Research Hub > Types of USB Cables: The Ultimate Guide
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Types of USB Cables: The Ultimate Guide

In this guide, we will discuss all the different types of USB cables and their most common uses, so you can find the right option for your needs.

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What's Inside

USB cables are a major part of modern life. From flash drives to phone chargers, USB cables see use every day at work and home. Often overlooked, the USB has countless iterations that are ever evolving. Knowing the proper use of each type of USB cable will vastly improve productivity in any task. With more and more people working from home these days, adequate USB knowledge is more important than ever. In this guide, we will go over all the different USB cables and their most common uses, so you can find the right option for your needs.

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Terms to Know Before We Start

Before we dive into the different types of USB cables, let's start by discussing some basic USB knowledge and common terms you will hear when dealing with USB cables.

When discussing USB cables, some common terms are used frequently, like version and type:

Understanding USB Version

Version is used when describing the specific USB technology that a cable uses. USB cable versions let consumers know the highest speed capable by the cable, along with its maximum length. See the USB version table below for more details.

USB Type Version Supported Maximum Speeds Maximum Cable Length
Type-A 2.0, 3.0 (3.1), 3.1 Gen 2 480 Mbps, 5 Gbps, 10 Gbps 16 feet 2.0, 9 feet 3.0
Type-B 2.0, 3.0 (3.1) 480 Mbps, 5 Gbps 16 feet 2.0, 9 feet 3.0
Type-C 2.0, 3.0 (3.1), 3.1 Gen 2 480 Mbps, 5 Gbps, 10 Gbps 16 feet 2.0, 9 feet 3.0
Micro-B 2.0 480 Mbps 16 feet
Mini-A 2.0 480 Mbps 16 feet
Mini-B 2.0 480 Mbps 16 feet
Micro-AB 2.0, 3.0 (3.1) 480 Mbps, 5 Gbps 16 feet 2.0, 9 feet 3.0

The latest version, USB version 3, is easy to spot thanks to the blue accents in the USB plugs themselves. Any USB 3 compatible port or cable will feature the same blue components. Note that USB 3.0 is also referred to “USB 3.1 Gen 1”, and USB 3.1 is now commonly referred to as “USB 3.1 Gen 2.” The latest USB 3.1 Gen 2 cables offer the highest possible speeds and feature a teal color on supported ports and cables. Keep in mind, however, that USB 3.1 Gen 2 is still quite new and infrequently used—though its adoption is sure to increase over time.

Understanding USB Type

Type is another word you will often hear in reference to USB cables. Type simply refers to the shape of the cable—think of USB-A or USB-C and their different shaped plugs. Male and female are also used to describe cables frequently. Male means that the cable end plugs into a port, while female is used to describe a port or a cable that can have another cable plugged into it, such as a USB extender. 

Most Common USB Cables

Knowing the proper cable for the job can save valuable time and money when setting up an office or workspace. Knowing the cables you DON'T need helps to reduce clutter and user error when it comes to employees or family members looking for the "right" cable to use.

Some types of USB cables are more common than others. Check out this table for some of the most common USB cables and their typical uses:

Type of USB Common Uses Version Supported
A-Type Flash drives, keyboards and mice. 2.0, 3.0 (3.1), 3.1 Gen 2
Micro-B Android phone chargers, video game consoles. 2.0
C-Type New laptops and phones, devices with combined data and power delivery. 2.0, 3.0 (3.1), 3.1 Gen 2

USB cable versions and types are essential to know in order to optimize the technology you're using. Nothing is more frustrating than having your new USB 3.1 device functioning at 2.0 speeds just because it's in the wrong port. Luckily, with this guide, you'll learn the difference so you can get the most out of your tech in no time. 

USB Cable Types: An In-Depth Guide

Cable type can be thought of as the primary identifier when purchasing a USB cable. When searching online, it will often be the first thing you look for. Each type of USB cable has a unique shape that will help to identify it.

