USB 3.0 – USB, The Next Generation

by Mike McEvoy on December 6, 2009


The evolution of the well known Universal Serial Bus, also known simply as USB, continues with the release of the first devices using the new USB 3.0 specification. USB ports are the little rectangular connectors on all computers that are used to connect everything from printers, scanners and plotters to mice, keyboards, external hard disk drives and flash memory drives to Blackberrys, iPhones, iPods and digital cameras. Plus a whole host of other devices. USB connectors are about to get an upgrade with the official release of USB 3.0 – USB’s next generation.

USB 3.0 – Important Facts:

USB 3.0 devices are just starting to come to market, so there is no need to get anxious over upgrading your computers and peripheral devices. USB_3_ConnectorHowever 2010 will bring a significant growth in computers and devices with USB 3.0 ports. In the meantime this tech tip will provide some helpful USB 3.0 introductory points for getting up to speed:

  • The USB 3.0 specification became official in November 2008.
  • Most desktop and laptop computer peripheral devices today use connection ports meeting the USB 2.0 spec.
  • USB 3.0 provides a maximum data transfer rate of up to 4.8 Gbps or 10 times the speed of USB 2.0.
  • USB 3.0 = USB 2.0 X 10
  • USB 3.0 will be completely backwardly compatible with the current USB 2.0, much like USB 2.0 is backwardly compatible with the earlier USB 1.0 & 1.1 specifications.
  • USB 3.0 will require a new type of cable to get the maximum transfer speed.
  • To utilize the full USB 3.0 transfer speed there will need to be USB 3.0 ports on both the computer and the peripheral device (hard disk drive, video camera, phone, etc.).
  • USB 3.0 ports on external devices will be backwardly compatible with USB 2.0 ports and cables – they will just work at the older USB 2.0 speed (480mbps instead of 4.8gbps).
  • Computers and devices with USB 3.0 will begin shipping in volume in 2010.
  • ASUS is currently shipping the first computer motherboard with USB 3.0 ports.
  • USB 3.0 is also being referred to as “SuperSpeed” USB. Ya gotta have a marketing angle.
  • Full-duplex data transfers are part of the USB 3.0 specification; a step up from the half-duplex mode of USB 2.0
  • The tenfold increase in data transfer speed is accomplished by increasing the number of wires used for transfer from 4 wires to 9 wires and utilizing a scheme for more efficient handling of data traffic.
  • USB 1.0 was released in 1996 and offered a data transfer rate of 14mbps
  • USB 2.0 was released in 2000 and provides a maximum data transfer rate of 480mbps.

Higher Power Levels for Attached Devices

USB 3.0 also has additional advantage in areas such as providing power to attached devices. USB ports can transfer not only information but also electricity to peripherals. USB 3.0 can provide a higher level of power than USB 2.0 plus it also has an advanced power management scheme that uses less power when attached devices are not active.

Some examples that have been given to illustrate the raw data transfer speed of USB 3.0 include being able to transfer a 20 GB high-definition movie between a peripheral device and a PC in less than 70 seconds or transfer a 4 MB song in less than a hundredth of a second. Pretty speedy. Time will tell how these examples measure out in real world use.

USB 3.0 -  New Technology Adoption

It is never easy to predict how quickly a new technology will catch on. Take netbook computers for example. When netbooks were first introduced many people thought they were more of a fad and would fizzle out. Now netbooks are the fastest growing computer segment. My bet is that USB 3.0 will catch on in a relatively short amount of time as people and businesses are moving increasingly larger amounts of data between computers and external devices. The next generation may just take root rapidly.

For additional USB 3.0 info check out which has more details on the USB 3.0 spec as well as new USB 3.0 devices.



Eren Mckay December 7, 2009 at 8:24 am

Thanks for telling us all about this because I’m thinking about buying a computer and now I’ll only buy it if it has the whole USB 3.0 technology.
I’m so glad I read this before going out and purchasing a new computer.
All the best,
.-= Eren Mckay´s last blog ..Carrot soup recipe with yummy sweet potato =-.

Mike McEvoy December 7, 2009 at 9:10 pm

@Eren McKay — Glad you found this helpful. If you are looking to buy a new computer in the next couple months you may not find many with USB 3.0 but by the 2nd quarter of 2010 the selection will be greater.

