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What is USB Gen 1, Gen 2 and Gen 2 × 2?

  Three USB-C cables on blue background
Talk / Shutterstock

Finding the fastest USB connection was easy: Select USB 3.0 instead of 2.0. But now you need to know the difference between USB 3.2 Gen 1

, Gen 2 and Gen 2 × 2 and which different types of "SuperSpeed" mean too.

USB naming used to be simple

  USB-C cable next to USB-C Compatible laptop
Confirmation photo / Shutterstock

USB sometimes came in two main products, 2.0 and 3.0. All you need to know about them was 3.0 was faster than 2.0. You can buy a USB 2.0 flash drive and connect it to a computer that had USB 3.0 card slots, and it would still work – only at the slower USB 2.0 speeds. Buying a USB 3.0 device and connecting it to a USB 2.0 port would also give you USB 2.0 speeds.

If you wanted the fastest speed, you would get a USB 3.0 drive and connect it to a USB 3.0 USB port. It was simple and easy. USB-IF

USB Implementers Forums (USB-IF) maintains USB specifications and compliance, and it is behind the naming systems found on the USB cables. USB-IF

USB 3.1 Muddied Naming Waters

and devices. When introduced USB 3.1, instead of keeping it simple and letting that name differ from USB 3.0, it was called the new standard "USB 3.1 Gen 2." USB 3.0 was retroactively renamed "USB 3.1 Gen 1".

To further complicate things, the transfer speeds up the received names themselves. USB 3.1 Gen 1, originally known as USB 3.0, has capacity for 5 Gbps transfer rates. It's called SuperSpeed.

USB 3.1 Gen 2 has capacity for 10 Gbps transfer rates – it is called SuperSpeed ​​+. Technically, this accomplishes this by using 128b / 132b coding in a full duplex communication mode. Full duplex communication is exciting because it means that information can be transmitted and received simultaneously. That's why it's faster.

The difference between the two was a bit confusing. But as long as you remember that Gen 2 was better than Gen 1, you were good to go. To help differentiate speeds, USB-IF has also implemented logos, which manufacturers can only use by transferring a certification to prove a cable matches the promised specifications.

USB 3.2 is even faster and more confusing

  Picture of PDF describing USB 3.2 naming

Last September, USB-IF identified new possible speeds for USB-C and the beginning of USB 3.2 specification. USB 3.2 can handle 20 Gbps speeds. There are double transfer rates for USB 3.1 Gen 2. If you wonder how the cables double their speed so quickly without changing the size or connectors, it is straight ahead. USB products with a capacity of 20 Gbps have two 10 Gbps channels. Keep in mind that more cables are stuck in the same cable.

Just as in previous iterations, this new standard is backward compatible for basic use, but you do not get faster speed without any new hardware. If you buy a hard drive that promises a transfer rate of 20 Gbps and connects it to your current computer, the hard drive works, but at slower speeds the USB ports on your machine can provide. You need to update both ends of the connection to enjoy all new benefits.

At Mobile World Congress 2019, the USB-IF announced the brand and naming systems for the new standard. And once again, the previous naming entity will be discarded and changed retroactively.

What used to be USB 3.0, with 5 Gbps transfer speeds, will be USB 3.2 Gen 1. USB 3.1 Gen 2 with its 10 Gbps speeds, will revert to USB 3.2 Gen 2.

The new 20 Gbps The standard will be called USB 3.2 Gen 2 × 2, breaking the predictable pattern. Physically, this has two 10 Gbps channels, so it's literally 2 × 2. There is a logic for the name, but it's confusing, and you need to understand the hardware to realize it's pointless.

Manufacturers should refer to "SuperSpeed" instead

  Amazon Basics USB-C cables
Amazon [19659003] USB-IF does not want consumers to see these terms. Instead, it wants to be Gen 1 products that are marketed as SuperSpeed ​​USB. It suggests manufacturer market Gen 2 products such as SuperSpeed ​​USB 10 Gbps and Gen 2 × 2 as SuperSpeed ​​USB 20 Gbps. But that does not mean that manufacturers have to use these names. Manufacturers can use the Gen 2.2 nomenclature – or if they don't care to submit to test and conformity, they can renounce the logos and use whatever name they like.

If the manufacturers agree, the naming issue is quite straight forward. Look for "SuperSpeed" in the name and check if there is a number. If you don't see one, it's the slowest USB 3.2 type. If you see a 10 or 20, that's the promise of 10 Gbps or 20 Gbps transfers. It might have been better if the USB-IF had gone with SuperSpeed ​​USB 5 Gbps for the slowest type. But anyway, it's pretty straight forward.

In theory, USB logos should help. As shown in the picture above, the SS and 10 show the USB cable as a SuperSpeed ​​cable that can transmit 10 Gbps transfers. Unfortunately, USB-IF has not yet shown the official certification mark for SuperSpeed ​​USB 20. Probably it should be the same logo as above, only with a 20 in its place. But we don't know that yet.

If you remember the early problems of USB-C, it will probably be very familiar. Read carefully before buying cables, and buy them from reputable, trusted sources. Previously, we have recommended Amazon Basics cables, but also with those you still need to look carefully. For example, this Amazon Basics cable is USB-C but offers only 2.0 speeds. This Amazon Basics cable, which looks virtually out, offers 10 Gbps transfers and is labeled as USB 3.1 Gen 2. And of course not just USB cables. This applies to all parts of hardware that use USB-C.

Unfortunately, it is still a mess of confusing terms. You need to do your due diligence when purchasing USB hardware to know exactly what you are getting.

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