Many of us have heard the tale of plugging in a USB device the “wrong” way round, only to flip it over twice before it plugs in. The plug itself is so universal, everybody these days knows what it is, and computers are requiring more and more of these connections. But did you know there are multiple different types?
Not everybody is aware of the differences between these ports. If you are one of those people, crack on to discover exactly how to tell the difference between USB 3.0, USB 3.1, and USB-C.
The Big Difference Between USB 3.0, USB 3.1, and USB-C
One of the problems with comparing USB 3.1 vs 3.0 vs USB Type-C is that we are not talking about three iterative versions of the same thing.
USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 are two connector types that work with “USB Type-A”, “USB Type-B” and “USB Micro B” ports. These are specific sizes and shapes of connectors that allow for different devices to connect to one another.
Related article: USB C vs A vs B: Which One Do You Need for Your Product?
Also, USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 works with USB Type-C. USB-C is a specific kind of connector and the only one that currently works with the burgeoning USB 4.0.
This means that comparing USB 3.1 and USB 3.0 to the wholly different USB Type-C is looking at two things that are fundamentally different.
With the above in mind, we can start talking about what is the difference between USB 3.0 and 3.1. We can then move forward by talking about the current expectations of what USB Type-C can offer us in the future. For example, with its compatibility with USB4, a whole new protocol standard.
USB Type-C was compatible with protocols all the way back in USB 2.0. It has also continued to be relevant through USB 3.0, 3.1, 3.2, and 4.0. With the onset of 4.0, other ports have now started to deprecate, so it looks as though 3.0 and 3.1 might disappear into the aether soon.
The Histories of USB 3.0, 3.1 and USB-C
In November 2008, the USB 3.0 specification was announced as completed. Soon after, in late 2009 the first 3.0 products started shipping out, allowing its users to make use of its advancements over the USB 2.0 standards.
Four years later, in July 2013, USB 3.1 got released as an updated version of USB 3.0. It still worked with the same ports and plugs but had updated chipsets that can transfer far superior amounts of data and charge.
USB-C, on the other hand, was first announced in 2014 but has only hit the ground running with its form factor in 2018 onwards. Its updated shape and different required ports meant it had a whole different set of requirements.
Not only is the port for a USB-C a fraction of the size, but it is reversible, meaning it is no longer possible to put it in “upside-down”. It is closely related to present and future standards such as USB 3.1. These standards have an increased data transfer rate from their predecessors.
In August, 2019, a new type of USB-C protocol appeared that would not make use of the USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 sockets. This USB4 was unique in that it also defines a system for handling several devices connecting through the same port. Previously, this required a USB-C hub or similar device.
With the legacy of devices that need prior USB connectors, it means we are going to need to wait a while until we see them everywhere. However, USB 3.1 (not requiring an updated port shape) will continue to progress until its next iteration, USB4, supersedes it.
With each iteration of USB’s connectors, transfer speeds have gotten faster and faster. USB 1.0 and USB 2.0 started things off with low speeds of just 1.5 Mbits per second. USB 3.0, on the other hand, leaped out of the gate with 5Gbits per second being transferable via its “Superspeed” connection.
2014’s USB 3.1 doubled that, with the “Superspeed+” system allowing the connector to approach speeds of 10Gbits per second.
Superspeed was the name of a new high-speed bus system that was still compatible with older versions of the port. Superspeed+ in USB 3.1 continued this tradition by further upgrading the performance of the bus. Plugs that are compatible with this system are generally visible via a Superspeed logo.
The USB Implementers Forum is a group that promotes and supports USB standards. They have introduced a naming scheme to help companies recognize the different modes of data transfer:
USB 3.0’s transfer mode is also known as “SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps”, which has a data rate of 5Gbits per second and a transfer speed of 500MB per second.
USB 3.1’s transfer mode is also known as “SuperSpeed USB 1-Gbps”, which has a data rate of 10Gbits per second and a transfer speed of 1.21GB per second.
Via USB4, the USB Type-C uses a transfer mode known as “USB4 40Gbps”. It currently has a maximum data rate of 40Gbits per second and a transfer speed of 4.8GB per second. Although this could increase in the future with changes to USB-C’s construction and hardware.
Over time, there have been more than ten different USB connections available on the market. But what is the difference between USB 3.0 and 3.1 in the different ports they can use? Also, how does USB Type-C fit into all this?
Of these different USB ports available, there are four specifically designed for USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 compatibility. These are:
- Type-A SuperSpeed
- Type-B SuperSpeed
- Micro-B SuperSpeed
Each of Type-A, Type-B, and Micro-B Superspeed have older versions that worked with USB 2.0 in various forms. As these connectors get older and deprecated, however, we see SuperSpeed connectors becoming the norm.
You can recognize Type-A and Type-B connectors, specifically built for 3.0 and 3.1, by their bright blue color. This makes them easy to discern in a bank of mixed USB ports. Older USB cables are even compatible with newer USB plugs and they will work with the transfer rate of the older cables.
USB Type-C, however, is a whole different kettle of fish. It boasts a brand new connection type that is completely incompatible with Type-A, Type-B, or any other port.
USB Type-C makes use of any USB protocol from 2.0 onwards. This means it will function with:
- USB 2.0
- USB 2.0 Revised
- USB 3.0
- USB 3.1
- USB 3.2
The biggest win in the development of USB Type-C, however, is more of a cultural one. USB connectors have a long history of users not being able to plug them in the correct way. Stories and jokes abound of inserting a USB device, then flipping it over many times to get it the correct way around.
The USB Type-C, however, is capable of plugging in in either way around. This solves several issues one might have with a user. Also, it allows the device to be more-easily plugged in and removed by automated mechanical systems.
The USB’s construction also allows for a far greater data transfer rate. This means things it can meet standards for fast-charging with the USB Type-C where it could not before.
Related article: How to Make Your Phone Charge Faster and Safer
USB 3.1 Gen 1: Confusing the Issue
During the upgrade process, the naming conventions for USB devices has changed. For that reason, you may not see any more USB 3.0 devices in the market.
If you see that an item is “USB 3.1 Gen 1”, this is what a USB 3.0 cable or port is now called. It provides speeds of up to 5Gbps as expected. Whereas “USB 3.1 Gen 2” is the new name for what used to be called USB 3.1.
The USB-IF did this to make sure everyone was using the same terminology, including both customers and manufacturers. Keeping these standards prevents marketing and packaging from misleading customers through ambiguity.
While USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 are both compatible with one another using the same kind of cable, they are not necessarily compatible with other connections.
USB Type-C, with its universal connection type, has the ability to interact with several other types of connection. Recent USB Type-C ports can connect to a Thunderbolt 4 cable as the Thunderbolt 4 was designed to be the same size and shape.
This allows you to connect all devices that use these standards. So long as these cables use the correct plug, they will transfer the appropriate data along to their devices.
There are also several adapters available on the market which allow you to connect USB Type-C ports to other connections. So keep an eye out for items you may be able to use.
To Sum Up
We hope we explained enough about the difference between USB 3.0, USB 3.1, and USB-C. You should now know that USB-C is more related to the size and shape of the port. You should also understand that USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 are about the system and cable’s data and charging capabilities. Any more questions about USB specifications? Leave a comment here.
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