Forget USB 3.0 & USB 3.1: USB 3.2 Moving Forward

Remember when the USB 3.0 standard was eventually rebranded to USB 3.1 Gen 1? Well, history is about to repeat itself once again. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) announced at MWC 2019 that the new USB 3.2 standard will absorb the prior USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 specifications.

Credit: Cq photo juy/SK/ShutterstockCredit: Cq photo juy/SK/Shutterstock

Both USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 are to be considered generations of the USB 3.2 specification. USB 3.1 Gen 1 (formerly known as USB 3.0), which offers speeds up to 5 Gbps, will be rebranded into USB 3.2 Gen 1 while USB 3.1 Gen 2, which supports communication rates up to 10 Gbps, will be called USB 3.2 Gen 2 moving forward. Since USB 3.2 has double the throughput (20 Gbps) of USB 3.1 Gen 2, the updated standard has been designated as USB 3.2 Gen 2x2.

SpecificationPrevious TermTechnical Term
Marketing Term
USB 3.2N/AUSB 3.2 Gen 2x2SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps
USB 3.1
USB 3.1 Gen 2
USB 3.2 Gen 2
SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps
USB 3.0USB 3.1 Gen 1
USB 3.2 Gen 1
SuperSpeed USB

In order to achieve a data transfer rate of 20 Gbps, USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 employs up to two high-speed 10 Gbps channels. Last year, Synopsys gave us a small taste of the level of performance that we can expect from the USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 standard. As noted by the USB-IF, conventional USB hosts and devices were designed as single-lane solutions. USB Type-C cables, on the other hand, support multi-lane operations that open the doors for scalable performance. As a result, USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 is only possible over the USB Type-C connection.

It's of utter importance that manufacturers and vendors communicate each USB 3.2 standard to the consumer in a clear way. To avoid overwhelming the consumer with technicalities, USB-IF suggested a separate marketing nomenclature for each standard. USB 3.2 Gen 1 should be identified as SuperSpeed USB while USB 3.2 Gen 2 and USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 are labeled as SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps and SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps, respectively.

There is no concrete date for when USB 3.2 devices will arrive. Some think they might come out later this year, but it could be much longer. Either way, it'll probably be a bit before the standard catches on in the motherboard space since manufacturers would have to incorporate third-party USB 3.2 controllers into their products.