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USB 3.1 - What It Means for Existing USB

USB 3.1 - What It Means for Existing USB

For years we have seen USB technology advance and become a larger part of our daily lives. It’s easy to forget how many USB devices we have and use every single day. There are the obvious devices, like my laptop, my phone, and my tablet, but there are many others like my car, my camera, my Chromecast, my remote control helicopter, and the list goes on. USB is such a versatile technology that it is used for a wide range of applications from charging, to audio connectivity, to data transfer, and so on.

We are now on the precipice of a technological revolution, and USB is ready to take its next step. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) have developed a new USB specification, USB 3.1, and it brings with it a new, symmetrical connector, USB Type-C, built-in support for audio/video signals, enhanced power delivery, and a bandwidth which is twice as large as the last USB specification, USB 3.0. These changes are sure to change the way we use USB devices and they will become an even larger part of our lives, but what does this change mean for the devices we have today?

The good news is that, just like in the past, the USB-IF has designed the new USB 3.1 specification to be backwards compatible with existing USB technology and devices. This means that you will still be able to use your devices that you use every day with the new devices which take advantage of the new USB 3.1 specification. This backwards compatibility also means that you will be able to use a USB 3.1 device with existing technology. For example, this backwards compatibility means that you will be able to connect the phone you use today to a new laptop which features USB 3.1 ports, or you would be able to connect a new phone which features a USB 3.1 port to the laptop that you use today. So, this sounds really easy, but what about that new connector? Since USB 3.1 will feature the new USB Type-C connector, you will need a USB adapter in order to connect existing USB devices and new USB 3.1 devices.

There are a few other interesting things that we will see as USB 3.1 devices, cables and adapters are introduced. Some new devices which feature USB Type-C ports, will not support USB 3.1 features, but will support traditional USB 2.0 technology. In most cases, these will be the first devices on the market. As USB 3.1 devices became more prevalent, you will see less devices which feature USB Type-C ports and are unable to support USB 3.1 features. USB 3.1 cables capable of supporting the full feature set of the USB 3.1 specification will be limited to a maximum length of 3.28 feet (1 meter). There will be longer cables available which feature USB Type-C connectors on both ends which will be unable to support USB 3.1 technology. Additionally, any adapter that allows an existing USB device and a new, USB 3.1 device to be connected will not be able to support the features of the new USB 3.1 specification.

So, long story short, the introduction of the new USB 3.1 specification does not mean that you need to throw out and replace all of your existing USB devices. You will still be able to find a way to connect your existing USB devices and new USB 3.1 devices.

-By Brad Shinkle


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