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What is USB 3.0?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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While there are many uses for a USB port, USB 3.0 is the next generation of technology for the connection which will allow higher interface speeds. While this technology is still not ready for the general public, it is expected to be ready by 2010. USB 3.0 is called "SuperSpeed USB" by some because of its speed improvements over both USB 2.0 and 1.1.

When USB (Universal Serial Bus) first came out, it was considered one of the best things for the modern personal computer. Over the years, a myriad of plugs had been developed to do a number of different types of interfaces with the computer. Some were meant for modems, some connections were meant for printers and others were meant for keyboards. Each one did primarily the same general thing, connected a peripheral device to a computer, but did so in ways that were incompatible with everything else.

The USB interface changed all that. It was designed to offer a single connection for all of those devices and much more. Given the versatility of the technology, other peripherals took advantage and soon many devices offered a USB connection. However, the first generation of USB connectivity was not necessarily meant for huge transfers of data.

The evolution of USB required the next generation of the technology, USB 2.0, to come online two years after USB 1.1 became widely accepted. While it offered improvements, more data-intensive transfers were beginning to occur all the time. Eventually, even the speed of USB 2.0 started to become unacceptable for some users. Therefore, USB 3.0 is expected to take things to the next level.

To understand how fast USB 3.0 is compared to the earlier versions, it is important to look at comparable data transfers. USB 3.0 will offer transfer rates of 4.8 gigabits per second. While that may seem like an impressive number, it gets even more impressive when the background is applied to it. At this speed, USB 3.0 can transfer a 25 gigabyte file in approximately 70 seconds. That would have taken 9.3 hours for the first generation USB product and 14 minutes for the second-generation product.

For those using USB simply to connect a printer or keyboard, the speed of USB 3.0 won't be noticeable. For those who are looking to connect other devices, such as storage devices, hard drives, or video cameras, USB 3.0 will offer some definite advantages over those earlier technologies. Indeed, any high capacity external device will be able to transfer data much faster with USB 3.0.

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Discussion Comments
By anon948712 — On May 01, 2014

If you purchase a USB 3.0 drive you want to check that the device is backward compatible. Most average USB 3.0 drives made by manufacturers usually will ensure they have backward compatibility to usb 2.0 and 1.1 standards. So check the specifications from the manufacturer.

By David09 — On Jul 15, 2011

@hamje32 - You can get extra USB ports with an add-on card to your computer, no problem, assuming that you have the expansion slots on your motherboard.

I believe that you should be able to get the new USB 3.0 card to work with your computer, but I’d double check with the sales representative at the electronics store.

I’m pretty sure that you can’t retool your existing USB 2.0 port to work with the new USB 3.0. USB 3.0 is backward compatible with USB 2.0, but not the other way around.

By hamje32 — On Jul 15, 2011

I’ve run out of USB ports on my computer. Actually I fried all of them except one – don’t ask why, I was just being careless with the computer.

Anyway I have two questions. Can I expand my computer to get additional USB ports, and more specifically, can I retrofit the existing USB port so that it can work with USB 3.0 technology?

By everetra — On Jul 14, 2011

@allenJo - You can buy USB 3.0 now from what I’ve seen. I’ve seen advertisements for 500 Gigabyte hard drives that are compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 as well.

I think that you can get them for much less than what you paid for your 300 Gigabyte USB 2.0 hard drive, as the average USB 3.0 price has dropped with the continued development of this technology.

By allenJo — On Jul 13, 2011

I’m eagerly looking forward to the arrival of USB 3.0. What’s appealing to me is the USB 3.0 speed performance over USB 2.0 and USB 1.0.

In my case, the speed is an important factor because I’m not concerned with simply using USB to hook up peripheral devices like printers and so forth. I’m interested in storage.

A few years back I bought a 300 Gigabyte external hard drive, which I connect through USB to my computer, and I scheduled my computer to backup to the hard drive once a week.

If USB 3.0 is really as fast as described, it will mean that I can transfer a lot more data in less amount of time, and even schedule bi-weekly backups if I need to. Even a little flash drive with USB 3.0 technology would be a plus.

By Monika — On Jul 12, 2011

@sunnySkys - I don't think you should have any problems with USB 3.0 compatibility and your computer. I got my desk top computer in 2009 and I've never had any issues connecting a USB drive to it.

By sunnySkys — On Jul 12, 2011

I remember when USB 2.0 came out. My desk top computer was a few years old and I used to have a lot of problems connecting the new USB drives to it. I actually haven't bought any new USB drives in quite awhile so I'm wondering if I should expect a similar problem. Will I be all right plugging a USB 3.0 to my pre-2010 computer?

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