The USB port has accompanied us now for 20 years. It was introduced in 1996 and has not been thought of since. No matter whether the smartphone, the external hard disk, printer, scanner or even external displays – nearly every device is now connected via USB to the PC or notebook. Since the introduction of USB 3.0, 3.1 and Type C, however, there is increasingly confusion around the USB port. An overview, which term means what we have therefore combined for you.

But what has changed, which now 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 causes chaos, because the connection does not mean that a new USB standard is used. Let’s start with the current standards.

USB 3.0 / 3.1

USB 3.0 came on the market in 2011 or was really available on the market from 2011 onwards. The new standard brought mainly a higher transmission rate, but also a higher possible power of up to 4.5W, which can be transmitted over the cables and connections. The increased data transfer rate is also called “USB SuperSpeed”.

As early as 2013, USB 3.1 came onto the market, which once again reaches higher data rates. However, one decided to re-assign the naming of the USB 3 standards so that USB 3.0 to USB 3.1 Gen 1 and the new SuperSpeed ​​+ connectors USB 3.1 Gen 2 were. Moreover, USB 3.1 Gen. 1 is usually only listed as USB 3.1 or even as USB 3.0.

It is usually only possible to see which connector is connected to the symbol printed next to it or the color coding of the connector. So a USB 2.0 connection is black, USB 3.1 Gen 1 connection blue and USB 3.1 Gen 2 red. In addition, there are other colors like yellow “PowerUSB” USB 2.0 slots, which can deliver a higher power of 1A instead of 0.5A and often deliver power even when the notebook or PC is switched off.

What exactly means the symbols:

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

SS + or SS10 – USB 3.1 Gen. 2 “SuperSpeed ​​+”. Up to 10GBit / s theoretically possible data transmission rate. Otherwise, there are also no special features. Both ports are also fully downward compatible to USB 1.0.

SS + DP or SS10 DP – USB 3.1 Gen. 2 “SuperSpeed ​​+” with DisplayPort Integration. It has the same specifications as the normal USB 3.1 Gen. 2, but also allows the transmission of display signals via DisplayPort. A monitor can also be connected, which also serves as a USB hub, with only one cable.

Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 3 is run as a USB Type C port and offers besides USB 3.1 Gen 2 and Displayport 1.3 also Thunderbolt 3 as transmission mode.

Add “PD” or battery icon – Power Delivery. The standard Power Delivery came with USB 3.1 Gen 2 and can transmit up to 100W depending on the version and cable. If the add-on is available, it is therefore possible to either supply external hardware with up to 100W, or have the notebook powered via the port. 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 used directly as a docking station for a notebook, because 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 are then simply connected to the USB hub of the monitor.

USB Type C

The standards are still quite clear. However, it is not clear by USB Type C. The standard itself is only a connection form, not which USB standard behind it hides.

But first of all to the advantages: Due to its design, USB Type C is far more versatile and especially twist-proof. The annoying turning until the USB cable finally fits is no longer necessary. Also, the connector requires less space than a USB Type A connector. The versatility can already be seen in the above list: All connection types mentioned there can be executed as USB Type C.

Here is then also the problem: If the connection, as is often the case with smartphones, is not separately indicated, as a user is not know which standards are now supported. Some smartphones with a USB Type C connection like the HTC 10 support USB 3.1 Type C docking stations with HDMI, Ethernet and USB HUB – others like the Huawei Mate 9 still rely on USB 2.0 and support such a dock only to a limited extent.

Therefore, if the manufacturer does not fully specify the standards he used in his USB Type C connectors, the puzzle rattles around the appropriate cables, adapters and devices. The USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C cable with Power Delivery (PD) and the USB 2.0 cable are a good way to connect a monitor from the above example DisplayPort (DP).

Apple drives the whole to the top, because to load the current MacBook and MacBook Pro you need a compatible cable – this can only be seen by the serial number on the cable itself.

There is no real solution yet, as it is up to the manufacturers to decide on the standards they set. The CES 2017, however, has shown a strong tendency towards Thunderbolt 3, at least with notebooks. Here would be really covered all standards, without riddles. The smartphone manufacturers are, however, still rather cautious with the information on the standard used.


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

In the case of a USB Type C connection, however, only a glance at the logos at the connection or even the specifications in the data sheet is helpful. Especially smartphones make it difficult for you here and the information on the USB standard are buried deep in the technical details – if they are listed at all.