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USB Connectors: The Evolution From USB A to USB 3.1

TecTalk blog

Have you ever felt the frustration of trying to insert a USB into your computer? Flipping it, then realizing you had it right the first time? These connectors have been around for 20 years; you would think you’d be an expert at this by now. Yet, every day you still suffer from USBD, Universal Serial Bus Disorientation. The good news is that it’s 2016 and we finally have a solution, USB Type-C.

In our Connectors Overview we briefly discussed the purpose and characteristics of USB connectors. Let’s review…

USB connectors came about in the 1990’s along with the rise of computers and peripheral devices. They became a standard connector and eliminated the need for several different power chargers. A USB connection is temporary and has flat, durable contacts which can withstand repeated use. USB connectors are compatible with many platforms and operating systems. They are ideal for most consumer electronics and are low cost and easy to use. Nowadays, most computers and laptops come equipped with several USB ports.

Before with begin, we’ve created a USB infographic to make it easier to follow along with the information below. 

The ABCs of USB Connectors

usb-type-a-square

USB Type A

The most widely recognized USB connector is Type A. It is a flat and rectangular connector.  The first version of USB Type A had four contacts, two for power and two for data signals. Due to its size, Type-A is used with host devices such as desktop computers, laptops, game consoles, or media players. Other versions of this type of connector include Micro A and Mini A. These smaller versions were an attempt at making them compatible with cellphones and other smaller peripheral devices. Yet, they were rather unsuccessful and nowadays obsolete.

 

 

usb-type-b-square

USB Type B

Type B is a square shape with beveled corners on the top ends of the connector. They’re mostly used for connecting printers, phones, and external hard drives. Other versions of this type of connector include Micro B and Mini B USB.

USB Type C

USB Type C

Type C is the newest USB interface on the market. It is completely reversible, meaning the connector can be plugged in both ways as well as the entire cable itself. Plus, it’s slim design allows it to be used with the latest smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Devices with integrated Type-C ports include the new Apple MacBook and the Chromebook Pixel, along with a number of newly released smartphones.

USB Standards Easy as 1,2,3…

The original USB standard is referred to as USB 1.0 and subsequent versions are named accordingly (USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1). With each revision of the USB, the data transfer speed and power delivery has continued to increase. Need an easy way to visualize all this information? View our USB infographic.

USB 1.0

Released in 1996.

The first release of USB had a maximum data transfer rate of 12 megabits per second and was solely for data transfer. It contained 4 pins or contacts, two for power and two for data signals.

Average length HD movie transfer time = 1 hour

USB 2.0 Hi-Speed

Released in 2000.

The next revision to USB had a maximum transfer rate of 480 megabits per second, 40 times faster than its predecessor. Along with this update, mini A and mini B USB connectors were introduced.

Average length HD movie transfer time = 1.5 minutes

USB 3.0 SuperSpeed

Released in 2008. It is also referred to as USB 3.1 Generation 1.

The USB 3.0 release boasted a maximum transfer rate of 5 Gigabits per second. Ten times faster than USB 2.0 and more than 400 times faster than the original. The increase in data transfer was made possible by the addition of 5 pins, creating a total of 9 pins for power and data signals. This USB standard is distinguishable by its bright blue receptacle.

Average length HD movie transfer time = 9 seconds

USB 3.1 SuperSpeed+

Released in 2014. It is also referred to as USB 3.1 Generation 2.

With a maximum data transfer rate of 10 Gbps, it’s twice as fast as USB 3.0 and almost 900 times faster than the original. It has the capability to output video of up to 4K resolution and could potentially replace HDMI, DVI, and DisplayPort in the future. However, if you want to take advantage of this new SuperSpeed+ USB technology, all devices and hubs must have USB 3.1 Gen 2 capabilities. Otherwise, if the new standard is paired with USB 2.0, the device will perform at the slower 2.0 speed. The good news is that 3.1 is backwards compatible with previous USB standards.

Average length HD movie transfer time = 4.5 seconds

 

Note:

USB 3.1 and USB Type-C are two separate USB updates. USB 3.1 is a revision to the data transfer speed and power capabilities, while Type-C is a revision to the physical USB interface. It’s possible to pair new USB standards with previous USB standards and interfaces, ex. USB Type-C with USB 2.0 standard.

USB Power Delivery (PD)

You probably use a USB adapter to charge your smartphone or tablet. This is possible due to the USB 2.0 revision which added the ability to supply 2.5 watts of power via USB. The new USB 3.1 update is capable of delivering up to 100 watts of power! Not only is it great for charging larger devices, like laptops, but it can transfer data as well. As told by howtogeek.com, “You could plug your laptop into an external display connected to a power cable, and that external display would charge your laptop as you used it as an external display…” With this innovative mindset Apple boldly included a single USB Type-C port equipped with 3.1 technology on their new Macbook.

 

USB Connectors and Electromechanical Manufacturing

Our electromechanical group has experience working with many types of connectors so it’s important for our team to stay up-to-date on the latest innovations. A new USB standard means many industries will be looking into integrating it with new or existing equipment. It would result in faster and more user-friendly equipment. Instead of haggling with multiple cables, there would just be the one USB Type-C with 3.1 technology.

USB UPGRADING TIPS 

  1. Make sure any new USB purchases or assemblies include the new standard (USB 3.1 Gen 2). A gradual transition will be much more manageable than upgrading everything all at once.
  2. Invest in a couple different USB adapters. It’ll most likely be a few years before everyone catches on to this new technology, so prepare accordingly. USB adapters are available in several combinations to connect the new USB Type-C connector with USB Type-A and USB Type-B.
  3. Be an ambassador of these emerging technologies. If you ask the average person if they’ve heard of USB Type-C or USB 3.1, they’ll most likely have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s surprising that something as revolutionary as a reversible USB hasn’t made national television. So, it’s important to educate others and thus help this transition move along a little faster.
  4. Lastly, when purchasing a new smartphone, tablet, or laptop make sure to ask about its USB 3.1 capabilities. It might even be a good idea to look into products that have both 3.1 and 2.0 USB ports. If you’re adventurous enough, you may even consider devices with only a single USB Type-C port. Power supply and data transfer all rolled into one? Why not?

 

We know it’s a lot to take in. So, we’ve condensed all this information into a simple, easy-to-understand infographic. Feel free to download it and share it with your colleagues. What are your thoughts on this new technology? Let us know in the comments!

USB Connectors Infographic

USB Connectors

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