Between the shapes of the ports, the speeds of the different generations, and the optional features, it is sometimes difficult to follow and understand the evolutions of USB. Here is our complete file on the USB.
In the early 2000s, USB was established as the format for ports and cables used for data transfer in computing. Since then, the standard has evolved to the point of becoming quite complicated to follow.
First of all, it should be explained that USB is an industry standard governed by USB-IF, for USB Implementers Forum. This group is in charge of directing the drafting work on the evolution of the standard and formats, but also of promoting them. It is also this group that will certify the products and verify that they comply with the standards.
USB 2.0, 3.0, 3.2, USB4: the different generations
USB has had many versions and, like Wi-Fi, is sometimes difficult to navigate. Manufacturers often do not help with the task. Here’s a quick rundown of the differences you should know between the versions.
|USB 3.0 (USB 3.2 Gen 1×1)||5Gbps|
|USB 3.1 (USB 3.2 Gen 2×1)||10Gb/s|
|USB 3.2 (USB 3.2 Gen 2×2)||20Gb/s|
Let’s move on to USB 1.x, which disappeared from our shelves a long time ago, now USB 2.0 represents the bare minimum in our devices. It is characterized by a speed limited to 480 Mbit/s (60 MB/s). There is also talk of Hi-Speed USB for the designer.
Generally, USB 2.0 is also limited to a voltage of 5 V and a current of 500 mA, that is, a charging power of only 2.5 W. This is more than enough for a USB key or access to this type of peripheral. .
USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 Gen 1 or USB 3.2 Gen 1
Things get a bit more complex with USB 3.0 as USB-IF saw fit to change the name above the USB spec. So we can just as easily talk about SuperSpeed USB, USB 3.0, USB 3.1 Gen 1, or USB 3.2 Gen 1 to designate a single generation.
In any case, we are talking about a data transfer speed that increases up to 5 Gbit/s (625 MB/s), and the maximum current goes up to 900 mA for a power of 4.5 W. This additional power allowed the emergence of more greedy self-powered peripherals like external hard drives or external SSDs.
USB 3.1 or USB 3.1 Gen 2 or 3.2 Gen 2
Arriving in 2013, USB 3.1 can be found again under other names: SuperSpeed+ USB, USB 3.1 Gen 2, or USB 3.2 Gen 2.
The speed increases to 10 Gb/s.
USB 3.2 or USB 3.2 Gen 2×2
With the arrival of USB-C, the consortium has also been working on a new version of the standard. USB 3.2 or USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 allows a maximum throughput of 20 Gb/s. It is the latest protocol to be able to use USB Type-A and Type-B connectors.
USB4 (yes, there is no space between USB and 4) is the latest version of the USB standard. This release is intended to simplify the standard and update the services associated with USB. Based on Intel’s Thunderbolt 3, USB4 offers higher throughput at 40 Gbps and requires the USB-C connector and USB Power Delivery.
Like Thunderbolt 3, USB4 can transmit video using the DisplayPort standard and bridge PCI Express, allowing the use of external graphics cards.
USB4 is natively supported by Windows 11, macOS Big Sur, and Linux 5.6. Note that Thunderbolt 4 specifications require USB4 support, but not the other way around. Therefore, many manufacturers prefer to advertise Thunderbolt 4 ports if they meet Intel’s obligations.
USB Type-C, Type-A or Type-B: the connectors
USB type A
This is the historical USB connector that everyone has already known. Still widely used in PCs, especially desktops, it has evolved to adopt a blue color and additional USB 3.0 pins.
It is a 12 x 4.5 mm rectangular port. Legends say that you have to turn the cable three times to find the correct connection direction.
USB type B
The other historical USB format often found in peripherals. It is usually located on the back of screens or printers and helps to understand that we are dealing with a peripheral, which needs a host PC to work.
Unlike USB Type-A, its shape has changed with the adoption of USB 3.0, and therefore you cannot connect a 3.0 cable to a Type-B 2.0 port.
Mini USB and Micro USB
This Type-B format has also been declined into mini USB-B and micro USB-B. In both cases, the standard remains the same, but the port is miniaturized to be integrated into calculators, cameras or external hard drives, before being massively adopted by smartphones.
A mini USB cable
A micro-USB cable
With the advent of USB 3.0 and the need for additional pins, the USB-IF changes the format of micro USB-B to a very difficult to use format. It is found on external hard drives, but has never quite caught up with micro USB-B USB 2.0.
usb type c
The USB-C form factor has been driven by the USB-IF since the mid-2000s. The goal: to bring all forms and connectors of consumer computing into a single port in a compact and reversible form. No more checking the address before connecting a cable.
USB-C cable // Source: Marcus Urbenz on Unsplash
The USB-C socket under the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro case // Source: Frandroid
Attention, it must be understood that USB-C designates the format of the port and not the technology offered by the cable or the port. You can have a USB 2.0 480 Mb/s USB Type-C port just as easily as a USB4 40 Gb/s USB Type-C port—that’s almost 100 times faster.
One of the peculiarities of USB-C is also being open to other protocols thanks to the alternate modes. Thus, it is possible to transmit an audio signal via USB-C or HDMI and DisplayPort protocols. You can also have a cable just dedicated to electrical charging. Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 use USB-C as the only possible connector.
By default, the maximum charging power associated with USB-C is 15W or 3V for 5A.
Power Delivery, Wireless: additional features
With the rise in popularity of mobile devices such as smartphones, USB has become an increasingly popular charging method. The standard was not originally designed for this use, this is where Power Delivery comes in. USB Power Delivery should make it possible to standardize charging and, in particular, fast charging across devices.
With Power Delivery, the voltage and current become negotiable between the charger and the device to match the required charging power. Instead of the 5V of the USB standard, we go to a configurable voltage of up to 20V. In the same way, the intensity can go up to 5A. Therefore, we have a maximum possible power of 100W. It is then possible to charge quickly smartphones, but also to start charging more demanding devices such as laptops or handheld game consoles.
In 2021, with the adoption of USB-C 2.1, USB-IF also details a new Power Delivery revision, with Extended Power Range, or EPR. This time it is about being able to go up to 240 W, or 48 V at 5 A. With this level of power, it is possible to charge all laptops on the market, even the most efficient ones.
Remember the following numbers:
- USB Type-C: 7.5 or 15 W (5 V at 1.5 A or 5 V at 3 A).
- USB power supply: up to 100 W (20 V at 5 A).
- USB Power Delivery Extended Power Range: Up to 240W (48V @ 5A).
Wireless USB: when USB wants to compete with Bluetooth
Imagined in the mid-2000s, Wireless USB was an attempt by USB-IF to find a new wireless use for their standard. Limited to 480 Mbit/s and up to three meters, this standard was designed for very short range transmissions within the home.
This attempt was not as successful as physical USB versus already well-established Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It will end up being abandoned a few years later.
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