USB Buying Guide

What's the difference between all these cables?

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If your desk looks anything like mine, it's covered in various types of cables. I have some old stand-bys, like an ethernet cable, headphone cable, and my laptop power cord. And then there is a whole bunch of USB cables - a mini-B for my FTDI Basic, a micro-B for my cellphone, and a B for my Arduino Uno. So what gives? What's the difference between all these USB cables?

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That's where this guide to USB cables comes in handy. In this guide, we go over the different types of USB cables, what makes them different, what devices typically use what, and list all the cables (like the new Cerberus cable!) we currently have. It might not sound too interesting (USB cables? Really?), but you might find you'll learn something. You can also check out our other buying guides like the RF connector buying guide, the Arduino buying guide, or the Accelerometer, Gyro, and IMU buying guide. Check it out!

Comments 16 comments

  • I'm probably OCD, but why weren't the terminators ordered A, B, Mini-B, then Micro-B? That would have been sorted both by size and market appearance.

  • I think it would be worth noting the difference between OTG and regular USB. Physically OTG has pin 4 of the b side grounded (in mini and micro) while regular has it terminate.

    From my experience, there are things that require one over another. I know the connection between my gumstix and a usb hub is picky so it's probably safe to assume the beagleboard and similar boards may have that as well.

    • Yes, I concur with this. I had to do a lot of Google searching to get a good grasp of what OTG meant since it's so hard to just go to a store and buy one off the shelf.

  • Cerberus is a lot of help....if only it was a USB splitter so you could have multiple devices connected and controlled at once....Sorry Robert for (almost) creating a rift in the time space continuum and almost destroying the world..........:-)

    go here

    Read the comments if you want to understand what the hibber giber is all about--they're funny!

  • When I used to work at Staples, once in a while I would get a customer that would express such great frustration that every store he'd been to didn't seem to carry the cable he needed - USB-A to USB-A. I would simply say "for the average user, if you're looking for a cable like that, you're doing something wrong." When I asked, they are usually up to something like attempting to connect their laptop to the USB Host on their Router.

    This guide would be great to have posted in the tech sections of places like Best Buy or Staples, so many confused customers and some that can't even see (visually) the difference between Micro and Mini. Of course with that said, there are info boards posted in stores already but no one ever looks at them and always asks for help anyway.

    • Yeh, i know, but i bought a external hard-drive casing (here in the netherlands) and i unwrapped it and it suprised me, i saw a USB-A port on the casing, so i tought i can hook my printer to it ?!?! but then, it was the only port (besides the power-port). And then is saw the cable, it was a USB-A USB-A cable.

      I had never expected that, and never seen it before. Here is a link to a page of the 2,5" version:

  • I wonder... Do electronic recycling centers let you buy things from them? I'd like to get a couple PC's for a few dollars just to USB A hook them up, then take them back to the place >:D

  • I know when I started USB I wondered what D+ and D- did. I was quite surprised you didn't explain it any.

    • Yeah, the point of this guide was really to explain the physical connections and make sure n00bs didn't end up buying mini-B cables for their micro-B devices.

      You're right, though, USB is an interesting subject all the way through and I'd suggest that anyone who's interested in learning more start by reading the Wikipedia article and venture on from there.

      • Well in addition to this, I think you all should venture out into tutorials explaining the various communication protocols, just so people know what they are looking at when they stick a probe on a comm line, like I2C, SPI, your favorite flavor of one-wire, and the such. Doing this will further your goal of teaching people electronics. In addition, you could go to explain how simple perifs like PWM and an ADC work. This just empowers people more with knowledge. Sure they could look at a datasheet, but when I have worked with high level MCUs like a PIC32, the specs are in a entirely different datasheet, and there you practically drown in information. Idk. Wow. That was way longer than I wanted that to be. Well, just an idea.

  • No USB 3 in your guide?

    • we don't carry any products that support USB 3.0, and the tutorial's main focus is just the connectors and cables.

      • My concern was that people understand that USB 2 and USB 3, A connecters look the same but internally are different.

        With USB 3 A sockets becoming a widely available on new PC's an understanding that USB 2 A connectors work fine in USB 3 A sockets.

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