Universal Standard Bus (USB) cables are needed to facilitate data transfer and device charging. However, they have some significant differences that range from the shape or design to functionality, performance, and compatibility.
From their definition, USB-C is a type of cable connector, while USB 3 is a data transfer technology. In simpler terms, referring to a cable as USB-C discloses its shape and hardware capabilities while describing another cable as a USB 3 reveals the speed and data transfer protocol.
While both cables can be used for the same purpose, their differences determine which devices they can be used on, how fast they charge, and their data transfer rates. Read on to understand the major differences between USB-C and USB 3 cables and how they can work together.
USB-C vs. USB 3: Side-by-Side Comparison
|What it is||A type of cable connector found in modern computing devices||A USB speed standard for USB cables|
|Designer/manufacturer||USB Implementers Forum||USB 3.0 Promoter Group (Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, NEC, ST-Ericsson, and Texas Instruments)|
|Primary use||Transfer power and data on portable devices, smartphones, tablets, and laptops||Mostly found in storage devices and to connect peripherals to a computer|
|Initial release date||August 2014||November 2008|
|Maximum data transfer speed||40 Gbps (40,000 Mbps) with Thunderbolt USB 3 and USB 4||5 Gbps (5,120 Mbps) for USB 3.010 Gbps (10,000 Mbps) for USB 3.120 Gbps (20,480 Mbps) for USB 3.2|
|Compatibility||Can be used only with oval USB-C ports||Compatible with any USB connector.|
|Maximum electrical current supported||6080 mA (100 W)||900 mA (4.5 W)|
USB-C vs. USB 3: What’s the Difference?
USB-C and USB 3 connectors are used to charge and transfer data between devices. Let’s look at the major differences between the two before getting into which one is the better option.
History of the USB-C
USB Type-C, or USB-C, is a unique, thin, and oval-shaped plug on USB cables that are slowly replacing older micro-USB connectors. It was rolled out in August 2014, when the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) published the USB Type-C Specifications 1.0.
The USB-C port has a more symmetrical appearance than other USB cable types. It also has a reversible or double-sided connector with 24 pins and is slightly wider than the common micro-USB connectors. The USB-C cable is a good option for connecting monitors, as it relays high-quality videos, supports fast data transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbps, and facilitates charging high-powered devices.
This new-age connector has a higher wattage (up to 100 W) that accommodates high-end computing devices, such as gaming consoles, smartphones, and laptops. It’s similar to the Lightning connector in Apple devices, which is reversible and guarantees stable power and data transfers.
History of the USB 3
The USB 3, also known as the USB 3.0 or USB 3x, is a connector standard that defines the cable’s speed of data transfer. It was initially released in November 2008, and it increased data transfer speeds by up to 10 times more when compared to the preceding USB 2.0 (from 480 Mbps to 10 Gbps). It has since been upgraded severally to ensure faster data transfer rates.
The initial version of USB 3.0 has a high data transfer rate of up to 5 Gbps, referred to as SuperSpeed USB (SS). It was succeeded by the USB 3.1 version (officially dubbed the USB 3.2 Gen 2) released in July 2013. It retains the SuperSpeed transfer rate and adds to it the SuperSpeed+ mode to enable transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbps.
The USB 3.1 was replaced by USB 3.2 (officially named the USB 3.2 Gen 2×2) released in September 2017. It’s a revolutionary USB 3 cable with two lanes and the fastest speeds of up to 20 Gbps. The speeds are made possible by SuperSpeed and two more SuperSpeed+ transfer modes embedded in the connector.
Type of Connector
USB connectors come in different shapes and sizes, including mini and micro. The USB Type-C plug features a reversible design that can’t be plugged in the wrong way into a device. The standard USB-C cables come with the Type-C connector on either side, but you can also find some with USB-B and USB-A connectors that make it possible to transfer data or charge devices from otherwise incompatible devices.
USB 3 cables have a male connector on the cable or the external flash drive called the plug and a female connector on the device, computer port, or extension cable known as the receptacle. There are several plugs and receptacles compatible with USB 3 connectors:
- USB Type-A: Simple rectangular connectors and plugs that are seen on computers, laptops, flash drives, and gaming consoles.
