What is USB 4 vs. USB C? The Differences

USB type C is the shape or interface of a port/cable whereas USB 4 is the underlying technology used standardized by USB-IF, which also defines the transfer speeds and the supported power rating.

USB 4

USB connectors have made our lives easier, thanks to USB-IF‘s standardization. Usually, you can now find the same USB port type on most modern devices. However, new emerging technology continues to improve the performance of these USB ports and cables every few years, which is why it needs a new name and precedent each time there is a breakthrough.

Currently, USB 4, also referred to as “USB4” (without the space), is the latest technology used in USB cables, but so is USB “type C.” So how can the 2 latest technologies be used simultaneously? This is where most users are confused.

Today we are going to debunk this myth and get a better understanding of what USB 4 and USB type C are, and how they differentiate.

Understanding USB Interfaces

When we say “USB connectors,” we mean the physical port shape of the cable or the port it plugs in. Before we split the hair between USB 4 and USB C, we must first understand the different types of USB interfaces we usually encounter.

The image below will help you understand the different USB interfaces:

Connector types
USB interface types

With its debut in 1996, USB interfaces have evolved in terms of both shape and their underlying functionalities and support.

Now that you know what the different USB interface types are called, let us discuss USB 4 and USB type C in detail.

What is USB Type C?

When talking about USB Type C, or USB C, we mean the type of interface a cable or port has. It refers to the physical design of the connection.

USB C can be used in both up and down positions and will work just as well, unlike the USB type A connection, which can only be connected in one orientation.

With that said, it is understood that the type C connector is not backward compatible. This means that it cannot be connected to older connection types, since the shape is different. Similarly, older USB interfaces are not forward compatible, meaning none of the older ones can connect to a type C interface.

What is USB 4?

You may have heard of USB 3.0, or USB 3.2, over the years. Well, now, the latest technology is USB 4. When “USB” is followed by a number, it refers to the underlying technology a cable or port uses. “USB 4” and all other nomenclatures are standards set by the USB-IF that define the performance of the port/cable.

USB 4 offers speeds of up to 40 Gbps and Power Delivery (PD) of up to 100 watts. It is currently the best-performing USB technology available. Furthermore, USB 4 supports “tunneling,” which means it can divide its bandwidth to share network resources. Hence, it can be used to display an external device @60Hz, while also carrying other data.

Moreover, the USB 4 technology is backward compatible, which means it will work when connected to older USB 2.0 or 3.0 technologies, provided the interface is the same. However, the older technology will now become a bottleneck and degrade the performance of the USB 4 capabilities.

USB 4 was announced in 2019 but did not make it to the market until 2020, therefore you may not get your hands on it just that easily.

Now that you understand what USB 4 and UB type C are, let us compare the two for better understanding.

USB C vs. USB 4

In a nutshell, USB C is the interface of a cable or a port, whereas USB 4 is the technology it uses. Therefore, you can get the best of both worlds in a single USB cable/port; type C with USB 4 technology.

Another thing to highlight is that the USB 4 technology is currently only available in the type C interface, the same as the “USB 3.2 Gen 2×2.”

However, some other USB technology standards are available in different interfaces. For example, USB 2.0 was available in USB type A, B, and Micro USB interfaces.

To learn more about the different USB technologies and interfaces, refer to this guide post.

How to Check if USB 4 is Available on Your Computer

The USB type A was color-coded, so users knew which USB technology they had on their computers and what speeds it supported. However, USB 4 only uses type C connectors which are uncolored.

However, there are other methods to identify whether or not you have a USB 4 port on your computer.

Using Device Manager

The Device Manager in Windows also lists the type of USB port on your system’s motherboard. Follow the steps below to check which USB port is there on your PC:

  1. Open the Device Manager by typing in devmgmt.msc in the Run Command box.

    devmgmt
    Open Device Manager
  2. Expand “Universal Serial Bus controllers.” Here, you will find the name of the USB interface type on your computer.

    dev
    Identify USB port technology

From the Logo label

Another way to know which USB port is available on your computer, you can check out the logo beside the port, and cross-reference it from the logos given in the table below.

USB performance logos
USB performance logos. Source: USB-IF

You can also find the descriptive logos for the USB types on the packaging, cables, and chargers. To learn more about the latest logos announced by USB-IF, refer to this article about USB logo changes.

Look for the logo on your PC above, below, or either side of the USB port.

From the Manufacturer’s Website

Another quick method to determine which USB connections are available on your motherboard is by checking the manufacturer’s website. The user manual for your motherboard lists all the characteristics, including the ports and their details.

Simply check your motherboard details and perform a quick online search to see what type of USB connections are available.

How to Check if Cable is USB 4

In the case of a USB cable, you can only identify what type of technology it supports by looking for the USB 4 logo either on the packaging or on the cable itself. The table below shows the different logos you may find on them for different transfer and power speeds.

USB Type C cable logos
USB Type C cable logos. Source: USB-IF

Advantages of USB 4

USB 4 is the latest technology with the fastest transfer rates and highest power deliverance at the moment. Here are several advantages of using this technology over its predecessors:

  • Transfer speeds of up to 40 Gbps.
  • Supports fast charging of up to 100 watts.
  • Backward compatible with older USB technologies.
  • Comes only in the Type C interface which is now being used by almost all OEMs and readily available.
  • Supports tunneling to carry different types of data (display, audio, internet, etc.)

Disadvantages of USB 4

With the technology relatively new, there are also some caveats:

  • The majority of the devices still lack support for USB 4.
  • Since the technology is relatively new, it will be expensive.
  • USB 4 technology only comes in type C interfaces, therefore older devices with other interfaces cannot support these transfer speeds.

Final Verdict

At the end of this detailed discussion, we have a few pointers for our readers who are planning to upgrade their devices and cables with the inclusion of USB 4.

If you are purchasing a new USB 4 cable, make sure it is the recommended length. USB-IF has recommended a maximum of 2.62 feet. Anything longer than that will simply degrade the data transfer rate, power, and quality.

Furthermore, do not confuse “Thunderbolt” with USB 4, as they are both different technologies. They do have some similarities, like transfer speeds and the same interface type (Thunderbolt 3 and 4), but the underlying technology is different. That being said, USB 4 is still compatible with Thunderbolt 3 and 4.

With that said, we suggest you do the proper homework on connection types and USB support before purchasing any cables, chargers, or even computers, so you know how fast your transfers and charging should be.

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Subhan Zafar is an established IT professional with interests in Windows and Server infrastructure testing and research, and is currently working with Itechtics as a research consultant. He has studied Electrical Engineering and is also certified by Huawei (HCNA & HCNP Routing and Switching).

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