USB-A ports are ubiquitous in electronic devices and computer equipment. But where does USB Type C fit into the picture?

Let's look at what USB-A and USB-C types are first, then cover the differences between them.

What is USB-A?

usb type a connector

USB Type-A is the original USB connector, easily identified by its flat rectangular shape. Non-reversible by design, USB-A ports are found in almost every computer-like device, including laptops, smart TVs, video game consoles, and DVD/Blu-ray players.

What is USB-C?

usb type c connector

Released in 2014, USB Type-C was designed to fix common USB-A problems. Many slender, lightweight devices now integrate slimline USB-C ports in their design. Manufacturers can design thinner electronic products thanks to USB-C's narrow port. USB-C ports are gradually being added to more devices, with the goal of eventually replacing the traditional USB-A ports.

The Difference Between USB-A and USB-C

usb hub with usb a and usb c

Now that we have a background understanding of USB-A and USB-C, let's discuss the key differences.

New Reversible Shape and Slimmer Design

USB-A's clunky connection was updated with the space-saving USB-C design, allowing electronic devices to be designed slimmer than ever.

Apart from the obvious visual revision, USB-C ports now accommodate USB-C connectors regardless of the orientation you insert the connector. This major convenience update is due to symmetrical pin placement on both the bottom and top of the USB-C connector.

USB-A pins are dedicated to the bottom portion of the USB-A ports (making insertion non-reversible).

USB Standards Support

The newest USB 4.0 standard requires USB-C connectors, leaving USB-A behind. USB 4.0 has a potential 40Gbps data rate in addition to USB Power Delivery (USB PD) support, enabling bi-directional power delivery up to 100W (enough to power large electronic devices from laptops to some printers).


Related: How to Check the Power Output of a USB Port

This is significantly more powerful than the most recent standard, USB 3.1, which has a maximum data transfer rate of 10Gbps.

Alternate Modes Support

USB-C's Alternate Mode feature allows USB-C ports to accommodate a broader range of data protocols. However, this support comes at the discretion of the hardware manufacturer to integrate it into their electronic device.

The Alternate Modes that can be streamlined into a single USB-C port include Thunderbolt, DisplayPort, HDMI, Mobile High-Definition Link, and VirtualLink.

By integrating all these connections into a single USB-C port, Alternate Modes allow electronic devices to be designed slimmer than before. All you need is the right adapter to access the Alternate Mode feature you want from the USB-C port.

USB-A has no Alternate Mode support.

Related: How to Connect Any Phone or Tablet to Your TV Using USB

Backward Compatibility

USB-A and USB-C are both designed to be backward compatible with the device they are connected to.

For example, a USB-A 3.0 connector (identified by its standard blue plastic insert) will run at the USB port's speed, including both USB 2.0 and USB 1.1. Similarly, a USB-C 3.2 connector is also backward compatible with earlier standards of USB-C ports.

While you can't plug your tiny USB-C connector into one of the larger USB-A ports, an adapter or hub with the corresponding connectors and ports will solve your problem.

Looking Beyond The Horizon With USB-C

usb c close up

More than 700 technology companies, including Apple, Google, Intel, and Microsoft, collaborated on USB-C's initial design and adoption. USB-C is truly universal and will not fade into obscurity.

However, there are still many older devices that require a USB-A connection. For now, USB-A will continue to appear alongside USB-C in electronic devices to deal with compatibility issues.

As the use of these older devices declines, it can be expected that USB-C will become the dominant type.

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