Another option is to use a USB 3.0 adapter or card. PCI cards for desktop computers will be arriving in the next month or two (Asus is actually shipping one now) and adapters for laptop and notebook computers should be arriving in Q1 2010. But with portable computers it’s always a bit more elegant to have the hardware built-in rather than hanging off the side;-) As USB 3.0 enabled computers and devices roll out I’ll be doing follow up posts so stay tuned.

Dennis Edell December 8, 2009 at 6:52 am

Very cool info, thanks for the heads up. Also quite happy to hear about the backwards compatibility.
.-= Dennis Edell´s last blog ..Blogging Halted Here – Don’t Despair, This Is A Good Thing! =-.

BunnygotBlog December 8, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Great to hear this! Thumper is looking into buying a new one.
.-= BunnygotBlog´s last blog ..Sleeping With Your Business Partner =-.

Gail @GrowMap December 10, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Thanks for letting us know 3.0 is now available. I suggested in my SU review that will be sent to Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook that anyone who wants to take advantage of the new speed should start ensuring any new purchases of PCs or peripherals they make be USB 3.0 only.
.-= Gail @GrowMap´s last blog ..MEME: LinkLuv to My Fav Bloggers Favs =-.

Mike McEvoy December 11, 2009 at 2:02 pm

@Gail GrowMap – Glad you found the USB 3.0 info useful. It will be interesting to see how quickly this new specification gets rolled out; both to computers and to external devices. I’m looking froward to it and I think people will find it much more beneficial then they first realize. Thanks for stopping by.

Tony December 11, 2009 at 3:44 am

I wonder how quickly the new USB 3.0 format will take off? I know that over the next year, all new motherboards will undoubtedly switch to the new format, but so many of us are left with USB 2.0 devices that we are unlikely to throw away in a hurry.

The change in speed from USB 1.0 to USB 2.0 was nothing short of amazing, but for many devices a tenfold increase won’t make that much difference, only when it comes to large amounts of data, in particular movies or music, or bursts of data.

I wonder how this will affect my external USB Hard Drives. Is the speed of data transfer right now limited by the speed of the drives, or by the USB 2.0 standard? If it’s the drive speed, then USB 3.0 won’t make any difference, however solid state drives are getting more popular and cheaper.

I think the next coupel of years could be very exciting as regards technology and what is available for us to spend our money on.
.-= Tony´s last blog ..Movie Night Blues Revisited =-.

Mike McEvoy December 11, 2009 at 12:40 pm

@Tony — You raise a great point regarding compatibility between USB 3.0 and older USB devices. While I have not had a chance to do any hands-on testing at this point the USB 3.0 specification and the initial reviews state that USB 3.0 is fully backwardly compatible with the earlier USB standards. So connecting an older USB 2.0 external hard disk drive or printer will work just fine when connected to a USB 3.0 port — they will just run at the older USB 2.0 speed.

The actual physical connector for USB 3.0 has not changed from earlier USB versions. However to get the faster data transfer rate when connecting a USB 3.0 device to a USB 3.0 enabled computer you will also need to use a new type of cable. The newer cables for USB 3.0 include a few extra wires which allow for faster data transfer and other functionality specific to USB 3.0.

So the short answer is USB 2.0, 1.1, 1.0 devices will have no problems connecting to USB 3.0 ports on new computers. They will just run at the slower speed.

One area I’m really looking forward to USB 3.0 is with flash memory drives. Current drives are painfully slow with large amounts of data. Hopefully USB 3.0 will prod manufacturers to significantly speed up these useful little drives.

USB 2.0 is the limiting factor for data transfer with an external HDD not the speed of the drive (unless of course you have an older slower HDD). . If you take the same drive from an external enclosure and install it as an internal HDD you will be able to read and write data faster to the same HDD.

Yes, 2010 should bring some very exciting changes in the technology world as newer technologies like USB 3.0, 802.11n, Windows 7, faster CPUs and cheaper RAM along with the evolution of social media and the web in general gallop ahead at a rapid pace. Thanks for stopping by.

Ricky December 16, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Thanx for the information regarding the USB 3. I will wait for a while before upgrading my lappy. Good to hear that it is backward compatible.

Mike McEvoy December 17, 2009 at 1:44 pm

@Ricky — Yes, the backward compatibility is a “must have.” Thanks for stopping by.

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