Understanding USB-C Power Delivery and Other USB Alternatives

A USB-C cord is thinner and more rounded than a traditional USB-A cord
A USB-C cord (left) compared to a traditional USB-A cord (right).

The average person has a lot of electronic devices, and most of them have different types of cords. People are familiar with large USB (USB-A) cords, micro USB (USB-B) cords, and many other cord types, but a universal type of cord hasn’t been a possibility so far. USB-C, a new type of USB cord, has the potential to bring electronics closer to that possibility, particularly because USB-C power delivery is stronger and faster than the USB variants before it. It’s too early to tell if USB-C will replace any of its predecessors yet, but it has some compelling features companies and consumers have taken notice of.

What is USB-C?

USB-C is a hardware standard developed by the USB Implementers Forum—a group of companies working together to create the USB standard. The standard is constantly being improved upon, and a USB4 specification was published in late 2019. USB-C cords are dramatically different from their predecessors, pioneering technology that is a key component of the USB4 specification. USB-C cables can transfer up to 400 gigabytes of data per second, and the USB4 specification lays the groundwork for that becoming standard. USB-C is meant to usher in a new era of connector cords and data transfer, much simpler and faster than previous technologies.

USB-C cables are designed for ease of use, and they directly address some of the usability headaches annoying consumers for 20 years. They have an oval shape and a significantly simpler internal structure within the metal casing on each end. This means USB-C cords can fit into their ports in any orientation, and the need to flip a USB cable into the proper orientation is a thing of the past. The simpler structure inside the casing also makes it easier to align a cable with its port. Although the end casing is slightly thicker than other USB cords, its overall size is smaller. A USB-C cable also has the same casing on either end, which means the cord is reversible and power transfer is equally efficient regardless of how the cord is plugged in.

What is USB-C Power Delivery?

USB-C power delivery (USB-PD) is a new technology in certain USB-C cords, supporting charging technology faster than the charging hardware which comes standard with many devices. Anything below a USB 3 provides about 5 volts of charge to devices, and cannot handle major fluctuations well, even though USB cords contain voltage regulators. USB-C cables can handle up to 20 volts and 5 amperes of current, which is 4 times the previous voltage standard, and 10 times the previous amperage standard. USB-C power delivery is even more scalable than this, however, and it can transfer up to 100 watts safely. Most smartphones can’t handle such a high wattage; but other devices can, which is where the true potential of USB-C power delivery lies.

USB-C power delivery is not the only fast charging, data transfer technology available. An organization called Qualcomm has a competing version, and unlike USB-PD, this version is usable with USB-A, USB-B, and USB-C cords. The Qualcomm standard can’t transfer the same high potential voltage as USB-PD, but it’s supported by some major device makers, so it’s possible both standards could become common. If USB-A and USB-B connector cables ever become completely obsolete, USB-PD would be a clear frontrunner. However, as long as multiple USB types exist, the possibility for multiple fast charging and data transfer standards remains.

Key aspects of a USB cord, covered in detail within text.
Key aspects of a USB-C cord.

How Might USB-C Revolutionize Electronics Usage?

As of this writing, different companies have been using USB-C power delivery technology (also called USB-PD) for about 5 years, so there’s a good chance consumers will be seeing more USB-C ports in their electronics. Regardless of who supplies the ports and standards, the obvious speed, efficiency, and usability benefits of USB-C cords and USB-C power delivery should influence some major changes to the electronics landscape. The high voltage potential of USB-C power delivery could mean charging a computer could be as simple as plugging in a single cable in the near future—no more bulky transformers required. Some new computers have USB-C ports already, but charging a computer with a USB-C cable isn’t possible yet.

The deciding factor driving widespread adoption of USB-C will be how well electronics manufacturers and companies respond to it. So far, the signs are promising, with multiple major electronics companies—including Apple, Samsung, and Google—adopting some form of USB-C technology. USB-A and USB-B ports are still common, but their prevalence in new smartphones and similar devices has dropped sharply. Just like there is a minority of people who prefer flip phones over smartphones, it’s reasonable to assume full conversion of USB devices to USB-PD won’t happen for some time.

A USB-C charging hub.
A USB-C charging hub.

Ultra Librarian stays on the cutting edge of USB-C power delivery by providing ports and cables for electronics projects. Our partnerships with worldwide distributors ensure high-quality components for every project. Working with Ultra Librarian takes the guesswork out of preparing for your next great device and puts your ideas on the road to success. Register today for free!


The Ultra Librarian Team

Ultra Librarian offers the world’s largest PCB CAD library, putting cutting-edge materials at your fingertips so you can build better products faster—all for free.

Join Our Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest news, and important updates


Related Posts

If you’re looking for any of our component footprints or models, we have readily available and free options for you and your design team. Search our library for the solution you’ve been looking for.

Free Design Resources

Ultra Librarian is the worlds largest online – and always free – PCB CAD library. Build products better, faster, and more accurately with easy access to vendor-verified symbols, footprints, and 3D models. Register today to start searching the right components for your next design.