Back to all articles

USB 3.1 - Why You Should Care


USB is pretty boring, although many of us remember the dark days before USB when we had to struggle with so many different port types. Parallel ports, serial ports, PS/2 and many other irritating and ugly interfaces all fell to USB. It really has become practically universal, as the name says.

For professionals who do media production or other bandwidth-intensive computing tasks high speed connections to external storage or to devices such as HD cameras is vital. USB hasnít always kept up with these needs, which is why we have other faster standards such as Firewire, eSATA and Thunderbolt. Youíll usually find these on computers aimed at video editors, 3D modelers or even programmers who have to work off external storage for various reasons.

USB 3, with its 5 Gbps top speed went a long way towards clawing that market from these more specialised interfaces and had the added advantage of being backwards compatible with USB 1 and 2.

USB 3.1 might not seem like a big deal, itís basically the same version number, but it comes with two important changes.

The first is speed, USB 3.1 doubles the speed of 3.0 to 10 Gbps, putting it at the same level single channel generation 1 Thunderbolt connections have.

The other exciting development is the new Type-C connector which we saw at CES this year. Itís small, about as large as current micro USB connectors, but the most important aspect of the new connector is that itís reversible. The difficulty in telling if you are putting your USB cable in right-side up has been a common complaint among users since USB 1.0, but with Type C cables it doesnít matter. Type C cables can also work in alternate modes to carry other protocols such as PCI Express, DisplayPort 1.3, MHL 3.0 and even Base-T Ethernet.

Type-C is promising to be a versatile and perhaps even more universal connection type. There are already a number of compatible devices that we know of, such as the Nokia N1 tablet.

Type C can also handle USB 2, so devices with Type C connectors donít also need USB 3.1 controllers. You donít get the extra speed or electrical power of USB 3.1, but you do get that awesome reversible connector.

USB 3.1 looks like it will be serious competition for Thunderbolt and if it can win over professional and casual users alike we might see support for Thunderbolt dwindle. Simpler is always better for the user and having an even more universal USB can only be a good thing.

How excited are you for USB 3.1? Are you holding out for it before you upgrade? Let us know in the comments.