- USB Type-B: Square connectors with a large protrusion on top, commonly seen on large peripheral devices, like printers and scanners.
- USB Micro A: Small, compact, and rectangular connectors found on smartphones and other portable devices like digital cameras and tablets.
- USB Micro: Slightly larger than the Micro-A connectors. These connectors allow mobile devices to connect to peripherals like external hard drives and digital cameras.
Most USB 3 connectors have a blue port or are marked with an “SS” (SuperSpeed) or “3.0” icon on the outside.
Ease of Use
USB-C has unlocked a new possibility for USB cables—ease of use. USB-C cables take away the worry of inserting the connector incorrectly thanks to the reversible design and the equal number of pins on either side of the plug. On the flip side, USB 3 cables require you to insert the connector in a certain direction and ensure that it matches the port shape.
The USB-C plug is thin, oval-shaped, symmetrical, and compatible with the majority of modern electronics, including smartphones and tablets. It often has a USB Type-C connector on both ends, but you can also find cables with USB-B and USB-A plugs.
USB-C connectors are also backward compatible with USB 3.0, USB 2.0, and USB 4 ports. Besides, you can use adapters to connect USB-C devices to HDMI or VGA ports. And it’s compatible with next-gen consoles like the Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and PS5.
The USB 3 is compatible with older USB versions, including USB 1.1 and USB 2.0. However, when a USB 2.0 device is plugged into a USB 3.0 port, it works with the speed of the USB 2.0 protocol. This is because the USB 2.0 connector has four wires and the USB 3.0 port has eight wires, so data and power can’t be transferred at speeds that are higher than what the USB 2.0 can handle.
Functionality or Performance
The USB-C connector has a bi-directional charging capacity, where upward and downward charging is supported. It means that you can use USB-C cables to charge either host or peripheral devices. It also supports high-speed data transfer and more power output than USB 3 because of the USB Power Delivery technology.
USB-C’s high-end features, like Thunderbolt 3, also enable faster data transfer speeds of up to 40 Gbps. Although both the USB-C and USB 3 connectors support video output, the USB-C is a better choice for graphic cards and high-powered processors thanks to its high power capacity (100 W vs 4.5 W) and faster data transfer rates (maximum 40 Gbps vs. 10 Gbps).
You can use a USB-C cable to connect devices like 8K displays and external storage drives and enjoy incredibly high speeds. For this reason, you pack away your HDMI cable and start using USB-C because it can connect to high-end displays.
USB-C vs. USB 3: 6 Must-Know Facts
- USB-C is a newer type of USB cable that is becoming more common in modern-day devices.
- USB-C cables can deliver up to 100 watts of power, which is sufficient to charge laptops and other high-power devices.
- The USB-C connector has a bi-directional charging capacity, where upward and downward charging is supported.
- Both the USB-C and USB 3 connectors support video output.
- USB 3 cables are more common in older devices and are compatible with a variety of other USB ports.
- There are various generations of the USB 3, which support a high data transfer rate of up to 20 Gbps.
USB-C vs. USB 3: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?
Straight off the bat, USB-C is the better technology. It’s newer and has all the bells and whistles needed for the technology of the future. When purchasing a new USB-C cable, you must be sure to check that the port on your device supports the USB-C connectors.
The USB-C connector is becoming more common on newer consumer electronic devices, including smartphones, cameras, industrial PCs, laptops, and gaming consoles. For example, Apple’s MacBooks and a few Chromebook laptops already have USB-C for data transfer, charging, and video output.
Another reason why USB-C is better than USB 3 is that it can substitute HDMI cables because it handles high-definition video output. Besides, it supports up to 100 watts of power output when combined with the USB Power Delivery technology to enable fast charging.
USB 3 is decades old and compatible with older ports and devices and might soon be outdated. It’s also slower and has a lower power capacity than USB-C, which will in the future be available on all the devices that currently rely on USB 3. These include flash drives, external hard drives, PCs, monitors, gaming consoles, power banks, smartphones, and tablets.