USB is the most popular connection standard around, but it’s not alone. In recent years alternatives like Thunderbolt have started to gain traction, as well. To head this threat off the USB Implementers Forum is pushing a revision to USB, appropriately known by the public as USB 3.1, which aims to shore up a few of the standard’s weaknesses.
The revision adds a new type of connector, called USB Type-C, which is smaller than the current standard USB connector (called USB Type-A) and is reversible. The goal is to make the port easier to use and more suitable to small devices. While a typical USB jack isn’t huge, it’s looking increasingly large next to laptops that are just fifteen millimeters thin (or thinner).
USB 3.1 can also carry up to 100 watts, which means quicker charge times for devices and the ability to power more significant peripherals. In fact, the standard is powerful enough to charge most laptops, which may result in a move away from dedicated power adapters.
Data speeds are the real highlight, however. USB 3.1 can hit up to 10 gigabits per second, which puts it on par with Thunderbolt (but not Thunderbolt 2). The claimed performance has finally been tested in the real world by Anandtech, which had the chance to look at a 3.1 controller on an MSI motherboard.
The results show performance which, in the best-case scenario, is up to 70 percent better than USB 3.0, with maximum read/write speeds approaching 700 megabits per second, more than enough to handle the quickest USB solid state drives.
Related: Samsung T1 portable SSD review
Predictably, the best results come in large file writes or reads, where the increased throughput of the standard has a chance to stretch its legs. The new revision also obliterates USB 2.0, of course, which is over ten times slower in most tests.
It’s clear that USB 3.1 has managed a significant increase over 3.0. What’s less clear is whether it’s too little, too late. While these figures are impressive, they don’t beat Thunderbolt, never mind its even quicker big brother. Still, USB remains the most common standard, and like all previous versions 3.1 will be backwards compatible. That alone will probably be enough to help it gain traction.
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