USB 3.0 vs. 3.1 - What's the Difference?

USB 3.0 vs 3.1

The universal serial bus, or USB, has been a stalwart connector for all sorts of devices and systems for almost two and a half decades. It's consistently kept pace with new demands for speed and features, and today is one of the most comprehensive connectors out there. That does depend on which version of USB you make use of, though, with older generations not offering the same capabilities as the latest. In a head to head of two capable connectors like USB 3.0 vs 3.1, USB 3.1 almost always comes out on top.

The difference between USB 3.0 and 3.1 isn't drastic, but it can make a big difference depending on the devices you own and what you want to do with them. Here's how USB 3.1 vs USB 3.0 fare against one another.

Naming confusion

Before addressing the main USB 3.0 vs 3.1 debate, it's important to clear up what's being discussed. The organization that promotes and supports USB development, the USB Implementers Forum, retroactively renamed all third-generation USB connections at the release of USB 3.2.

Technically, USB 3.0, 3.1, and 3.2, are now all known as USB 3.2. To avoid confusion, manufacturers describe their USB products in terms of speed: SuperSpeed USB 5 Gbps, SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps, or SuperSpeed USB 20 Gbps, depending on the USB version they support. Bear that in mind when buying USB compatible devices.

New name

Old name

Speed name

USB 3.2 Gen 2x2


SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps

USB 3.2 Gen 2

USB 3.1 Gen 2

SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps

USB 3.2 Gen 1

USB 3.1 Gen 1 / USB 3.0

SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps

Cable Matters
takes this naming convention in mind, and where necessary, uses both the traditional USB namings and labels cables with the maximum speeds they can handle. That said, it's important to note that when it comes to third-generation USB cables, they are fully compatible with themselves and USB 2.0 ports.

That changed a little with USB 3.2 and will change again with USB4 (see below).

The difference between USB 3.0 and 3.1

The core difference between USB 3.0 and 3.1 is transfer speed. When it was introduced in 2008, USB 3.0 revolutionized USB bandwidth. USB 3.0 increased the maximum transfer speed to 5Gbps – working out to around 500MB/s in the real world – using its new SuperSpeed transfer mode, a near 10 fold increase over its predecessor, USB 2.0.

To differentiate this higher speed connector over older USB ports and devices, cables were equipped with a specific SuperSpeed logo, and the ports themselves were often colored blue.

USB 3.1 arrived five years later and upped the ante again, raising the maximum transfer speed to 10Gbps using the SuperSpeed+ transfer mode. USB 3.1 Gen 2 is fast enough to drive even 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections.

Since the debut of USB 3.1, USB-IF decided to abandon the USB 3.0 name and use USB 3.1 Gen 1 to replace USB 3.0, both of which support 5Gbps transfer speed.

The USB 3.1 vs USB 3.0 difference remains almost exclusively bandwidth dependent. Both connectors operate the same whether using a more traditional USB-A or USB-B, or any of the various micro and mini USB connectors. Their generation is what's important, not the connector header.

That goes for USB-C connectors too, although you'll typically find USB-C devices support the faster USB 3.1, or even 3.2 standards- not always though. Many USB-C cables marketed as charging cables only support USB 3.0 or even 2.0 speeds. 

While USB 3.1 clearly wins the speed battle over USB 3.0, their successor outclasses both of them.

USB 3.2 and the future

The 3.0 vs 3.1 USB debate was settled for good with the release of USB 3.2. It preserved the existing SuperSpeed and SuperSpeed+ transfer modes of its predecessors and doubled the data transfer channels from a single lane to two lanes, doubling the max transfer rate to 20 Gbps.

Again, the USB 3.1 Gen 1 / Gen 2 naming convention became obsolete and was replaced by USB 3.2 Gen 1 / Gen 2

Full 20Gbps speeds are only possible with a USB-C cable, owing to the cable’s additional wires and pins. The USB-C connector will be maintained for the next-generation USB4 connector too. USB4 brings the data rate up to 40Gbps, in line with Thunderbolt 3. Other features include Power Delivery up to 100W to compatible devices, dynamic bandwidth sharing, and even Thunderbolt 3 connector compatibility. 

