The New USB standard: USB 3.2 Explained

By Jerry |
Universal Serial Bus, or USB, has been around for a long time and we've used it to connect a wide variety of devices from storage to input hardware. As time passes, standards need to be updated to keep up with modern hardware and end-user requirements.

Specifications and various technical details regarding each USB iteration are announced by the USB Implementers Forum, a group founded by seven major IT companies to support and promote the development of high-quality connectivity standards. Their naming and specifications of USB revisions have been adopted by nearly all major IT companies around the world.
 

Now Introducing USB 3.2 Gen 1. USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB 3.2 Gen 2x2!

The confusing naming schemes of newer and faster USB standards seem never-ending and the latest announcement will leave most people perplexed yet again. The USB-IF (USB Implementers Forum) announced the rebranding of both the USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 specifications in the last week of February 2019 (Yes, the déjà vu is real, it's happening again).

Under this rebranding, the standard previously known as USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 Gen 1 will now be called USB 3.2 Gen 1. Furthermore, the standard previously known as USB 3.1 Gen 2 will now be renamed to USB 3.2 Gen 2.

Adding to the chaos, the specification that was thought to be simply called USB 3.2 will now be called, USB 3.2 Gen 2x2! The new standard offers twice the throughput that is offered by USB 3.2 Gen 2 (so, 2x2).

The reasoning behind this bizarre naming might be sound from a technical standpoint, but the average user will struggle to grasp the differences between these standards. In fact, when you go out to buy a device even today, most people struggle to understand what speeds they can expect.

Here's a table that outlines the new naming schemes, along with their old names and maximum speeds. It should help you navigate the USB landscape much better:

USB Generation
Previous name USB 3.1 Gen 1 USB 3.1 Gen 2 N/A
New Technical Name USB 3.2 Gen 1 USB 3.2 Gen 2 USB 3.2 Gen 2x2
Maximum Speed 5 Gbps 10 Gbps 20 Gbps
Interfaces Supported Both Type A and Type C Both Type A and Type C Only Type C

What are the big changes in the newest Generation?

a) Double throughput compared to previous generation – up to 20 Gbps.
b) Supports only the USB Type C Connector (Type A not supported by this standard).
*Please note that devices and hardware with USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 support will only start rolling out slowly.
 

USB Interface Type A vs Type C.

Ever plugged in a USB cable to find yourself unable to do so until you turn it over and try again? That nifty little connector is the USB Type A connector. Even as we’ve moved from USB 1 to USB 2 and on to modern USB 3 devices, that connector has stayed the same.

The USB Type C connector improves upon the previous connector by making sure that you can plug it in without turning it over a dozen times like the Type A. Moreover, it also allows for much higher data transfer rates (thanks to its multi-lane operation capabilities).

The Type C connector is backwards compatible with every USB standard ever released and can carry a whopping 100W of power. It is capable of successfully carrying display and audio signals which allows you to have adapters that can output HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort, or other types of connections from that single USB port. This makes them ideal choices for the next universal port.

However, the backwards compatibility of Type C connectors can be a double-edged sword for some customers. It could allow manufacturers to sell older USB standards disguised as newer ones. So, make sure you check what USB standards a port supports when buying a laptop, motherboard, or PC. Don't assume that a USB Type C port means the availability of the latest or even a fast interface.
 

MSI Z390 Motherboards with Type C Connectors

MSI's Z390 motherboards for the 9th Generation Intel Core Processors boast the latest USB standards available in the market today. In fact, some MSI Z390 motherboards like the MEG Z390 GODLIKE and MEG Z390 ACE feature 2 Type C connectors for the front panel. See more information about our Z390 motherboards here.
 

The Next Generation: USB 4

This latest announcement from the USB-IF might come as a surprise, especially when seeing a simple name like USB4 (the original announcement didn't have a space in it either, so, we aren't sure either) as the next iteration of USB. Do keep in mind that the features below are simply those listed in the initial announcement by the USB-IF and are subject to change (you can access the official announcement document here).
 

Now, here are the major changes that we expect to see with USB 4:

a) 40 Gbps Data Transfer Speeds: Sticking with the trend of doubling throughput with every USB generation, the new standard will offer speeds of up to 40 Gbps. In fact, at this speed, it will match the speeds of the almighty Thunderbolt interface!
b) Thunderbolt 3.0 Compatibility: Although not all, USB 4 promises to be compatible with ‘some’ Thunderbolt 3.0 devices. The practical extent of compatibility remains to be seen.
c) Better Resource Allocation: This improvement should, theoretically, help all of us who love using hubs. USB4 promises to allocate bandwidth efficiently – ensuring that data transfer, audio, and video feeds don't hamper each other. For example, if you're powering a 1440p display that takes up, say, 30% of available bandwidth (randomly chosen percentage), then your data can transfer using the remaining 70% bandwidth without a hitch.
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