Types of USB | History, Meaning, Architecture, Advantages, and Disadvantages

Types of USB


In this article, we will learn more about different types of USB, USB advantages and disadvantages, and how USB came into existence.

Technology innovations and advancements have revolutionized our way of living. It plays a major role in our day to day life, whether it is at our home, workplace, or anywhere on the entire planet.

With the further enhancement in technology, the secondary devices connected with them have also evolved simultaneously.

The technological developments in USB cables have also pursued the same path since its inception in the 1990s.

Due to the several types of USB and versions in the market, it has become extremely challenging to remember all the different types of USB and about their features.

How did USB come to existence?

Electronic gadgets have become an essential part of our day to day functioning, and it is impossible to imagine a task getting executed without the use of any electronic devices.

If we talk about, Laptops, Tablets, Smartphones, Gaming consoles, all these gadgets have their purpose to serve but what is that one thing as common in all these devices irrespective of its form.

If we can recall the early days, several cables were required to connect different peripherals devices such as a keyboard, printer, a hard drive, mouse to the computer.

It appeared muddled up of wires beneath your desk. We used a serial port, DIN connector, parallel port, Joystick ports, etc.

But thanks to USB (Universal Serial Bus), which was released with a straightforward motive, and to serve the purpose for which it was developed.

It had to work, to be universally adaptable, replacing the serial and parallel port cables since the later required lot of software support and several reboots of the system to work after being plugged to the computer.

USB is a type of port that is used to transfer data or charge peripheral devices. The main objective of the USB was to enable users to start using the device immediately once it is plugged to the computer.

It was required to have the automation of operating systems to configure and load the required device drivers when any USB device gets connected with the computer to result in Plug and Play.

What do you mean by USB Implementation forum (USB IF)?

Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Compaq, NEC, a total of seven group companies and later joined by Philips, Lucent (now Nokia) and Hewlett Packard formed a non-profit organization called as USB Implementers Forum (USB IF), Inc. to develop and publish the USB specifications and aid in the advancement of the technology. The current membership number stands at 700 plus companies.

What is USB architecture?

The basic architecture of USB is simple and has the following components:-

  • The computer acting as a host and the Tablet or Smartphone acting as receptors
  • Single or multiple USB Devices
  • A USB cable connecting the host and the peripheral devices. 

It is a Master-slave protocol in which the host initiates and controls all the data transfer, whereas the Peripheral devices are slaves that follow or respond to the instructions given by the host device.

Therefore, a computer and peripheral devices such as tablets or smartphones are required to complete the USB communication.

What are different USB types?

USB offers easy and effective connectivity making it popular and widespread use. While the USB enables fast data transfer, it also makes it possible to power some small devices through the connectors making it more useful ‘on the go’.

Nowadays, the USBs are coming in several shapes and sizes, and this article will serve as handy guidelines on the types of USB.

The USB connection type can be categorized based on (a) Physical design of the plug and port & (b) functionality and speed.

There are three different types of USB based on the Physical design of plug and port. They are USB type A, USB type B, USB type C.

There are two different versions of USB based on their functionality and speed. They are USB 2.0, USB 3.0. We can say it has four different versions but USB version 1.1 is obsolete now and the most recent USB 4.0 will be part of all the devices to be released in later 2020 or 2021.

USB types based on Connector size or Physical design of ports

Different types of equipment and devices use different types of USB connectors. The development of USB has also correspondingly let to the evolution of new connectors with reduced size and increased functionality.

It is to be ensured, that the connection protocols are maintained in correct order to avoid issues.

The initial connectors came in 2 types (A & B) with the latest being USB Type C that is more robust and capable of transferring data at lightning speed.

However, you can still find the type A & B connectors on many of your old devices. The Type A & B connectors come in three sizes.

For instance, the standard size (USB – Type-A & B) is for desktop or other portable devices, mini size (Mini – A & B) was mainly targeted for mobile equipment, and the micro size (micro – A, B & AB) for the smartphones and tablets.

There are 4 pins in the standard Type A & B USB connectors and 5 pins for the Mini and Micro connectors (A and B).

USB – Type-A

This type is the most common and quite familiar with everybody since it is found on everyone or other electronic devices. The type A connector is rectangular in shape and large in size than the mini and micro type.

It is used for connecting keyboards, mouse, and cameras with the host controllers (computer) for data transfer or as a plugin for chargers.

USB – Type B

This type is uncommon and not so resourceful. It was generally found on printers and scanners to connect with the computers. It is square with beveled top edges.

The mini USB was a standard for several devices on the receptor side, which has been now replaced with Micro USB type.

The Micro USB is slimmer than the Mini USB type owing to thinner smartphones that require smaller connectors.

USB – Type C

This is the most recent type and is rectangular with round corners. It is now found on most of the devices and offers a faster data transfer rate than its predecessors.

