USB 2.0 Vs 3.0 – What’s the Difference?

Using external storage is something familiar to us. However, companies in charge of standardization can make a mess out of naming schemes and add confusion instead of making their products easier to understand for everyone.

USB is one of those industry standards that has become more confusing over the years. The notion of USB 3.0 is not new by any means, however, it can be hard to understand compared to its older version, 2.0. Here is everything you need to know about USB 2.0 vs 3.0, as well as details about the newer generations.

USB 2.0 vs 3.0 – Understanding the Differences

The Universal Serial Bus was designed with the goal of simplifying connectivity of any external device to a computer, be it a printer, mouse, keyboard, camera or even a smartphone, as we see today. The first standard was released in 1996, known as USB 1.0.

In the year 2000, USB 2.0 was released, which increased the speed from 12 Mbps to 480 Mbps, which was a huge increase at the time. USB 2.0 brought other improvements which had very little to do with speed.

Engaging or breaking sleep mode became available with USB 2.0. Charging devices was also a possibility, with an increased charge rate of 500 mA. USB 2.0 also brought the Type A and Type B mini connectors.

USB 3.0 was released in 2008 and increased the speed to 5 Gbps. This was another huge increase of transfer rate, necessary for the ever-growing capacity of files and flash drives. But, USB 3.0 came with a new set of complications, such as color and 3.x generation names.

usb 2 gray usb 3 blue

USB 2.0 is gray and USB 3.0 is blue, as it should be. Note that USB 3.0 also has the SuperSpeed SS abbreviation next to the ports.

USB 3.0 And its Many Confusing Generations

USB 3.0 brought many improvements to the table. The first and most noticeable improvement was the difference in speed compared to the previous generation. The USB 3.0 vs 2.0 speed battle was won on release, with 3.0’s 5 Gbps speed, compared to 2.0’s 480 Mbps speed.

With the subsequent gen 1 and gen 2 released, the difference doubled with each release. USB 3.1 gen 1 was released in July 2013 and it took over the USB 3.0 SuperSpeed transfer rate. USB 3.1 gen 2 was released not long after, getting speeds up to 10 Gbps.

Just these two sub generations made a huge problem for OEMs and companies making products that support 3.1 gen 1 and gen 2. The USB Implementers Forum wanted the generations to be named SuperSpeed and SuperSpeed + but they never caught on.

Instead, manufacturers had to label their products according to the transfer rate they were able to achieve, 5 or 10 Gbps.

usb 3 flash drive

These flash drives are 3.0 and 3.1, respectively, but we do not know whether the top one is 3.1 gen 1 or gen 2.

USB 3.2

2017 was a great year for USB devices. USB Type C was released and USB 3.2 was also released. USB Type C changed the game for most people. It was a reversible connector, meaning that you could plug it either way and it would work.

It also brought new charging standards, up to 100W for some cables, though all Type C cables must support at least 60W charging. USB 3.2 brought the 10 Gbps transfer rate to all Type C cables, including 3.1 ones. However, USB 3.2 gen 2 increased the transfer rate to 20 Gbps.

Even with increased speeds, theoretically, bad connectors, ports or cables especially, have led to bad connections and a loss of speed. Cable longevity is important and high quality cables should be considered, but not overpriced ones.

With all the intergenerational names, it is no wonder that the USB 2.0 vs 3.0 difference is so hard to tell at times. This wasn’t at all remedied by companies who implemented USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports.

usb 2 and usb 3 ports

Here we have labeled 2.0 and 3.0 ports, but the 3.0 ports are gray and not blue, as they should be.

USB 2.0 vs 3.0 Port – The Confusion Gets Worse

The problem with standardization is that not all companies adhere to the standard. The USB-IF wanted and recommended manufacturers to designate 3.0 and above ports as blue, compared to 2.0 points, which should be black or gray.

The problem with this is that most companies were very liberal with the way they chose to color their ports. From black or gray 3.0 ports to 3.0 ports which were in every color but blue, you can look at the back side of any motherboard and be unpleasantly surprised at all the variations.

Most USB 3.0 ports should be colored differently, especially if there is another 2.0 port nearby. That isn’t always the case, leading to more confusion. When you add the different transfer rate ports, such as USB 3.1 and 3.2, both gen 1 and gen 2, things get even worse.

Port colors are problematic to this day, especially with USB4 being released. USB4 is supposed to support 40 Gbps and even 80 gbps speeds, as well as carry display signals, have backwards compatibility with USB 2.0, 3.0, have a similar connection between devices like LAN does, PCIe tunneling, as well as support Thunderbolt 3. A single USB4 port could solve many issues, if you had a USB hub, however they tend to introduce issues of their own.

motherboard usb ports

This motherboard has a 3.1 Type C and Type A connector alongside many 3.0 and 2.0 connectors, but without reading the manual, we do not know which generation is in question and which transfer rate we are dealing with.

Note that the Type A connector is the right color, but we still do not know the exact transfer rate.

Conclusion and Summary

USB 3.x is much faster than 2.0, but the naming schemes are more than confusing. They require a deeper understanding of technology in order not to end up with an inferior or slower product.

With USB4, people were hoping for the confusion which stemmed from the various USB 3.x generation names, but it is obvious that companies have their own agenda when it comes to naming. USB4 naming is already a mess, because it does not mean USB 4.0, rather a higher-level standardization of USB, but not entirely a new generation.

For most people, USB 3.x is faster than USB 2.0 and is able to do more than just transfer data and charge phones. USB4 is supposed to take that to the next level, hopefully, with less confusion in the years to come.

About The Author

Milan Zagorac

Milan has always been interested in writing and technology, but managed to pick up a love for music, literature and sports along the way. Essentially a jack of all trades, his interest in all things tech as well as love for the written word, keeps him well occupied.

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