Introduction To USB Cables
USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, and is a standard interface for computer peripherals like mice, printers, cameras, and external hard drives and memory sticks. Most modern laptop and desktop computers ship with several USB ports as part of their standard configurations. These ports allow users to connect devices to their computers, greatly extending the capabilities of personal computers.
Manufacturers create USB cables according to increasingly improved specifications. Original USB cables, or USB 1.0 and 1.1 cables, still ship with some peripherals and do not allow transfer speeds that are as fast as their newer counterparts. USB 2.0 cables have become the standard for most USB peripheral devices today, however, and the vast majority of USB peripherals are capable of achieving USB 2.0 speeds. More recently, manufacturers and the USB Implementer Forum, an industry standards committee, have begun work on the future USB 3.0 standard. All USB cables and standards are backwards-compatible, meaning that new cables like USB 2.0 cables can be used with older USB ports and peripheral devices that originally supported USB 1 standards. Although data speed is limited by whatever the lowest speed component used is, consumers can safely and reliably use newer cables with older equipment. Since USB 2.0 cables are not significantly more expensive than USB 1.0 or 1.1 cables, it is usually best to purchase a newer cable.
USB Cable Connector Types
There are several different types of USB cable connectors that tend to act as informal standards for certain types of equipment. Although not every component of a certain type uses the informal standard connector, most peripherals follow this schema. As always, it’s smart to read the manual that shipped with your device or check the manufacturer’s website if you’re unsure which cable you need. The standard USB connectors are as follows:
- Type A Connector – Standard USB Connector Cables
- Type B Connector – Standard for USB Printer Cables
- Mini A Connector – Used occasionally for Cameras, PDAs, and Other Devices
- Mini B Connector – Standard for USB Camera Cables, Cell Phones, PDAs, and Other Devices
The 4 USB connector types are pictured to the right, along with the number of pins each connector has. If you’re ensure what connector type you need, it’s often easy to tell by examining the size and shape of the USB port on your device.
Standard USB Cables, Type A Connectors, And USB Extension Cables
The most common type of USB port and connector is the Type A port. These ports are found on most laptop and desktop computers, and at least one end of a USB cable must be a Type A connector in order to connect a device to standard laptop or desktop computer ports. The other end of the cable may be another Type A connector or a connector of a different type, such as a Type B connector for a printer. USB Cables are usually named something like “USB 2.0 A-B connector,” indicating that the cable uses the USB 2.0 specification and speed, and that it has a type A connector at one end and a type B connector at the other. Pay close attention to these names when purchasing cables in order to ensure you purchase the correct one. A visual check will help confirm that you’ve picked the right cable.
Because the USB cables that ship with standard devices are not always long enough, a wide variety of USB extension cables are available. These cables feature a Type A Connector on one end and a Type A Receptacle, similar in size and shape to the Type A port on your laptop or desktop computer, on the other. USB extension cables allow users to plug a device with an attached cable or another USB cable into the Type A Receptacle, thus extending the USB cable. Like all USB cables, USB Extension Cables come in both the 1.1 and 2.0 varieties.
Since many computers, especially laptops, only ship with one or two USB ports, many users purchase devices called USB hubs in order to increase the number of USB devices they can connect at one time without making time-consuming or expensive modifications to their computers. USB Hubs plug into standard USB computer ports using Type A connectors, and they have several ports of their own in which users can plug USB devices. USB Hubs may draw power from the computer’s power supply, or they may require the use of a power adapter which ships with the hub and plugs into a wall socket. Like USB cables, USB hubs come in both 1.1 and 2.0 varieties, so it’s important to purchase a faster USB 2.0 hub if speed is a factor.
USB Printer Cables – Type B Connectors
Most of the printers manufactured in last several years use USB Type B connectors to interface with computers and network devices. Often, USB A-B cables don’t ship with the printers that use them, forcing consumers to buy these cables separately. Fortunately, these cables come in a number of lengths, and consumers can buy them cheaply online or in most computer and office supply stores. Before buying a USB printer cable, it’s best to measure the distance from your computer (or router) to your printer in order to ensure that you buy a long enough cable. Like other USB cables, USB printer cables come in both 1.1 and 2.0 varieties, so you’ll want to choose the faster 2.0 cable if your printer supports it or if you plan to use the cable with another device in the future.
Miscellaneous Devices – Mini A Connectors
Some devices, including cell phones, PDAs, cameras, and MP3 players may occasional use Mini A connectors. However, the vast majority of smaller devices use Mini B connectors rather than Mini A connectors. If you are unsure whether your device uses a Mini A or Mini B connector, consult the diagram above, read the manual that shipped with your product, or consult the website of your device’s manufacturer.
USB Camera Cables – Mini B Connectors
Most cameras that support the USB interface, as well as other small USB-capable devices like PDAs and MP3 players, use a Mini B Connector. These connectors are much smaller than their Type A and B counterparts, allowing them to fit in even the most compact of cameras. If your camera supports the USB 2.0 standard, it’s much better to purchase a 2.0 cable in order to take advantage of the faster speed when transferring images from your camera to your computer. Most USB camera cables are A—Mini B cables, meaning one end features a Type A connector and the other end features a Mini B connector.