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USB1 - 1.5Mbps

USB2 - 12Mbps

High Speed USB2 - 480Mbps [* Most Common]

Superspeed USB3 - 4.8Gbps

WHAT ABOUT USB 3 (a/k/a/ USB Superspeed)?

As of 2015, most motherboards have a least two USB3 ports, and many other devices support USB as well.

The cables are slightly thicker, due to addition of a fifth internal wire [in/out data transfer, power + grounding], and has a different connector, but is completely backward compatible with USB 1 & 2.  The new bi-directional wire and pin configuration makes USB3 faster because now data can be read and written over the connection at the same time, while the older USB standards could only allow data transfer in one direction.

All of this means that data transfer speeds will be up to 10 times faster than USB2 devices, so you can transfer MP3s, movies, data at 10x speeds.

Moreover, the thicker cable will also result in quicker power charging for your cell phones, MP3 players, digital cameras and the like, as the power output is increased from about 100 milliamps to 900 milliamps.   Further, USB3 abandons “device polling” in favor or a new “interrupt-driven” protocol, which means that non-active or idle devices not currently being charged by a USB3 port will no longer have their power drained by the host controller as it looks for active data traffic.  Now, the devices will send a signal to the host to begin the data transfer.

Of course, to take advantage of the new technology, you must connect to devices that are capable of using the increased speed.  Your hard drive will still be limited by its RPMs, media devices may be limited, and flash drives will have to be built to take advantage of the higher speeds.  And you’ll need new USB hubs, but they’ll handily charge four devices faster and better than the old hubs.  This’ll all take a while.  But ten times faster is a huge change!




Theoretical Bandwidth

IEEE 1394a

IEEE 1394a-S100

100 Mbit/s

IEEE 1394a-S200

200 Mbit/s

IEEE 1394a-S400

400 Mbit/s

IEEE 1394b

IEEE 1394b-S800

800 Mbit/s

IEEE 1394b-S1200

1,200 Mbit/s

IEEE 1394b-S1600

1,600 Mbit/s

IEEE 1394b-S3200

3,200 Mbit/s

The IEEE 1394b standard is also called FireWire 2 or FireWire Gigabit.

FireWire Connectors

There are different FireWire connectors for each of the IEEE 1394 standards.

  • The IEEE 1394a standard specifies two connectors:
    • Connectors 1394a-1995:
    • Connectors 1394a-2000, called mini-DV because they are used on Digital Video (DV) cameras:

  • The IEEE 1394b standard specifies two types of connectors that are designed so that 1394b-Beta cables can be plugged into Beta and Bilingual connectors, but 1394b Bilingual cables can only be plugged into Bilingual connectors:
    • 1394b Beta connectors:

    • 1394b Bilingual connectors:


USB 1 & 2 Configuration

USB Pin Config

Pin 1VCC (+5V)

Pin 2Data-Pin 3Data+Pin 4Ground

USB 3 Configuration


O.K., SO WHICH IS FASTER?  Good question.  But the answer isn’t quite so easy.  In theory, USB 2.0, at 480Mbps, appears to be faster than Firewire 400, at 400 Mbps.  After all, 480 is greater than 400, isn’t it?  But the catch is that we’re talking “theoretical” broadband speed.  Nobody really seems to get the 480 speed.  In actual use, Firewire 400 consistently performs almost twice as fast than USB 2 in practice, and it doesn’t drain a lot of CPU resources, either.  Firewire 800 blows USB2 out of the water, but the soon-to-come USB3 (see above) will even the stats.  The key is actually in the available ports.  Most computers, including Apple (which invented Firewire), include more USB ports on their computers, so USB is the by far the prevailing port of convenience.  Most computers nowadays have between two and six USB ports, vice only one Firewire port.

USB speed comparison table

Comparison of the relative download speeds of USB 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 for common tasks. (Source: a 2008 Microsoft Driver Developer conference.)

BUT WAIT...HERE COMES THUNDERBOLT!  In early 2011, Intel Light Peak data connection has actually been installed in Apple’s new MacBook Pros.  At 10 gigabit-per-second data transfer in both directions, it is a full 20 times faster than USB 2.0 and 12 times faster than Firewire 800.  As the inventor of the PCI Express connection protocol, Intel has developed Thunderbolt based on PCI Express and Apple’s Display Port connection.   See HERE for the Intel Press Release.  Intel’s claim that a full HD movie can be transferred in “less than 30 seconds”!  Aside from speed, there are several additional advantages to this technology:  It supports both copper only and optical/copper for faster transfer.  It’s a thinner and lighter profile, excellent for laptops.  It can push 10 watts of power over the cable, surpassing the .05 - 1.0 watt over USB.  And, because it can by daisy-chained between devices, it is easier to install, eliminating cable clutter. 

Thunderbolt logo Thunderbolt port photo

Thunderbolt logo

Thunderbolt port (middle), compared to firewire (left) and USB (right)


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