This past week at MWC 2019 the USB Implementation Forum (USB-IF) announced the release of the USB 3.2 specification, which tacks on another level of speed to the existing USB 3.0 specification. And when I say “tack on”, I really mean tack on. USB 3.2 is basically two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports that were smashed together to push twice the bandwidth of USB 3.1 Gen 2 over the same cable. But that’s the boring part of this announcement – what you need to pay attention to is the hilarious and confusing naming scheme the USB-IF has come up with.
To recap, USB 3.0 is the baseline specification, using primarily USB-A and USB-B connectors and ports, and capable of carrying a 5Gibps signal. USB 3.1 Gen 1 was introduced later on and brought with it a speed boost to 10Gibps and the versatile Type-C port, which allowed you to plug it in first time, every time.
Already the standard was confusing to explain to anyone who cared, because USB 3.1 Gen 1 products were typically using USB-A and Type-C ports, but a Type-C connector didn’t always indicate that it was a USB 3.1 Gen 1 port or that it could power anything of note. At this point, both USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 Gen 1 consumed one lane of PCIe connectivity.
This year the USB-IF decided to introduce USB 3.2. This was previously going to be called USB 3.1 Gen 2, but common sense prevailed and a simpler naming scheme was chosen. However, it seems that whichever intern decided to simplify the naming scheme didn’t last long because the USB-IF then began giving existing standards multiple new titles to further muddy the waters.
The USB 3.2 standard now includes all previous USB 3.x standards under a single standard, USB 3.2. It then splits USB 3.2 up into Gen 1, Gen 2, and not Gen 3 as you’d expect but “Gen 2×2”. Somehow being twice as fast isn’t enough to call it Gen 3. Gen 2×2 consumes two lanes of PCIe connectivity from the chipset inside your processor, which is how it’s able to drive twice the amount of available bandwidth. Then there are the new marketing names; SuperSpeed USB, SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps, and SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps.
So in the future you’ll see product boxes that say “SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps with Type-C”. This doesn’t really tell you everything about the product, however, because the Type-C standard will limit how much power you can feed through the port and cable, and a separate standard called USB Power Delivery dictates that (and has its own marketing guidelines to boot!).
While SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps ports are backwards compatible with SuperSpeed USB and USB 10Gbps devices, using a SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps connection requires a new, separately certified SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps cable.
Despite the USB-IF trying to simplify their messaging, what they’ve really done is create another separate standard that still doesn’t collect all the related standards under a simple marketing banner. Changing the name to SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps hasn’t really helped matters, but at least I don’t have to explain what “USB 3.2 Gen 2×2” means to my mom.
Last Updated: February 28, 2019