Don't Get Fooled By 'USB 3.2' Marketing Later This Year

Photo: Mike Epstein

At Mobile World Congress last week, the USB Implementers Forum decided to change up the wild and crazy world of USB by renaming what’s now known as “USB 3.2" — the latest and speediest standard expected to hit PCs later this year — as well as USB 3.0 and USB 3.1.

And to make things “easy”, everything is just going to be named USB 3.2. No, we aren’t making this up. There are (or, more accurately, will be) three versions of “USB 3.2.”

  • USB 3.2 Gen 1, which most call USB 3.0, transferring data at up to 5Gb per second.

  • USB 3.2 Gen 2, which we’ve been calling USB 3.1, transferring data at up to 10Gb per second.

  • USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, which media outlets have previously called USB “3.2,” transferring data at up to 20Gb per second.

If that’s still confusing, here’s a handy spreadsheet, originally found in German tech publication Computer Base:

Screenshot: Mike Epstein

As you can see from the chart, there are a few extra wrinkles here.

First, while many colloquially refer to the current USB standards as USB 3.0 and 3.1, The USB Implementers Forum had already rebranded USB 3.0 as “USB 3.1 Gen 1.” In other words, this foolish naming convention, while silly, is not unprecedented.

Second, there are the marketing names. To minimise confusion among consumers, the USB Implementers Forum has created “marketing titles” for each variant. They’re terrible, but at least they give you an idea of how fast each “USB 3.2" standard is, which is a lot better than the “1”, “2”, and “2x2" conventions.

Another factor, which is not on the chart, is that the new standard, USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, only works with USB Type-C ports. That makes sense, since USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 achieves its maximum speeds by using two 10Gbps channels to transfer data, which is only possible using USB Type-C.

This does NOT, however, mean that all USB Type-C cables will offer 20GB speeds. If you have a cable “certified for 10Gb/s SuperSpeed+,” as TTI notes, you’re fine.

Still confused? We don’t blame you, but you shouldn’t worry. Devices won’t be taking advantage of the new super-fast USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 speeds until later this year. And, even then, most people probably don’t have any reason to push 20 GB/s at home - not unless you’re looking to, say, run a 4K monitor (or greater) at crazy-high refresh rates off a USB-C connection.

Still, when a manufacturer promises crazy-fast “USB 3.2" speeds, do your homework and check what they really mean. You might be getting a turtle instead of a rabbit.


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