With different standards and operating technologies, it’s more difficult than it should be to know what a cable can do. There are a few things to be aware of when shopping.
USB standards: The Universal Serial Bus (USB) dates back to 1996 but has seen new standards, revisions, and connection types over the years since then. Rather than go through everything here, we try to highlight what is important.
Connections: Even though USB-C is becoming a common type of connection in kind, you want cables with connectors that are compatible with your existing devices. Today, that might mean USB-A, Lightning, or MicroUSB. Remember that the potential of each cable depends only on its oldest connection type.
More information: Data speeds are always in megabits per second (Mbps) or gigabits per second (Gbps). You will know the speed that the cable should have with the standard:
- USB 2.0 supports 480 Mbps
- USB 3.0 supports 5 Gbps
- USB 3.1 supports 10 Gbps
- USB 3.2 Gen 1 supports 5 Gbps
- USB 3.2 Gen 2 supports 10 Gbps
- USB 3.2 Gen 3 supports 20 Gbps
- USB 4.0 supports 40 Gbps
Power: Although cable manufacturers always list the maximum load capacity, your device will determine the maximum load capacity, so it is important to know which standards it supports and pair your cable with the correct power adapter. The power of a cable is measured in Watts (W). Sometimes manufacturers write the details of the cable in the small print. If no W is listed, you can calculate it by multiplying the voltage (V) by the current (A), assuming it is listed.
Basic USB-C cables are passive and can carry up to 60W. Cables capable of carrying 100W or more must have e-marker chips that identify the cable and its capacity.
The Power Delivery (PD) standard is the closest we have to the standard standard. A few manufacturers, such as OnePlus, Oppo, and Xiaomi, still have proprietary charging standards. Then there’s Qualcomm’s Quick Charge (QC) standard, which has been popular in phones for years, although Quick Charge 4+ supports PD. Even PD has a version called Programmable Power Supply (PPS), which is part of the USB PD 3.0 standard. PPS allows real-time updates to increase efficiency and charge phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S22 range up to 45W instead of the standard 18W. The latest addition to PD is the Extended Power Range (EPR), which allows USB-C cables to carry up to 240 watts (used to be limited to 100W).
Thunderbolt was a proprietary interface developed by Intel and Apple, but is now open for free use (still licensed by Intel). With the Thunder 3, the standard is based on the USB-C connector and can transfer up to 40 Gbps and can output 100 watts of power using the PD standard. Thunderbolt 4 brings various changes related to video (supporting two 4K displays or an 8K display). It also supports the USB 4 standard and is backward compatible with previous standards.
Cable Warranty: There are several types of cable licenses. When a string is verified, it usually means that it has been randomly tested and matches certain criteria. It gives you, as the consumer, peace of mind that your cable performs as the manufacturer claims. Warranty can be expensive, many cable manufacturers avoid it, but that doesn’t mean their cables are poor. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing USB technology. It is managed by members such as Apple, Google, HP, Microsoft, and Intel, sets requirements and issues certificates. If a cable is certified by USB-IF, it has been tested to ensure that it meets its standards. Apple has its own Made for iPhone (MFi) certification for Lightning cables. Intel certifies Thunderbolt cables. Authentic cables often have the appropriate logo on the connector (for example, Thunder cables have a lightning bolt).