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Saturday, February 2, 2013

1297. USB 2.00 vs. USB 3.0

Kate asked: I've heard about USB 2.0 and USB 3.0--is there a real
difference besides 1 USB? Can I use USB 2.0 peripherals if I have a USB 3.0
port? Do I need a different connection? What's the difference?

Well sure: USB 3.0 is one bigger,
so it's got to be faster and shinier! Well, you can believe that if you like,
but it actually is a much faster protocol for transferring data than was USB

There are two main differences
between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0: USB 3.0 transfers data much faster, and it
provides more power through the port, so it can support higher-powered
connected devices. It supports handling two connected devices concurrently
(which USB 2.0 did not) and it uses less power, so connecting a device using
USB 3.0 to your laptop will consume less power than using a USB 2.0 device, and
the battery will last longer. Lots of people use USB for connecting hard drives
(and USB thumb drives, or USB sticks) and it allows you to transfer data faster
between the computer and the connected device. How much faster? In some cases,
up to 10 times faster. That’s a measurable difference in speed! It’s kind of
like being forced to drive at 5 MPH down the street, and then suddenly, finding
that you can drive 50 MPH instead. You would certainly notice the difference.

Most computers built in 2012 or
later include at least one USB 3.0 port. Look carefully at the port on your
computer, and you should be able to see if it supports USB 3.0. In addition,
USB 3.0 ports tend to be colored blue (as are most of the USB 3.0 cables). And,
to make it even more interesting, the computer end of USB 3.0 cables looks
pretty much the same as USB 2.0 cables, but the peripheral end (the end you
plug into devices) has changed.

You can continue to use your USB
2.0 peripherals in a USB 3.0 port—that’s the beauty of having the computer end
of the cable remain unchanged. You won’t see any speed improvement, however.
I've heard apocryphal knowledge that even USB 2.0 devices run a little bit
faster when connected via USB 3.0 ports, although I find that hard to believe.

If you’re buying a computer now,
make sure it has at least one USB 3.0 port. You may not currently own any USB
3.0 peripherals, but the speed difference is so great, it’s worth considering
replacing USB backup and thumb drives with USB 3.0 versions, once you have the
port available.

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