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What Is USB 3.0? Comparisons & How it Works

What is usb 3. 0 featured image
Published 8 September 2022

So you’re at your local computer store and notice the new USB flash drives with the little letters “USB 3.0” on the packaging. You’ve heard of USB 2.0 and know that it’s faster than, say, a parallel port connection, but now you’re faced with a new version that you’re not sure how it compares to the USB versions you’re used to. If that sounds all too familiar, you’re on the right page.

USB 3.0 is the third major iteration of the USB standard for linking computers and electronic devices. It can transfer data at a rate of 5 gigabits per second, or 5 Gbps, and is intended to replace USB 1.1 and 2.0 with a new serial protocol that’s more efficient than the previous versions.

Read on to learn more about USB 3.0’s features and the general evolution and potential of USB.

USB Versions: From USB 1.0 to USB 4.0

The USB is the most popular computer, tablet, and smartphone connection. It can transfer data, connect devices, and exchange information between them. This technology has undergone many improvements since its creation in the 1990s. 

There have been seven versions of USB so far. Each newer version handled a higher data rate than its predecessor while increasing the maximum cable length.

The original version was USB 1.1. It was released in 1998 and offered a data rate of 12Mbps. USB 2.0 came out in 1999 as the first high-speed version. It could transfer data at a maximum speed of 480Mbps and is still being used today.

USB 2.0 was followed by USB 3.0 in 2008, with a maximum data rate of 5Gbps; USB 3.1 in 2013 with 10Gbps; and USB 3.2 in 2016 with 20Gbps. The most recent version, USB 4.0, was released in 2019. It has an even higher maximum data rate than any of its predecessors, clocking an impressive 40Gbps.

Usb 3. 0 cable

USB 3.0: The SuperSpeed USB

As the third major iteration of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard, USB 3.0 allows for even faster data transfer between computers and other electronic devices.

The previous versions of USB had problems with latency, which is the time it takes for data to travel between devices. Many consumers complained that they were spending too much time waiting for their computers to respond when using USB devices such as mice or keyboards.

With USB 3.0, these issues have been resolved because it uses a new protocol called “enhanced SuperSpeed.” This allows users to transfer large amounts of data faster than ever before.

Here are the other features and advantages of USB 3.0 over the previous versions:

  • Transfer rates. With an impressive transfer rate of 4.8 Gbps, USB 3.0 is up to ten times faster than USB 2.0.
  • Power consumption. USB 3.0 trumps its 2.0 predecessor in this regard, too. The former offers up to 900 mA, a significant step-up from the latter’s 500 mA. 
  • Greater bandwidth. USB 3.0’s two unidirectional data pathways can receive data and transmit it. On the other hand, USB 2.0 can only handle one data pathway, which restricts it to one-way transfer.
  • Backward compatibility. If you’re unsure whether your computer supports USB 3.0, you can still use previous cables to connect your devices because USB 3.0 is backwards compatible with USB 2.0.
Usb types explained

USB 3.0 also has a lot to offer when it comes to different connectors:

  • USB-A. This is for your USB cables that plug into your computer’s USB port.
  • USB-B. This is for older devices that don’t use USB 3.0 technology — like printers, scanners, cameras, and MP3 players.
  • Micro-USB. This is used on some smartphones, as well as some laptops made by Apple or Microsoft.
  • Mini-USB. This is used on older digital cameras and devices that require charging through a cable (rather than wireless charging).
  • USB-C. This is the newest connection type used in most newer laptops and phones made by Google or Samsung (and even some cars).

Conclusion

USB 3.0 is exactly what it sounds like: the third major version of USB. It’s a gigantic advancement from USB 2.0 in more ways than we can list. The primary distinction is simple: super speed, smaller devices, and better battery power management.

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