Everything you need to know about USB ports and speed (2024)


The very name Universal Serial Bus (or USB) is an ambitious promise: one port to rule them all. Unfortunately, the reality is much messier. Although your phone, tablet, and laptop can all use the same USB-C port for charging and data transfer these days, they can all work in different ways.

What is USB4? What is Thunderbolt? Is it the same as USB-C? I’m here to help you answer all of these questions, so you can get the best performance from your devices.

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USB Terminology

First, it’s important to define some terms beforehand.


Every USB device is built to some version of the USB specification, which is managed by the USB Implementer Forum (USB-IF). These versions are characterized primarily by how much data they can transfer and how much power they can deliver (at least, these are the main things you should care about). While most of these devices are interoperable as long as they use the same type of port, the entire chain will conform to the slowest part of the chain. Let’s say you plug a USB 3.2 solid-state drive into a USB 3.2 port on your computer, but use a USB 3.0 cable – data will only transfer at USB 3.0 speeds. Make sure every link in your chain is rated for your needs.

USB Power Delivery (or USB-PD)

Instead of having a charger for each of your devices, you can opt for a charging adapter that can charge multiple devices via multiple USB-C Power Delivery (USB-C PD) ports. Power Delivery is a fast charging method that supports up to 240 watts of power and allows gadgets to safely talk to a charger to meet the exact power needs. You’ll also find these types of ports on USB hubs, which are sometimes called “pass-through charging,” though that’s not an official term.

Make sure the wattage of the USB-C port on the charging adapter or hub can handle your device’s needs. A MacBook Pro typically requires 96 watts during intensive workloads (though you can charge them at lower wattages too), so you’ll probably need a 100-watt USB-C port on a charging adapter or USB hub for the best charging experience.


These terms refer to the physical shape of the connector and port on the device. USB-C is common and looks like a small, elongated oval. It’s also reversible, so you can’t plug it in the wrong way. USB-A is the older, rectangular port you’ve seen for years. There are many more types of USB connectors, but these are the two you’re most likely to see in charging adapters, hubs, and docking stations today.

Super speed

You may also see some USB devices with terms like “SuperSpeed”, “SuperSpeedPlus”, and “SuperSpeed ​​USB 5/10/20 Gbps”. These terms were initially meant to be more helpful, marketable labels indicating what generation or speed a USB port was, but unfortunately, it made things more confusing. In most cases, you can ignore these labels and just look at the actual speed rating.

What’s up with the USB generations?

It would be nice if you could just plug a USB 3.2 device into a USB 3.2 port using a USB 3.2 cable and trust that it all works. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

When USB 3.0 came out in 2008, it had a maximum speed of about 5 gigabits per second (Gbps). However, when USB 3.1 came out in 2013 with a maximum speed of 10 Gbps, the 5-Gbps version was renamed USB 3.1 Gen 1, while the newer, faster spec was USB 3.1 Gen 2Are you still confused? Well, it gets even worse.

After the introduction of USB 3.2 in 2019, it was rebranded 5-Gbps USB again The 10-Gbps version from “USB 3.2 Gen 1” became “USB 3.2 Gen 2,” and the new 20-Gbps specification became — you guessed it — USB 3.2 Gen 2×2. Wait, what? “2×2” means running two 10 Gbps lanes of data simultaneously. You don’t need to know all of this. Many USB hub and docking station manufacturers have abandoned the names, labels, and symbols. They’ve started printing the maximum speed directly next to the port.


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