Version is still important, but if you have the wrong type for your cable, then it won't work at all. When you have the wrong version of the cable, it still allows the USB cable to function, just not at optimal speeds. Let’s take a look at USB cable types and their most frequent features and uses below:

USB Type-A

Without a doubt, USB-A is the most common USB cable, and it is often the first that comes to mind when you hear the word "USB." Type-A supports all versions of USB and is found on virtually every piece of modern technology. This rectangular shaped plug is used for many devices like flash drives and often is one end of a cable for all the other types of USB like Micro or USB-C.

For instance, many USB cables will have a USB-A end to connect to a PC or power adapter, and another type on the other end to connect to a specific device. With most phone chargers, for example, the end that plugs into the wall adapter will be a USB Type-A cable. 

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USB Type-B

USB-B has a smaller, squarer connector and is used most commonly with printers and scanners. With these cables, one end is typically Type-B while the other is Type-A to connect to a computer. Past its prime, B-Type USB cables are finding less use with the introduction of wireless printers and other new technology. USB-B cables, however, still support USB version 3.1, so you can expect to see them for a while longer.

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USB Type-C

The new kid on the block, USB-C, can be found on most new tech, like cellphones, the Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 5. Capable of incredible speeds, USB-C cables are seeing more frequent use everywhere. Their ability to transfer data and power on a single cable has made USB-C a new standard in the tech industry.

Be careful when purchasing this type of USB cables, as not all USB-C cables are created equal. Some may be strictly for power or data transfer. Be sure to check the specs on your USB-C cables and devices before making any final decisions. 

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Micro USB-B

Micro USB-B cables are probably the most common USB cables besides type A. Android phones from years prior and modern gaming consoles use this smaller form factor USB for charging controllers and devices. Its shape looks like a shrunken HDMI cable, and it is the smallest of all USBs.

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Mini USB Type-A

Incredibly rare and mostly phased out for the superior Micro USB technology. Mini USB-A cables look very similar to Mini B but instead have curved edges rather than jagged ones on the plug. These are primarily used in older cameras and typically a proprietary cable. The Mini A is rarely seen today.

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Mini USB Type-B

The predecessor to the Micro USB-B, the fatter Mini USB-B has a larger rhombus type shape. While still in use today for some digital cameras, the mini USB has predominantly been replaced by the smaller and more efficient Micro B cables.

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Micro USB AB or Micro B 3.0

Micro USB-AB female ports have the unique ability to accept either Micro B 2.0 or Micro B 3.0 (3.1) USB cables. The versatility of Micro AB cables makes them a popular choice for external hard drives and devices that can benefit from the added flexibility. A version 3.0 (3.1) Micro-AB cable is also referred to as Micro-B 3.0 (3.1).

Micro USB-AB cables can utilize USB 3.0 (3.1) technology and are thus a regular choice when moving around large blocks of data. The cables will often have one end with the wide USB-AB plug and the other with USB-A for connecting to a PC or laptop.

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Specific Uses for Specific Cables

Now that you know all the different types of USB cables out there, let's go over some of their more specific uses.

  • USB-C & Micro B. While some smartphones have moved on to USB-C, most portable devices like phones, cameras, and external power banks will use Micro B USB cables. Often you can hear people refer to these as "Android cables."

  • Mini-B. Mini-B USB cables are now almost exclusively used for digital cameras. Be careful, though, as these cables look similar to Micro-B—but they are not interchangeable. Look to see most cameras in the future make the switch to Micro-B or the newer USB-C type.

  • USB-A. USB Type-A is unequivocally the most relevant and most used form of USB in the world. The majority of USB cables will most likely have one end that is Type-A. This is because almost all modern computers and smart devices have USB A-Type ports, and A-Type USBs can support many different versions. Compatibility like this helps ensure that devices can be used with a variety of other cables and new technology.  

Find the USB Cables You Need at CDW

USB cables are a part of everyday life and come in a range of types and versions. One of the smallest components of a PC, USB cables often don’t get the attention they deserve. Knowing the right cable for the job saves you time and money, while maximizing performance at work and home.

USB technology is continuing to evolve, so it’s a great idea to stay up to date with the newest information by using resources like this guide. Now that you know the types of USB cables you need, it will be easy to make the right purchase at CDW.