Although USB is the most common connection for external devices, it comes in many versions, and the different connectors and connection types can be confusing. USB 3.1 is one of the most common standards today, but what exactly is it? How is it different from previous and subsequent versions? Let’s take a closer look.

Although USB is the most common connection for external devices, it comes in many versions, and the different connectors and connection types can be confusing. USB 3.1 is one of the most common standards today, but what exactly is it? How is it different from previous and subsequent versions? Let’s take a closer look.

The digital version number in USB 3.1 mainly refers to the data transfer speed of the USB connection, and does not specify its shape or size. USB 3.1 was officially launched in July 2013, effectively replacing USB 3.0 as the new high-speed USB standard. In turn, it will continue to be superseded by USB 3.2, although the naming of USB is rather confusing. But still refer to the various USB speeds, colloquially, USB 3.0, 3.1 and 3.2, the official naming conventions and their respective speeds are as follows:

USB 3.2 Gen 1, is USB 3.0. It has a maximum throughput of 5Gbps. USB 3.2 Gen 2, is USB 3.1. It has a maximum throughput of 10Gbps. USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, is USB 3.2. It has a maximum throughput of 20Gbps. See, that’s what a lot of people are excited about with USB4, because USB4 is going to end all this confusing naming.

All of these speeds are theoretical maximums for the USB standard and are unlikely to be seen in everyday use, but when using a USB 3.2 Gen 2 (USB 3.1) device you will definitely see larger file transfer speeds relative to USB 3.2 Gen 1 or USB 3.0 with a noticeable increase.

Explain in detail the USB 3.1 interface, what is so special about this standard?

There are relatively few devices supported by USB 3.2 Gen 2, but it has gradually gained more support over the past few years. Dell’s XPS 13 laptop is a good example of a hardware change. The 2017 XPS 13 9360 laptop comes with two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, while the 2018 and 2019 models feature a USB-C-style USB 3.2 Gen 2 connection.

Another great advantage of USB 3.2 Gen 2 is that it can support a feature called Power Delivery 2.0. It allows a compatible port to supply up to 100 watts of power to its connected device, allowing large devices such as laptops to be charged over a single USB cable. This is most common in laptops using the new USB-C standard.

While USB-C is often associated with USB3.2Gen2 and Gen2×2, it’s not the same thing. USB types, like A, B, and C, indicate the shape and form of ports and connectors, not data transfer speeds. Many modern devices have moved from traditional USB-A, USB-B, and micro-USB ports to USB-C, a small, reversible interface that often goes hand-in-hand with faster transfer speeds. While this isn’t always the case, the fastest USB 3.22×2 transfer speeds are only available with USB-C.

USB-A still provides legacy support for legacy accessories and cables that still use the standard on many devices, but USB-C connections for laptops and smartphones are also becoming more common.

Regardless of whether a laptop, tablet, or smartphone offers a USB-A, USB-C, or other connection on the body, there’s no guarantee it’s USB 3.2 Gen 2. The Microsoft Surface Book 2 ships with two USB-A ports and a USB -C ports, all of which are “USB Gen 1”, are actually USB 3.2 Gen 1 (USB 3.0), not 3.2 Gen 2 (3.1). It’s very confusing, so if you care about new hardware with the latest standards, look up the parameters ahead of time, not just the shape of the USB port.

To make things even more confusing, the USB-C port is also Thunderbolt 3 compatible. Thunderbolt 3 is a standard that utilizes USB-C ports to provide data transfer rates of up to 40GBps – four times faster than USB 3.2 Gen 2, and even twice as fast as the fastest USB 3.2 Gen 2×2. While it’s cross-compatible with USB 3.2 Gen 2 cables, that’s not always the case.

Where USB 3.2 Gen 2 is designed for data transfer and charging, Thunderbolt 3 targets a wider range of capabilities. It is a simultaneous charging and data transfer medium, and content streaming solution. Its developer Intel claims it is capable of charging devices while sending data and video to an externally connected Display. By leveraging the USB-C port, its compatibility is greatly expanded over previous generations of mini-DisplayPort connectors.

The reliable Universal Serial Bus port standard is one of the most used standards on the planet. But the USB Implementers Forum — a compendium formed between companies like Intel, Microsoft, Apple and HP to oversee the development of the standard — is constantly working to improve it. USB 3.1 is just one of many advancements made over the past two decades.

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