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USB 3.2 standard will be twice as fast, but the naming mess will get worse

USB 3.2, the next-generation USB standard expected to start appearing in devices later this year, will double the maximum speed supported to 20Gbps. This is achieved by allowing for two lanes of 10Gbps each, which can be achieved without reducing cable length.

The bad news is that the naming confusion around USB speeds is going to get even worse …

Life was simple enough through USB 3.0:

  • USB 1.1 (12Mbps)
  • USB 2.0 (480Mbps)
  • USB 3.0 (5Gbps)

And then along came USB 3.1, and the USB Implementers Forum decided to confuse everyone, as Arstechnica recalls.

Its big new feature was doubling the data rate to 10Gb/s. The logical thing would have been to identify existing 5Gb/s devices as “USB 3.0” and new 10Gb/s devices as “USB 3.1.” But that’s not what the USB-IF did. For reasons that remain hard to understand, the decision was made to retroactively rebrand USB 3.0: 5Gb/s 3.0 connections became “USB 3.1 Gen 1,” with the 10Gb/s connections being “USB 3.1 Gen 2.” The consumer branding is “SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps.”

And now the USB-IF is making things even worse. First, the old USB 3.1 devices now magically become USB 3.2 ones – for the exact same speeds. And the new 20Gbps gets a stupid new name:

  • USB 3.1 Gen 1 becomes USB 3.2 Gen 1
  • USB 3.1 Gen 2 becomes USB 3.2 Gen 2
  • The new 20Gbps standard becomes … USB 3.2 Gen 2×2

I promise we’re not making this up.

So, as Arstechnica points out, this allows manufacturers to proudly state that their device supports USB 3.2 – and without further information, consumers will have no way to know whether they are getting 5, 10 or 20Gbps.

So buying a USB-C cable is going to be even more confusing than it is today. The one thing you will know is that 20Gbps is only possible on (compatible) USB-C cables, as only these have the dual lanes needed to double the effective speed.

Thunderbolt remains the fastest standard, offering a maximum speed of 40Gbps.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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