USB 3.0: Three Times the Awesome

If you’ve ever connected a media player to your laptop to sync up a few gigabytes of music and movies, only to spend the next eight hours waiting … waiting … waiting for the job to complete, you’re the number one candidate for USB 3.0.

USB 3.0, as the name implies, is the third major version of the USB standard, perhaps the most successful, universally-adopted connector format in the history of computing.

USB is beloved for its simplicity, its ability to charge battery-powered electronics connected through it, and phenomenal availability among thousands of devices – not just computer peripherals but also consumer electronics galore.

That is, until you find yourself in the fourth hour of that eight-hour synchronization slog. Then USB becomes a pain instead of a savior.

And that’s the main issue that USB 3.0 (also known as SuperSpeed USB) was designed to address, pumping up the maximum throughput of USB from the 48Mbps of USB 2.0 to the 480Mbps of USB 3.0.

That alone solves a lot of problems, but USB 3.0 also has another trick up its sleeve: The ability to charge more power-hungry devices than USB 2.0 could. USB 2.0 could provide up to 100 milliamps of power to gadgets connected via the connector. That was fine for the cell phones of 2004, but in 2011, USB gizmos often need so much juice that they can’t charge via USB 2.0. Most tablets won’t charge at all via a USB connection, and those that do will usually only “trickle charge,” an agonizingly slow operation that can take all day.

USB 3.0 bumps power output up to 900 milliamps, providing power aplenty for just about anything you could think to throw at it.

Best of all, in keeping with USB’s history, USB 3.0 is backward compatible with USB 2.0 devices. In other words, if your computer has a USB 3.0 port, you can still plug a USB 2.0 hard drive into it – and vice versa – though in both cases the connection will operate at the slower, USB 2.0 speed.

While USB 3.0 was introduced last year, support for it remains spotty, and even computers that feature USB 3.0 ports tend to have only a couple instead of a full bank of four or more. Still, that support is coming, however slowly. USB 3.0 is on its way to everything – it’s just taking its sweet time getting there. Which, oddly, is so unlike the zippy USB 3!

Subscribe to the The Advisor Newsletter