Tactical Advice

USB 2.0 vs. USB 3.0

SuperSpeed USB offers considerably more speed and power than its 2.0 predecessor.
USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0

If you’re still fumbling around with USB 1.0, now is the time to upgrade to USB 3.0 (or SuperSpeed USB). Just skip right over USB 2.0 (also known as Hi-Speed USB), because the new version is compatible.

The Universal Serial Bus 3.0 standard calls for speeds of up to 5 gigabits per second, more than 10 times faster than 2.0’s 480 megabits per second. It also provides almost twice as much power (more pins on the connector and more wires in the cable), so it can run more powerful devices. Certified USB 3.0 products have been around since January 2010, and high-performance motherboards usually have two USB 3.0 ports alongside the usual USB 2.0 ports.

Sync-N-Go, a new feature with USB 3.0, speeds connection time after plugging in. The new standard also helps manage power usage with lower idle power requirements.

When looking for an external drive for backup or file transfers, seek out the USB 3.0 SuperSpeed label. SneakerNet has gone high tech, with high-capacity thumb drives and external hard drives of amazing capacity for not much money (portable 1 terabyte drives can be had for $150 or less). But if you’re moving large files from place to place, an external hard drive with USB 3.0 will carry more data faster between computers than your local area network and certainly your wireless network. And yes, you can add USB 3.0 card adapters to an existing system for less than $50.

Notebook computers tend to rely on USB devices more than do desktops. Fortunately, USB 3.0 ports are now showing up even on budget notebooks, although there may be only one. But one is enough for super-fast file transfers.

When USB 3.0 devices are connected with USB 3.0 cable, data can flow both ways at once. Full-duplex communications add more pins deep inside the connector, which is why you need the new cable. The cost will be worth it when you see the file transfer speeds. How about moving a full high-definition movie from one disk to another in less than a minute? How about seeing your CPU load drop during that transfer because of the full-duplex transfer and new USB hardware support chips?

What About Firewire and Thunderbolt?

FireWire ports have been staples on Mac computers, and on the peripherals supporting those computers, for a long time. So when Apple dropped FireWire for USB, there was plenty of grumbling. But with USB 3.0’s full-duplex support and high speed, even die-hard FireWire fans may be swayed to the USB side — until Thunderbolt I/O gets cheap enough to gain traction in the market, of course. There's always something newer and faster on the horizon.

For the next few years, USB 3.0 is the hot ticket for external storage and any performance-oriented USB device (streaming cameras, anyone?). And what about the availability of Windows 7 acceleration mode when using USB thumb drives? That should noticeably speed things, which is not always the case with USB 2.0 devices.

We've gone from Hi-Speed to SuperSpeed USB. What are they going to call USB 4.0? SuperDuperSpeed? We'll see in a few years. But for now, USB 3.0 is the choice of discerning peripherals everywhere.

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About the Author

James E. Gaskin

James E. Gaskin

James writes books, articles and jokes about technology from his Dallas-area home office. He also consults for those who don’t read his books and articles.

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