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What is USB 3.1?

Last Updated on January 17, 2024
USB 3.1
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USB Type-C is a fairly new standard for connecting devices. The connector has a reversible design, allowing you to plug it into either side of your computer or device, and is compatible with existing USB ports while supporting charging at faster speeds and providing better data transfer rates.

The USB-C standard was designed to replace Micro-B connectors used on most computers and mobile phones. But what is USB 3.1, and how does it differ from the popular USB-C?

Read on to find out about the USB 3.1 standard and the advancements it has made in USB connectivity.

Breaking Down The Numbers

USB 3.1 refers to the data transfer speed of the connector, and not its physical size or shape. It was launched in 2013, and 3.1 replaced USB 3.0 as the USB standard for higher speeds. It would then be superseded by ‘USB 3.2’ in 2017.

That has resulted in a mess of USB names and speeds and can be quite confusing.

People may still refer to USB speeds, like 3.0, 3.1, and 3.2, but the naming convention and their speeds are outlined below:

  • USB 3.2 Gen 1 (USB 3.0). Maximum of 5Gbps and goes by SuperSpeed USB.
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2 (USB 3.1) Maximum of 10Gbps and goes by SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps.
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (USB 3.2) Maximum of 20Gbps and goes by SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps.

These speeds are the theoretical maximums but are not usually seen in everyday USB use. However, transfer speed for files will be significantly and noticeably faster on newer standards compared to previous iterations.

Additionally, USB 3.1 (USB 3.2 Gen 2) does not work with every device. But it has seen a lot of support.

An example of a change between generations is Dell’s XPS 13 laptop. The laptop shipped with USB 3.0 (USB 3.2 Gen 1) ports, and the 2018 and 2019 laptops replaced those with USB 3.1 (USB 3.2 Gen 2) connections via USB-C.

USB 3.1 can also support Power Delivery 2.0. This means compatible ports can provide 100 watts of power to the connected device allowing you to charge big items such as laptops through one cable. 

USB-C Vs USB 3.1

USB 3.1 and USB-C are different. USB letters such as C refer to the shape and form of both the port and connector, but the number types refer to the data transfer capabilities.

A lot of modern devices have moved toward USB-C – which is smaller and works with faster transfer speeds. The USB 3.1 transfer speeds that are the fastest are only able to be so fast on USB-C.

Of course, USB-A is offered still but only for legacy support of older devices with older accessories that use this standard. It is now much more common for laptops and cellphones to be sold only with USB-C.

Whether a device has USB-A, USB-C, or another connection, it doesn’t mean it is USB 3.1 (3.2 Gen 2). Some laptops have been shipped with two USB-A ports and a USB-C port, which use USB 3.0. It’s confusing but if it matters to you, you need to make sure you’re reading product descriptions and the details of hardware you buy.

Thunderbolt 3

The Thunderbolt 3 specification is an extension of the existing Thunderbolt technology.

USB-C ports can be compatible with Thunderbolt 3, which offer data transfer rates up to 40GBps. This is four times faster than a USB 3.1. It can be cross-compatible with these cables, but they do not always work.

Thunderbolt 3 charges, and moves data, as well as being able to stream video onto other devices and screens. This is done by leveraging the USB-C port to increase the device’s compatibility with all other generations.

A USB-C port can be built with Thunderbolt 3 abilities, or it can work with USB 3.1, and most brands of computers will say whether they include Thunderbolt 3.

Ideally, you should consider buying a computer with USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports. They are increasingly popular and are very useful too – particularly for devices needing higher transfer speeds and streaming capabilities.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article has told you everything you need to know regarding USB ports and what a USB 3.1 is. If speedy USB connections and power over USB matter to you, always check what kind is included with the laptop or cellphone you are buying.

Andrew is one of three co-founders of BGFG, the parent company of PC Guide. A keen gamer and PC enthusiast, Andrew dabbles in a bit of writing sometimes - when he gets the chance to!