Better yet, it can put the confusion of USB 3.0 vs 3.1 vs 3.2 and their generations firmly in the rearview. Soon the battle won't be between 3.0 vs 3.1 USB devices, it'll be between USB4 and everything else – Thunderbolt 3 and 4 included.

Comments (10) -

  • Well, that made everything clear as mud.
    • Haha! Clear as mud perfectly describes this article!!
    • I love a good laugh, thanks!
  • Xyz
    Usb 3.0 and usb 3.1 (gen 1)     are the same thing just different names. Both have the same max speed of 5gb per second.

    USB 3.1( gen 2) is twice as fast as USB 3.0 and 3.1 (gen 1).

    USB 3.1( gen 2) max transfer speed is 10gb per second.

    USB type c ports and cables look the same as thunderbolt 3 because they nearly are. And they are mostly compatible with each other. But one main difference is that thunderbolt 3 has a higher transfer rate of 40gb per second.

    USB type c, USB 3.2 (gen 1 and 2), USB 4 and Thunderbolt 3 all nearly look the same and are mostly compatible with each other meaning that you can use most the same cables or accessories between them. One main difference between them is the transfer speed as shown in the chart above with USB4 and Thunderbolt 3 having the same highest transfer speed of 40gb per second.
  • pour un disque dur externe avec transfert  rapide , en fin de compte , que dois je prendre ?
  • So USB 3.0 got renamed to USB 3.1 gen1 but they got bored of that and changed it to USB 3.2 Gen1 (5gbps) but they got bored of that name so called it USB 3.2 Gen 1.
    They then wanted 10gbps so called it USB 3.1 Gen 2. They got bored of that name so called it USB 3.2 Gen2.
    They then wanted 20Gbps (10 x 2) so called it USB 3.2 Gen 2x2.

    As USB stands for Universal Serial Bus they then changed the connector and brought out USB C which isn't universal at all just to confuse everything and don't get started on power options too and DP alt mode.
    Have fun understanding it all !!
  • Joe
    The article contradicts itself...

    'Since the debut of USB 3.1, USB-IF decided to abandon the USB 3.0 name and use USB 3.1 Gen 1 to replace USB 3.0, both of which support 5Gbps transfer speed'

    Ok, I'm with you so far... USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 Gen 1 are the same thing, but then you go on to say this...

    'While USB 3.1 clearly wins the speed battle over USB 3.0'

    From what I've understood, ONLY USB 3.1 Gen 2 outclasses USB 3.0.

    What am I missing here?

  • Joe
    Further to my previous comment...

    SanDisk market a memory stick that is USB 3.0 as being 130mbs and a USB 3.1 Gen 1 at 150mbs. So clearly, according to SanDisk, 3.0 and 3.1 Gen 1 are not the same?
    Is it any wonder people get confused!
    • speed limited by the memory chips, not the USB interface/cable
  • GME
    So, everyone in the USB Implementers Forum is a crackhead, eh...?

    They took something that was very straightforward, easily understood, and widely accepted, gave it new, duplicate names that don't make sense, expected that everyone would understand the doublespeak when trying to shop for existing components (like motherboards) in the marketplace, and though having three different USB 3.2 designations made sense in their warped, obviously inebriated states, eh...?

    The insanity of  all of this would have been bad enough in the planning phase, but that no one had the sense or the foresight to tell everyone "hold up... think about what you're doing here..." just boggles the mind.  How did this ever come anywhere near seeing the light of day...  

    That this was thought up, discussed, and debated among drug addled, delusional individuals is the only thing that makes sense at all...

    Recently looking at motherboards that claim to have USB 3.1 ports, there is no way to tell  whether these are 3.0, 3.1 gen 1, 3.1 gen 2, from the literature... and now, with the USB Implementers Forum's brilliant new renaming of everything to some version of USB 3.2 the specs are absolutely meaningless...

    These geniuses should be recognized for the idiots they truly are, and some other body with some sense of sanity, foresight, and some degree of knowledge of naming conventions such as the IEEE should take over the authority for all future naming conventions for USB technology, as the fools at the USB Implementers Forum certainly are incapable of the responsibility...

    What total nonsense and absurdity they've introduced into the computer component marketplace....

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