It seems like just yesterday everyone was scoffing at the idea of USB 3.0. “We don’t need it,” people said. “What we have works fine, and most people don’t need a USB that fast anyway.” Questions about compatibility and cost led many to question the need for a faster USB, and predict that it would never gain widespread traction.
Well, as these things often happen, it looks like USB 3.0 is catching on, and in a big way. In fact, as the major device manufacturers add USB 3.0 — or more accurately, USB 3.1 — ports and capabilities to their devices, it’s become increasingly important for product designers to include USB high speed MCU in their plans.
USB 3.0 Explained
In case you aren’t familiar with USB 3.0, in simple terms it’s the latest version of the Universal Serial Bus standard. USB is the standard for computer peripherals, such as printers and the like, as well as the dominant power sources for all manner of tech gadgets and toys. No matter what type of device you have, a USB allows you to connect it to your other gadgets and charge it.
For more than a decade, USB 2.0 has been the standard. A few years ago, developers introduced the next generation of USB, USB 3.0. As the technology has improved, and the next generation of USB took shape, USB 3.0 has become USB 3.1 Gen 1, while the second iteration became USB 3.1 Gen 2. However, for simplicity’s sake, most people refer to it as USB 3.0 and USB 3.1.
Regardless of the naming convention, the main difference between USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 is speed. In theory, the USB 3.0 is 10 times faster than its predecessor: The theoretical maximum bandwidth of USB 2.0 is 480Mbit/s, while the 3.0’s speed can transfer data up to 4.8Gbit/s (4,800Mbit/s). The newer USB can also transfer power much faster, increasing maximum power draw from 500mA to 900mA, and it is fully duplex, so data can travel both up and down the link simultaneously, contributing to the increased speed.
Why USB 3.0 Matters
In truth, the average user is probably not going to notice a significant difference between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0. This is in large part due to the fact that the increased speed is only theoretical — it’s what the connection is capable of doing, not what it’s guaranteed to do. In fact, most users of USB 3.0 technology find that the actual speed is actually closer to five to six times that of USB 2.0. This is due to a number of factors, including the device connections (in order to work correctly, a USB 3.0 plug must be connected to a USB 3.0 socket), the number of devices that are connected and communicating over the same connection, data transfer protocols, and other technical and physical issues.
In fact, the compatibility of USB 3.0 with devices is one of the biggest concerns that many have with moving to that technology. While the newer USB plugs are compatible with the USB 2.0 standard we all know, they don’t work to their full advantage with the older ports. USB 3.0 devices are exactly the same size and shape as USB 2.0 devices, ensuring full compatibility with older devices, but they are blue instead of black. This is important, because a blue plug must be plugged in to a blue port in order to gain the most speed. Otherwise, the data transfer speed is limited by the capabilities of the older technology.
With this in mind, you might be wondering why it’s so important to incorporate USB 3.0 into your product design, since most people aren’t going to be able to take full advantage of it at this point. It’s important because the number of manufacturers that are including USB 3.0 technology is increasing, and by some estimates, by the end of this year all new desktop and laptop computers will be equipped with the newer, faster technology. Consumers will be expecting faster speeds with their peripherals, and if your device does not offer them, you could be at a disadvantage.
Remaining competitive requires that you stay abreast of new technology and trends. If you haven’t explored the capabilities of USB 3.0, the time to do so is now, so you can continue to meet customer expectations.