of multiple Gbit/s with a power output equivalent to what is offered by USB 3.0. Launched in 2013, USB 3.1 is one of the latest generation interfaces and is often referred to as SuperSpeed +.

It has been divided into two Generations based on speed and features. For example, the 3.1 Gen 1 is the same as USB 3.0 both in terms of speed and power output whereas, the 3.1 Gen 2 offers an ultra-fast speed of 10 Gbit/s with a set of additional features.

More or less, both Generations of USB 3.1 add value to the long line of USB interfaces and take data sharing to a new level.

USB 3.2

First commercialized in 2017, USB 3.2 is the second most powerful interface in the family of USB interfaces. Boosted by four lanes for data communication, USB 3.2 delivers an astonishing speed of 20 Gbit/s. USB 3.2 is a powerhouse due to the fact it can deliver 100 watts of power. Compared with 2.5 watts delivered by USB 3.1,100 watts is a jaw-dropping figure. Based on the specifications, USB 3.2 is further divided into multiple Generations.


As the current king of USB interfaces, USB 4 is the most advanced interface for speed-hungry PC users. It powers communication between a computer and a device with a god-level speed of 40Gbit/s. Supporting backward compatibility, USB 4 can communicate with all the previous versions of USB interfaces.

Notably, this communication results in the reduced speed of the USB 4 interface meaning the speed is directly dictated by the outdated version. The biggest perk of USB 4? It only works with a type C connector which brings us to the point of burying other connectors. Although there is so much to talk about USB 4, I will have to move forward to the type of USB ports to save your time.

Types Of USB Ports

Featuring different form factors, there are five main types of USB ports that have been mentioned below.

USB Type-A

Comes in separate configurations for USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 interfaces, USB Type-A is the most common USB connector deployed in computers, laptops, tablets, game consoles, and television sets. Speaking of the width, It is the widest USB connector in the entire family of USB connectors. A short conclusion, USB Type-A is the most deployed USB connector in old hardware devices.

USB Type-B

Used to connect printers and hard drives to computers, USB Type-B is another USB connector that supports USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 interfaces. In terms of form factor, it is way different than other connectors.

USB Mini-B

Configured into different models of 4 and 5 pins, the Mini-B connector is used to connect smartphones and digital cameras to the computer. It only supports USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 USB interfaces.

USB Micro-B

USB Micro-B is a high-standard connector with separate configurations to support USB 2.0 and USB 3.0. As a high-demand USB connector, it is often deployed in the latest smartphones.

USB Type-C

It is the premium type of connector installed in the latest generation of Android phones, external hard drives, tablets, and even laptops. Most smartphone manufacturers have already switched to USB Type-C connectors. Since Type-C is highly valued, it is predicted that more and more devices would discontinue other connectors to favor it.

USB Compatible Devices

When we talk of compatibility, USB can allow trillions of hardware devices to connect with a computer. Every other hardware device seems to be featuring a USB interface these days. If I have to compile a list of major hardware devices compatible with USB, the result would be as follows.

USB interfaces are compatible with commonly used hardware devices such as smartphones, digital cameras, scanners, printers, monitors, keyboards, mouse devices, external hard drives, and game consoles. With all these devices, the list doesn’t end at all. I better let you know, a complete list of USB-compatible devices could be a long one.

Frequently Asked Questions

Wrap Up

Modern computers and devices completely rely on USB interfaces to maximize their data transfer rate. Despite the small size, USBs have turned out to be the most crucial component in the process of superior-speed data transfer between two devices.

Starting from just 1.5 Mbit/s to touching the unimaginable speed of 40Gbit/s is utterly impressive. This long jump in the domain of speed in a couple of decades indicates that USB technology has yet to deliver more to us.

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Bilal Khan
Bilal Khan

Bilal might look like a Bearded Caucasian right out of a Viking movie but trust me he's a native Pakistani. He has a long list of hobbies among which staying updated on the Latest Technology and Hardware happens to be on the top. If you are looking for detailed hardware explanations through no tricky terminologies, follow him to read Tech Content curated perfectly for the human brain.

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