The USB port has been accompanying us for 20 years now. He was introduced in 1996 and has hardly been left to think about since. No matter if the smartphone, the external hard drive, printers, scanners or even external displays – almost every device is now connected via USB to the PC or notebook. However, since the introduction of USB 3.0, 3.1 and type C, there is increasing confusion around the USB port. An overview of what name means we have therefore gathered for you.

But what has changed now that causes confusion? So some, because with USB 3.0 and 3.1 came some changes and extensions of the standard. Especially USB Type C still provides chaos, because the connection does not mean that a new USB standard is also used. Let’s start with the current standards.

USB 3.0/3.1

USB 3.0 came on the market in 2011 or was actually available on the market from 2011. The new standard brought above all a higher transmission rate, but also a higher possible output of up to 4, 5w, which can be transmitted via the cables and connections. The increased data transfer rate is also called “USB Super Speed”.

Already in 2013 USB 3.1 came onto the market, which once again reached higher data rates. However, it was also decided to reassign the naming of the USB 3 standards, so that USB 3.0 to USB 3.1 Gen 1 and the new super Speed + Connectors USB 3.1 Gen 2 were added. To make matters worse, USB 3.1 Gen. 1 is usually only listed as USB 3.1 or even as USB 3.0.

The connection is usually only visible after a closer look at the symbol or the colour coding of the connection. So is a USB 2.0 port black, USB 3.1 Gen 1 Port Blue and USB 3.1 Gen 2 red. In addition, there are other colors such as yellow “PowerUSB” USB 2.0 slots, which can deliver higher performance from 1a instead of 0, 5a and often provide power even when the notebook or PC is switched off.

What the symbols mean:

SS – USB 3.1 Gen. 1 “Super speed”. Up to 4/s data transmission, otherwise no special features.

SS + or SS10 – USB 3.1 Gen. 2 “Super Speed +”. Up to 10gbit/s theoretically possible data transfer rate. Otherwise there are no special features. Both connections are also fully backward compatible to USB 1.0.

SS + DP or SS10 DP – USB 3.1 Gen. 2 “Super Speed +” with DisplayPort integration. It has the same specifications as the normal USB 3.1 Gen. 2, but it also allows the transmission of display signals via DisplayPort. This means that a monitor can be connected, which is also used as a USB hub, with only one cable.

Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 3 is run as a USB Type C port and offers, in addition to USB 3.1 Gen 2 and DisplayPort 1.3, also Thunderbolt 3 as a transfer mode.

Additional “PD” or battery symbol – power delivery. The standard power delivery was added with USB 3.1 Gen 2 and can be transferred up to 100w depending on the version and cable. If the addition is available, it is possible to supply either external hardware up to 100w or to have the notebook powered by the power supply. An example from the practice: the external monitor in the Home Office has USB 3.1 Gen 2 with DisplayPort or even Thunderbolt 3 with power delivery. Here it is possible that the monitor is directly used as a docking station for a notebook, as the notebook is powered by a single cable, while it transmits image, sound and USB data to the monitor via the same cable. External peripherals will then simply be connected to the monitor’s USB hub.

 

USB Type C

The standards are still quite clear. However, it gets cluttered by USB type C. The standard itself only provides a connection form, not which USB standard hides behind it.

But first of all the advantages: due to its design, USB Type C is far more versatile and above all twist. The annoying turning until the USB cable finally fits is eliminated. Also, the connection requires less space than a USB type a connector. The versatility is already shown in the above list: all the connection types mentioned there can be executed as USB Type C.

But this is also the problem: if the connection, as is often the case with smartphones, is not marked separately, users do not know which standards are now supported. Some smartphones with USB Type C connector like the HTC 10 then support USB 3.1 type C Dockingstation with HDMI, Ethernet and USB hub – others like the Huawei Mate 9 still rely on USB 2.0 and support such a dock only greatly limited.

If the manufacturer does not fully specify which standards he has used in his USB type C ports, the guesswork is about matching cables, adapters, and devices. Where you used to tell the salesperson that you need a USB cable for a printer, you have to be more precise today: for example, you need a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C cable with power delivery (PD) and DisplayPort (DP) to connect a monitor from the above example.

Apple drives the whole thing to the top, because in order to load the current MacBook and MacBook Pro you need a compatible cable – this is only recognized by the serial number on the cable itself.

So far, there is no real solution, because it is up to the manufacturers to know what standards they are setting. However, CES 2017 has shown a strong tendency towards Thunderbolt 3, at least for notebooks. This would really cover all the standards without guesswork. However, the smartphone manufacturers are still more reticent with the specs of the standard used.

Summarized

In order to identify a USB port, above all, a look at the color of the port. Black stands for USB 2.0 and older, while blue USB 3.1 Gen 1 (USB 3.0) and Red USB 3.1 Gen 2 marked.

With a USB Type C connection, however, only a glance at the logos at the connection helps – or even in the specifications in the data sheet. Just smartphones make it hard and the information about the USB standard is buried deep in the technical details – if they are actually listed.