USB 3.2's horrible new branding scheme may create confusion for PC buyers

It's hard to believe that USB branding has become more confusing, but it has.

Credit: Agam Shah

The USB standard has just gotten even more confusing for end users. If you're one of the three people in the world who actually knew the difference between USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1 Gen 1/Gen 2, and so on, ...well, sorry: USB 3.2 has been announced, and all the names change once again.

On the bright side, the USB-IF makes it explicitly clear (PDF) that the latest USB 3.2 specification provides a whopping 20Gbps of throughput. But that's about the only thing that's straightforward, because USB 3.2 sucks up the previous specs and makes them part of its own. The new, horrifically-named spec is "USB 3.2 Gen 2x2."

It's hard to sum it all up, but we'll give it a try.

  • USB 3.2 Gen 1 (previously referred to as USB 3.0, or formally as USB 3.1 Gen 1) has a 5Gbps transfer rate and is officially known by the marketing name SuperSpeed USB.
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2 (previously referred to as USB 3.1, or formally as USB 3.1 Gen 2) has a 10Gbps transfer rate and is now officially known as SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps.
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (the latest spec) has a 20Gbps transfer rate and is now officially known as SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps.

Note, too, that these new specs refer only to throughput speed, not to the physical USB cable or port. We're still in the middle of a gradual transition from USB-A to USB-C physical connectors, but that's a separate issue.

The PDF document outlining the new specs reiterates several times just how important it is for manufacturers to indicate clearly how fast the USB device or port is. "When referring to a product that is based on and compliant with the USB 3.2 specification, it is critical for manufacturers to clearly identify the performance capabilities of that device separately from other product benefits and/or physical characteristics," it states.

But as others were quick to point out, there's really nothing that prohibits a laptop manufacturer, for example, from simply calling a device a "USB 3.2" port and failing to describe how much bandwidth it will provide to the user. The USB-IF's pleas notwithstanding, the only restrictions appear to be in the use of the USB-IF's logos, which requires passing the USB Compliance Program. 

Why this matters: There's one consolation: The new specifications are backward-compatible, meaning that you'll still be able to plug in an older USB device to a new USB 3.2 port. Still, the branding of it all is an absolute nightmare, and is an additional headache computer and smartphone buyers don't need. 

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Essentials

Mobile

Exec

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?