Kanguru Blog, September 22, 2020 - Originally debuting in the 2010’s as “USB 3.0 SuperSpeed USB”, the USB3 interface has proven highly successful and has become as ubiquitous as its 2.0 predecessor. Unlike USB 2.0, which retained the same version and data transfer rate throughout its lifecycle, improvements made over the past decade to USB3 has led to faster transfer rates. These improvements were rolled out across two updates, with each update leading to a rebrand.
This continual rebranding has led to plenty of confusion over the USB3 naming convention. In this article we will provide a timeline of USB3’s development history, which will hopefully help explain how USB 3.0 evolved to USB 3.1 and then to USB 3.2.
When USB 3.0 was first released, its main feature was a fast transfer mode called “SuperSpeed USB” which was able to reach transfer speeds of up to 5Gbps, 10 times faster than what the previous USB 2.0 spec was capable of.
For several years there would exist only one version of USB3, USB 3.0.
A few years after the introduction of USB 3.0 the USB Implementers Forum announced the first update to the specification, USB 3.1. The USB 3.1 update improved the encoding scheme to reduce overhead which lead to a better data transfer rate, up to 10Gbps over as single lane, a transfer mode called “SuperSpeed+”.
In order to maintain consistency with the previous spec, “USB 3.0” was updated to “USB 3.1 Gen 1” with the newest version called “USB 3.1 Gen 2”. However not all companies were quick to update their marketing information and advertisements to reflect this change, and the name “USB 3.0” continued to be used synonymously with “USB 3.1 Gen 1”.
USB 3.1 Gen 1
USB 3.1 Gen 2
USB Type-C (or USB-C) was also released during this time period. Prior to the release of USB Type-C, one of the biggest annoyances with USB cables was that they could only be plugged-in in one direction. USB Type-C solved this by introducing an oval-shaped connector which could be connected in either direction.
It is a common misconception that USB Type-C is the same as USB 3. Though closely related, USB Type-C is only the specification for the physical cable and connector. Not all USB 3 devices have a USB Type-C connector, and not all devices with USB Type-C are USB 3.
Building off the improved encoding scheme of SuperSpeed+ introduced in USB 3.1, and an update in the USB Type-C specification that doubled the bandwidth available in USB Type-C cables, USB 3.2 was released capable of reaching data transfer rates up to 20Gbps.
With the release of USB 3.2, all previous versions of USB 3 were re-branded under USB 3.2 and given a “Gen XxX” designation to specify generation and number of lanes.
USB 3.2 Gen 1x1
SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps
USB 3.1 Gen 1
USB 3.2 Gen 2x1
SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps
USB 3.1 Gen 2
USB 3.2 Gen 1x2
USB 3.2 Gen 2x2
SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps
Most devices that are USB 3.1 Gen 2, or USB 3.2 Gen 2x1 will be identified as such. But to this day, you will see products that are still marketed as “USB 3.0” or “USB 3.1”. These are probably USB 3.2 Gen 1x1 devices that were released prior to the USB 3.1/3.2 updates and never had their marketing information revised to match.
It is likely that the confusion surrounding the USB3 naming convention will never completely become clear and consistent throughout the market. The best we can do as consumers is understand the history behind each USB3 version update, and hope that the USB Implementers Forum does a better job with naming as USB4 matures.
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