Universal Serial Bus (USB) may be the most common plug-and-play interface used in modern computing, but not everyone is familiar with how each port looks like. Here’s how to identify USB ports on your computer.
Your Guide to Identifying USB Ports on Your Computer
Step 1: Know What a USB Port Looks like
There are two types of USB ports included in computers today.
- USB – A — The first and most common type is the standard rectangular-shaped port (commonly known as USB-A). They’re commonly found in desktops and larger-sized laptops.
- USB Type-C — Another type is the oval-shaped Type-C port. Due to its smaller size, they’re typically included in slimmer laptops like the newest MacBooks and the Dell XPS series.
Unlike USB-A ports, Type-C ports are symmetrical. This just means that you will be able to connect a Type-C USB cable or device without worrying about its direction.
There are other USB standards (like MicroUSB) that are commonly used, but they’re found more in mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, not computers.
Step 2: Know the Types of USB Ports
USB has had multiple iterations since its inception in 1995. The main differences between the various USB versions are its transfer rate and the amount of power they can supply.
Transfer rate definition: Transfer rate is the maximum rate in which the USB device is able to transfer data from one end to another.
Here are the current USB port types that are currently in use and their transfer rate:
- 1.0 (1995): 1.5 Megabits/second (Mbps)
- 1.1 (1995): 12 Mbps
- 2.0 (2000): 480 Mbps
- 3.0 (2008): 4.8 Gigabits/second (Gbps)
- 3.1 (2013): 10 Gbps
USB 2.0 ports are uni-directional, which means that it can only send or receive data, but never both. USB 3.0 updates this standard and allows for simultaneous sending and receiving.
Another difference between the different versions is the amount of power they can deliver. USB 2.0 is capable of delivering up to 500mA of power, while 3.0 can deliver up to 900mA.
What this means is that the newer the port, the more energy it can bring to a connected device. A device where this is relevant is the external hard drive, as a 3.0 port would no longer require a hard drive to have its own power supply included.
The Type-C USB connector, also based on the 3.1 standard, can support up to 100 watts of power. This enables Type-C cables to charge laptop batteries, and not just phones and tablets.
Type-C devices also support video input and output. With Type-C ports in place, there’s no need for dedicated video display ports like HDMI and DisplayPort.
Step 3: Check the Labels on Your Device
Manufacturers sometimes label the ports with what USB port type they are. Check for any labels on your ports that are marked as 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 3.0, or 3.1.
The version number specifies how fast USB devices can transfer files. A USB port with just the USB symbol labeled is typically a USB 2.0 port.
If the USB port has “SS” (or “SuperSpeed”) on its label, it’s a USB 3.0 port. If it’s “SS 10”, it’s a USB 3.1 port.
USB ports with the lightning symbol on the label indicate a port that’s “Always On”. This means you can hook devices to charge your device even if the main device is turned off (so long as it’s connected to a lower source).
These USB ports can also deliver more power than other ports, which allows devices to be charged faster.
Step 4: Identify USB Ports on Your Laptop or Motherboard’s Technical Specifications
If the USB ports aren’t labeled with what type of ports they are, it’s still possible to determine which version the USB ports are in by looking at the laptop or motherboard’s specifications.
For Windows devices, press the Windows Key + “R” to open the Run Command dialog and type “msinfo32”. If successful, a dialog box will appear with the list of system information.
Next, find the value the under “System Model” and use a search engine to look for a list of the laptop or motherboard’s specifications. For the most reliable results, check the results from the manufacturer’s website.
Some words to look for include: USB (including the version number), USB Type-C, and other similar terms.
MacOS users can determine what model their Mac is by clicking the Apple logo > “About this Mac.” This displays an overview of the device, including OS version, model name, and serial number.
Step 5: Identify USB Ports in Device Manager
If you own a Windows computer and the USB specs aren’t anywhere in the manuals, it’s time to do some digging in “Device Manager.”
To check your USB ports using Device Manager:
- Press “Windows Key + R” to open the run “Command.”
- Key “devmgmt.msc” and click OK.
- Once in “Device Manager,” click the little arrow next to “Universal Serial Bus controllers”.
- Look for the word “Enhanced” in the USB port description. If you see this word, the USB port is 2.0; if not, the port is version 1.0 or 1.1.
- Next, look for the words “xHCI” or “Extensible Host Controller Interface”. In this case, the USB port is version 3.0.
In other cases, the port might also be labeled “USB 3.0” or “USB 3.1” straight away. This makes it easier to know what type of USB port it is.
Step 6: Look at What Color the USB Port Is
While this is no longer as reliable as it once was especially in newer devices, there is a color convention for different versions of USB ports.
- White USB ports are USB 1.0 or USB 1.1
- Black USB ports are USB 2.0
- Blue USB ports are USB 3.0
- Red USB ports are typically USB 3.1
- Yellow USB ports indicates a port that’s “Always On”
We hope this guide would help you identify USB ports on your computer. While they look the same upon first glance, as you have just read in this guide, not all USB ports are created equal.
How else do you identify USB ports on your computer? Let us know in the comments below.