Posted by: kurtsh | July 10, 2012

INFO: The Difference between USB 2.0, USB 3.0, & Thunderbolt

It’s been declared the top PC innovation of all time, and for good reason. You use USB every day to copy files, print information, and charge devices. If your PC is less than five years old, chances are you’re using USB 2.0 (also known as USB High-Speed). It works well for moving a few of documents or a music file, but if you move large files or a lot of files, you’ve undoubtedly yearned for a faster option. If this sounds familiar, your day has come!

USB 3.0 (also known as USB Super-Speed) came on the scene in January 2010. This new standard significantly reduces the time required to move information. It’s 10x faster than USB 2.0, charges devices 9x faster, reduces power consumption, and is backward compatible with USB 2.0 devices (but will only operate at USB 2.0 speeds in this instance).

Even more recently released is Thunderbolt; developed by Intel and brought to market by Apple in early 2011 in their MacBook Pro line. Thunderbolt is just starting to appear in Windows PCs and offers improvements over USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 including 2x faster data transfer, 10% faster device charging, the ability to carry both HD audio and video signals, and the ability to carry signal on longer cables than USB without signal loss. Thunderbolt’s biggest disadvantage is its lack of device compatibility compared with USB.

Here’s a quick chart to help folks understand the differences in a nutshell:


USB 2.0

(USB Hi-Speed)

USB 3.0

(USB Super-Speed)


(code named Light Peak)

Official Logos




Transfer Speed

Moves data at up to 480 megabits per second

Moves data at up to 5,000 megabits per second which is ten times faster than USB 2.0. USB 3.0 device must be used with a USB 3.0 port to realize its speed potential

Moves data at 10,000 megabits per second which is twenty times faster than USB 2.0 and twice as fast as USB 3.0. Thunderbolt device but must be used with Thunderbolt port to realize its speed potential

Directional Transfer

Unidirectional: data moves one direction at a time like an alternating single-lane bridge

Bidirectional: data moves both ways at once, like a 2-way, 2-lane bridge

Cables and Ports




Various USB 2.0 cable ends

(from left to right):

3 different styles for mini ports, female, male & printer


The SS (Super Speed) moniker differentiates USB 3.0 from 2.0. USB 3.0 cables are often, but not always blue



A Thunderbolt cable end and PC port

UPDATE 7/15/12:

I just found an epic post about this that, for the more technically inclined, goes into great detail about the technical specifics of USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0. I really have no intention of ever using Thunderbolt (it’s past & future seems identical to that of IEEE1394/FireWire) so these are the only two standards that I wanted a lot of reference information on… and boy did I find it.


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