USB 3.0 is the technology that will most transform computing in the next few years. That might sound like hype but take a look at the huge advances in computing power and the mass of data that is generated now compared to five years ago. High definition video, full 3 D gaming, the need to handle massive graphics and CAD files are all screaming for a way of moving big chunks of data from PC's to devices and back as fast as possible.
USB 2.0 is now a bottle neck. Firewire is better but not great. USB 3.0 is the thing that will make a pile of new technological developments practical working propositions. Just as an example, take Blu-ray burners. Have they ever taken off? Of course not. With USB 2,0 they have been limited to 6x write speeds. With USB 3.0 that can be boosted to 12x. Suddenly, writing an HD movie to disc will take minutes. And that is just one of many applications that will benefit.
Right now the hottest area that USB 3.0 is revolutionizing is data backup to external hard drives, : But remember- this is just the beginning...
HIgh Definition Video through USB 3.0
What does a USB 3.0 Port look like?
They look just like USB 2,0 ports but they have a bright blue strip just above the port opening. There might be the USB 3.0 superspeed logo nearby as well.
Will they accept USB 2.0 Plugs?
No problem. USB 3.0 ports have been cleverly designed to accept anything from USB 1.0 to USB 3.0 plugs without issues. The USB 3.0 plugs are longer than previous incarnations. The USB 3.0 pins run deep into the USB 3.0 port and connect with the female pins at the back. USB 2.0 plugs are shorter, and the shorter pins will only engage the USB 2.0 connectors near the front.
In other words, you can't make a mistake and there is no fussy pushing and probing to make that perfect union. Which is a relief for people like me who won't spend more than ten seconds setting up anything on a computer. I want to use these things not play with them!
Do I need special USB 3.0 Cables?
USB 3.0 cables are thicker than the USB 2.0 version. They have more wires inside which is one reason they can transfer data more quickly. The second reason for the extra speed is that data flows both ways through a USB 3;0 cable simultaneously. This means less stopping and starting in the data flow.
The cables are usually blue. Some manufacturers supply black cables and identify them with the USB 3.0 logo on the plugs.
What are the Drawbacks?
The most significant drawback with USB 3.0 is that although data can be transferred ten times faster in theory than USB 2.0 allows, this is not yet achieved in practice. The devices in use right now are only three times faster. The problem lies in computer system architecture and should improve as new chips are designed for PCs with USB 3.0 in mind. At the moment, USB 3.0 is still just beginning to make its way into the mainstream.
Another drawback is that USB 3.0 cable length is limited to 5 meters. Cable longer than this start to slow the transfer speeds significantly. Hubs should become available to overcome this problem soon. Japanese maker, Buffalo, recently released a 4 port hub that is USB 3.0 compatible.
What Devices Use USB 3.0 at the moment?
External hard drives are the big sellers at the moment. They are three times quicker than their USB 2.0 predecessors. There are also Blu-ray burners but these are hard to find in the US market. High definition video streaming applications and full 3D gaming via USB 3.0 is on the near horizon.
How do I get USB 3.0 Ports?
- You can buy a PC with USB 3.0 on board. The problem here is that there is not much choice. Only the HP Envy series of laptops come with USB 3.0 as an option.
- You can install a USB 3.0 PCIe Card on a desktop or use a USB 3.0 adapter ExpressCard in a laptop.
- You can install a USB 3.0 enabled motherboard in your computer.
Other USB 3.0 Products
Teating a USB 3.0 Hard drive
USB implementers forum: http://www.usb.org/home. This page has all the technical stuff plus news.
Wiki on all things USB- the history of USB and lots of terminology explained: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Serial_Bus
Aman V. on August 12, 2012:
Dell's Inspiron and XPS series too come with USB 3.0 ports...
Will Apse (author) on April 15, 2012:
You are right, Sergei. By drawback, I was thinking that 5 meters is pretty short, period. Better cables with better transmission properties would make USB 3 even more attractive.
Sergei on April 13, 2012:
Cable length limited to 5 meters is not a drawback of USB 3.0. USB 2.0 has exactly the same cable length limit.
Will Apse (author) on April 03, 2012:
There will be no problem, Stephen.
stephen on April 03, 2012:
If I have 2 usb 3.0 ports side by side, if i Plug a usb3 hard drive in 1 port and a usb2 hub with 2 usb2 hard drives in the other port, will my 3.0 hard drive run at 2.0?
Will Apse (author) on March 12, 2012:
I'm surprised you say this. One of my PC's is about 8 years old now and the old USB 2.0 ports have had a lot of use without issue. Kids have jammed stuff into them. Cables have been pulled out by the dog. The dust has half hidden some from view. But they keep on working, lol.
The USB 3.0 ports on my main PC seem pretty solid too.
Robert on March 12, 2012:
Much of the problem that i see with USB 2.0 is that the USB 2.0 ports inevitably kill themselves from being constantly plugged in into and unplugged from while the computer is on.
Do you know if USB 3.0 fixed this issue?
Will Apse (author) on April 02, 2011:
Way to go, Sierra!
Sierra on April 02, 2011:
Just got a Dell Inspiron 17 and it's got TWO USB 3.0 ports! (Also 1 USB 2.0 port and a combo port!)