A USB port is a connection point for devices that support wired Universal Serial Bus (USB) connections. It was introduced in 1996 to eliminate single-purpose computer ports. USB ports are extremely versatile and come in a range of form factors. Many types of devices have USB ports, including laptop computers, smartphones, and printers.
Types of USB ports
There are many types of USB ports that are used for many different purposes. The first USB specifications were introduced in 1996 and included USB-A and USB-B. Subsequent USB specifications were released in 2000, 2008, 2013, and 2017 to increase the data transfer rate for existing USB connections and introduce a third type of USB port, USB-C.
USB-A is the most common type of USB port. It comes as a standard port on most PCs, and it’s used to connect a wide range of peripheral devices. For example, USB-A ports can connect wired keyboards and mice to a laptop. Additionally, many people use USB-A flash drives for external, portable storage.
USB-B was initially introduced at the same time as USB-A, but it has narrower applications. The primary types of equipment that use USB-B ports are printers, routers, and external hard drives. USB-B cables usually have a USB-A connector on one end to connect these types of devices to a laptop or desktop computer.
Variations of USB-B include Mini USB-B and Micro USB-B. Mini USB-B ports are primarily used to connect portable electronic devices like digital cameras, portable charging banks, and MP3 players. Micro USB-B ports are sometimes found on smartphones and tablets, but many manufacturers have started shifting toward the more versatile USB-C port.
USB-C is the most recent version of the USB standard. Compared to its predecessors, USB-C has a slimmer, symmetrical design that makes it suitable for devices of all sizes. Devices with USB-C ports on the market today range from smaller smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy to larger gaming consoles like the PlayStation 5.
The primary reason USB-C is favored over USB-A and USB-B variations is its versatility and speed. Unlike the other types of USB ports, USB-C ports can handle higher data transfer rates and provide better audio and video quality.
A major shift in widespread USB-C adoption came in 2015 when Apple revealed they would be replacing all of the ports on their MacBook laptops with USB-C ports. Instead of a MagSafe charging port, Thunderbolt ports, USB-A ports, and a headphone jack, current MacBook Pro and MacBook Air designs include only USB-C ports and a headphone jack.
How to use USB ports
To use a USB port, simply plug in the appropriate cable. Sometimes the device on the other end of the cable must be turned on for the host device to recognize the USB connection. USB devices often have a plug-and-play interface, but sometimes extra drivers are needed to gain full functionality with the connected device. For example, a printer that’s connected to a computer with a USB-B cable frequently needs an additional driver to be installed before it can print anything. Troubleshooting USB ports that aren’t working properly can involve configuring port settings, replacing the USB cable, or using a different port altogether.