There are now four USB specifications — USB 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 — in addition to the new USB-C connector. We’ll point out where they significantly differ, but for the most part, we’ll focus on USB 3.0, as it’s the most common. The other important fact is that in any USB network, there is one host and one device. In almost every case, your PC is the host, and your smartphone, tablet, or camera is the device. Power always flows from the host to the device, but data can flow in both directions.
A regular USB 1.0 or 2.0 socket has four pins, and a USB cable has four wires. The inside pins carry data (D+ and D-), and the outside pins provide a 5-volt power supply. USB 3.0 ports add an additional row of five pins, so USB 3.0 compatible cables have nine wires. In terms of actual current (milliamps or mA), there are three kinds of USB port dictated by the current specs: a standard downstream port, a charging downstream port, and a dedicated charging port. The first two can be found on your computer, and the third kind applies to “dumb” wall chargers.
In the USB 1.0 and 2.0 specs, a standard downstream port is capable of delivering up to 500mA (0.5A); with USB 3.0, it moves up to 900mA (0.9A). The charging downstream and dedicated charging ports provide up to 1500mA (1.5A).
USB-C is a different connector entirely. First, it’s universal; you can put it in either way and it will work, unlike with USB. It’s also capable of twice the theoretical throughput of USB 3.0, and can output more power. The USB spec also allows for a <<sleep-and-charge>> port, which is where the USB ports on a powered-down computer remain active.