First, the goods news: USB 3.2, the upcoming specification that the USB Implementers Forum announced back in 2017, is finally coming out this year. The bad news is that the group has also brought with it a slate of new names not only for the new standard, but also for the old versions of USB 3.0, too.
Here’s how it all breaks down:
USB 3.2 Gen 1: originally known as USB 3.0, and previously renamed to USB 3.1 Gen 1. It’s the original USB 3.0 specification, and it can transfer data at up to 5Gbps.
USB 3.2 Gen 2: Previously known as USB 3.1, and then later as USB 3.1 Gen 2. It offers speeds at up to 10Gbps.
USB 3.2 Gen 2×2: formally known as USB 3.2, it’s the newest and fastest spec, promising offers speeds at up to 20Gbps (by using two lanes of 10Gbps at once).
There is a method to the USB-IF’s madness here. Each new specification absorbs the previous generations as included within that spec, as way to keep things relatively consistent. Hence, when USB 3.1 came out, the previous 3.0 spec became USB 3.1 Gen 1 and the new, faster 3.1 spec was USB 3.1 Gen 2.
Similarly, now that we have USB 3.2, those numbers are getting bumped up again to USB 3.2 Gen 1 and USB 3.2 Gen 2. As for the new 20Gbps speed, it isn’t USB 3.2 Gen 3 since it’s not quite delivering on 20Gbps speeds — it’s two 10Gbps lanes working together, which is why we have the USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 designation.
There is a method to the USB-IF’s madness here
To make things easier, the USB-IF also has recommended names for companies to market these three specs with: SuperSpeed USB, SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps, and SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps. The group also requests that other names, like “SuperSpeed Plus, Enhanced SuperSpeed and SuperSpeed+,” which had been previously used in the 3.0 and 3.1 era standards, “are not intended to be used in product names, messaging, packaging or any other consumer-facing content. Although it’ll be up to companies to listen and follow those guidelines accordingly.
It’s also important to note that these standards only govern transfer speed, not connector type. That means that USB Type-A, microUSB, and USB-C can all get USB 3.2 branding of some sort — although technically speaking, only USB-C cables will likely support the fastest USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 speeds. That’s probably going to add some extra confusion thanks to the USB-IF’s renaming here, considering that manufacturers can theoretically just call something a USB 3.2 port now even if they only deliever USB 3.0 era, 5Gbps speed over a USB Type-A port.
The USB-IF does emphasize the importance of manufacturers honestly listing their hardware capabilities in marketing, but it’ll likely be on the burden of consumers to check to see if they’re getting “real” USB 3.2 speeds or just rebranded older specs. Still, the fact that the USB-IF has finalized naming means that we’re one step closer to actually seeing this kind of hardware ship, and that can only be a good thing for anyone hoping for faster cables.