USB 3.0 is among the most widely used data transfer method among PCs, tablets, hybrids, and smartphones. USB 3.0‘s spec availability was first announced by the USB 3.0 Promoter Group in 2008, and the first big batch of USB 3.0-certified gear was first rolled out during CES 2010. To date, it has only one rival—Intel’s Thunderbolt technology, which is found primarily in Apple’s laptops and desktops.
Despite the fact that Thunderbolt is twice as fast as USB 3.0 (10Gbps versus 5Gbps), due to its ability to charge peripherals, and the fact that it’s much cheaper to deploy, USB technology remains far more desirable among users and manufacturers alike.
Dubbed “SuperSpeed USB” by usb.org and USB product developers, USB 3.0 is on the verge of being replaced by Universal Serial Bus Revision 3.1, also known as “SuperSpeed+ USB” in the not-too-distant future.
So what is USB 3.1 anyway?
USB 3.1, according to usb.org, “…extends the existing SuperSpeed mechanical, electrical, protocol and hub definition while maintaining compatibility with existing USB 3.0 software stacks and device class protocols as well as with existing 5 Gbps hubs and devices and USB 2.0 products.”
In other words, USB 3.1 is faster and more powerful, while maintaining backwards compatibility with previous versions of USB, back to USB 2.0. Not only is this new standard twice as fast as version 3.0, but it also uses power more efficiently.
In addition, USB 3.1 introduces a new cable and connector—the Type-C 3.1, which is designed to replace both full-sized USB, as well as micro-USB cables, thereby standardizing the port and cable types across devices. USB Type-C cables will also be reversible, allowing you to plug them in without fail, regardless of how you’re holding and inserting the cable. Plus, based on the image here, they’ll be significantly slimmer, which may allow OEMs to manufacture smaller devices.
Ramping up the juice supply
Regarding the size of current micro-USB connectors, the new USB cable is capable of scalable power charging, and, according to the USB 3.0 Promoter Group, the USB 3.1 connector and port are designed to accommodate future updates, making them future-proof.
Also, the Type-C cable provides power up to 100 watts. In other words, it charges your tablets, smartphones, and other devices faster.
Competition from Intel?
You should note though, that USB 3.1 comes on the heels of Intel’s Thunderbolt 2 and its 20Gbps transfer rate, making it twice as fast as the USB standard. But again, USB is cheaper to manufacture, and charges mobile devices, making it more attractive to users and gadget makers alike. Plus, it has a huge user base, and a large base selection of peripherals and accessories.
In addition to being more expensive for manufacturers to deploy in computing devices, the Thunderbolt cables, adapters, and other gear costs users more than USB parts do, making the prospect of widely deploying Thunderbolt even less attractive.
For example, a few months ago, Acer, which is one of the world’s largest computer manufacturers, announced that it would favor USB over Thunderbolt in all future devices.
When will it be here?
USB 3.1 has been under development for some time now, yet so far, we haven’t seen any devices equipped with the new port.
Industry speculation indicates that the new standard will start to appear later this year. In any case, transfer rates that are twice as fast is always good, and standardized, faster-charging ports should make all of our lives easier once the new ports start showing up before the year is out.