The design is such that it can be plugged in any side(upside or downside) as compared to its earlier versions and is also reversible.

The plugs and receptors are available in USB type C but you will have to use the suitable adapters for its backward compatibility.

USB types based on functionality and Speed

The USB standards have been progressive at the same rate as other technology standards, initiating with USB 1.0 to the most recent version being USB 4.0.

With every version upgrade, the technology has also advanced in terms of enhanced performance.

The standards have been developed and maintained by USB IF to ensure it is the same for all manufacturers and not confining to single manufacture specifications.

It means you there are five speeds.

  • Low, Full and High Speed for USB 2.0 specifications
  • SuperSpeed for USB 3.0 specifications
  • SuperSpeed+ from USB 3.1 specifications onwards.

USB 1.0 and 1.1

The USB 1.0 standards were released in 1996 but didn’t get enough popularity due to some issues and were resolved in the August 1998 version USB 1.1 specifications.

The architecture was based on a master-slave protocol and a single host (master) capable to manage 127 devices (slave).

The primary goal was to have simplicity in the device, allowing the host to control the data transfer processing making it relatively cheaper and instantly accessible.

USB 1.1 is also referred to as a full-speed USB. However, it was designed to run at 2 different speeds keeping in mind all the available devices.

  • Low bandwidth or data transfer rate of 1.5 Mbps for a low-speed device such as Keyboard, mouse, etc
  • Full bandwidth or data transfer rate of 12 Mbps for a high-speed device such as Printers, floppy drives, etc

The standard cable length is up to 5 meters, and power provision for each device is up to 500 mA.

It does not allow for any extensions of cables due to certain limitations. USB 1.0 and 1.1 were designed for the Type A and B connectors, and no mini or micro version connectors were available.

USB 2.0

The advancement of USB 1.1 specifications resulted in the release of USB 2.0 specifications in April 2000.

The main difference, when compared with its predecessors, was the data transfer rate increased up to 480 Mbps.

This is also called as High bandwidth or high-speed USB.  The power provision also increased to 1.5 A, enabling the increased and fast charging of smartphones or drives as compared to its earlier version.

It is important to know that for achieving the full speed of USB 2.0, the corresponding devices and cables must also support USB 2.0. A USB 1.0 cable with a USB 2.0 connector will not help in achieving the desired speed for which it is designed.

USB on the go was released after the USB 2.0 allowed the devices to swap the roles between acting as a host or a slave depending on the connectivity with each other.

It is designed for the Standard Type A & B connectors in addition to the Micro and Mini connectors.

USB 3.0

USB 3.0 was released in November 2008. Almost all the latest devices being manufactured are supporting this version.

The primary objectives were to have increased transfer speed, lower consumption of power but provide more power output and allow for backward compatibility with USB 2.0 cables, plugs, and receptors.

This upgrade version was known as super-speed USB allowing the data rate at 5 Gbps with data encoding at 8b/10b.

It is designed for the Standard Type A & B connectors in addition to the Micro and Mini connectors.

USB 3.1

This version was released in July 2013, having two variants. The Generation 1 (Gen 1) USB 3.1 variant was much similar to USB 3.0 specifications, and the Generation 2 (Gen 2) USB 3.1 variant, also called Super Speed+ had a data rate of 10 Gbps, double than its earlier version.

USB 3.2

Released in September 2017, this has retained the USB 3.1 data modes but has come up with the new increased speed of 20 Gbps for compliant devices.

It is also called as Super speed+ having doubled lane to achieve the desired speed. The USB IF also designated a standard naming scheme for the various versions of USB 3.0 to have ease in marketing.

USB 4.0

USB 4.0 specifications are similar to the Thunderbolt 3.0 specifications allowing the data rate of 40 Gbps.

This version was released in Aug 2019 by USB IF to be competitive in the market aimed at providing better functionality.

It will make use of the USB C cable because of its capability to accommodate the speed and operation mode of USB 4.0.

In other words, USB 3.0 and USB C connectors will be compatible with USB 4.0, but to achieve the full desired speed, all the devices and connectors will have to have USB 4.0 ports.

The USB IF has defined the technologies that will support the USB 4.0 specifications.

The wireless USBs have also been available but have not gained adequate popularity and remain quite rare.

USB has many advantages over other technologies, but there are some disadvantages to this technology.

What are the advantages of USB?

  • It is simple and easy to use
  • It has compatible with many applications
  • It has a robust connection system
  • It is available in different sizes, and various connectors types are available in market
  • It is relatively affordable

What are the disadvantages of USB?

  • USB cables come in limited length owing to the purpose of serving the devices on the same table and not across buildings.
  • The addressing or signal broadcasting by the host is done for each peripheral device at a time and not simultaneously.

In a nutshell, the demand for increased data transfer rate has led to the evolution of USB. The USB available today has greater capabilities as compared to its initial release and better efficiency.

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