USB 3.0: faster than ever

The first certified USB3.0 products were shown at CES in Las Vegas. Now a large part of it is finally available. Time to take stock and come up with an overview. Is USB 3.0 already absolutely necessary on your next PC or even worth an upgrade?

It's been talked about for years, but now USB 3.0 products are finally available. And it was about time, because USB 2.0 saw the light of day ten years ago. While USB 2.0 was a revolution from the original standard, it was also a disappointment. The throughput speed may have increased from 11 Mbit/s to a theoretical 480 Mbit/s, but practice shows that in many cases less than half of this speed is actually achieved. Often no more than 20 to 30 MB/s can be squeezed out of USB 2.0, which equates to an effective speed of 240 Mbit/s. Even firewire achieves even better results with 400 Mbit/s. The disappointing speed is especially disadvantageous for devices that rely heavily on fast performance, such as external hard drives and fast flash memory. Despite these drawbacks, USB 2.0 became a huge success and the faster firewire, which later came with an 800 Mbit/s version, slowly disappeared from the consumer market. Firewire is still widely used in the professional circuit.

Now that we use more and larger files, for example via MP3 players, photo and video cameras, the speed limit of USB 2.0 is becoming an increasing limitation. In 2007, Intel announced that the USB 3.0 standard - called SuperSpeed ​​- was complete and companies could begin designing new products through the USB Implementers Forum. Now, three years later, the first products appear on the market.

Better technique

Lessons have been learned from USB 2.0's past "flaws" and shortcomings, making USB 3.0 a much more efficient protocol than its predecessor. The USB 2.0 standard sends all data via the USB bus to all connected devices. When multiple USB devices are in use, the available bandwidth drops significantly. This is because all devices have to share the theoretical 480 Mbit/s. USB 3.0 sends the data from the host directly to the receiving device, which is of course much more efficient. The new standard is also much more energy efficient and therefore consumes less energy (which is especially a plus for mobile devices).

However, all this is still not enough to significantly boost the speed, which means that some changes have also been made to the cabling. In addition to two wires for non-SuperSpeed ​​data (read: usb 2.0), there are four new wires for SuperSpeed ​​data (usb 3.). The wires are also completely shielded from each other. Due to the extra wires, the USB cable is a lot thicker than a USB 2.0 cable. Because there are more wires in a USB 3.0 cable, different connections are also required. These connections are designed in such a way that there is still compatibility with USB 1.1 and 2.0. The four standard contacts are therefore in the same place. However, there are still five contacts on the top. Connected to a USB 2.0 connection, they do nothing, so that only the USB 2.0 cables work. The USB 3.0 connections do have corresponding contacts, so that the cable will then be able to function optimally.

The same applies vice versa: a USB 2.0 cable can be used on a USB 3.0 port, but then functions at the 'old' speed. To clearly indicate the difference, USB 3.0 cables and connectors at the end are colored blue instead of the usual black of USB 2.0. The cable that is connected to the USB 3.0 product has a slightly different connection (type B). An extra notch has been made on top where the new contact points are located. For mobile products, the micro USB connector has also been adapted. It was simply too small to add the five new contacts. Next to the USB 2.0 connector is a second - marginally wider - connector. This does not fit on a USB 2.0 device.

Although USB 3.0 cables are physically different from USB 2.0, they are still highly compatible.

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