USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0 Speed – Why Upgrade?

USB 3.0 opens up new possibilities in using USB devices like hard drives and hubs for several different reasons. The biggest reason to upgrade however is the speed factor. USB 2.0 has served as a great interface but things have changed and the question now is how does USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0 speed compare?

According to the marketing blurb, USB 3.0 is capable of transferring data at speeds of up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0. Comparing the two, USB 2.0 has a maximum advertised transfer speed of 60 MB/s and USB 3.0 of 600 MB/s. That’s 10 times faster, right?

It would be if USB 2.0 ever got to 60 MB/s, in reality it’s more like 30 MB/s, so even USB 2.0 doesn’t reach it’s advertised speed. Confused? Well most people are because they get caught up in the hype. The speeds advertised are just transfer speeds that could be achieved if all the conditions were right.

The truth is that USB devices and computers have their own limitations that cause transfer speeds to drop. So what we really want to know is how will upgrading to USB 3.0 work in the real world?

Firstly lets compare the old and the new:


USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0 speed: Theory vs Real World
Speed in Theory Real World Speed
USB 2.0 60 MB/s 30 MB/s
USB 3.0 600 MB/s 180 MB/s


What! That can’t be right! USB 3.0 only runs at 180 MB/s in the real world? That’s right, after we cut through the hype USB 3.0 is about 6 times faster on average in real terms.

Hold your disappointment for a second, lets look at how 6 times faster speeds could be beneficial in everyday usage.

Average transfer speeds of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0
USB 2.0 USB 3.0
10 GB file 6 minutes 1 minute
25GB Blu-ray disc 15 minutes 2.5 minutes
6 GB music files 3.5 minutes half a minute

So compared to USB 2.0, copying 10GB of files in just over a minute is quite impressive and saves time especially with file sizes getting bigger and bigger (HD movie any one?). Bear in mind that these transfer speeds are dependent on your computer or laptop as well as your portable hard drive or flash drive.

For example hard drives that run at 72,000 rpm as opposed to 5,400 rpm will transfer at higher speeds because higher rotational speeds improve the time taken to access data.

When comparing USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 the thing to consider for practical everyday use is not the theoretical speeds advertised but the real speeds that can be achieved. Whether using an old computer with USB 3.0 and/or a slower USB 3.0 flash drive the speeds compared to USB 2.0 will be proportionally faster by about 6 times.

See how fast is usb 3.0 for more real world examples.

More power to use but less power used

USB 3.0 uses less power compared to USB 2.0 by design. Many improvements like data being handled more efficiently and input power being better managed means that the interface uses 25% less power than USB 2.0.

Less power makes USB 3.0 more economical in the long term, see how USB 3.0 contributes to a low power pc.

In comparison to USB 2.0’s output power of 500mA, USB 3.0 outputs 900mA and can output up to 1500mA for dedicated charging ports. That allows you to charge higher power smartphones and tablets which wasn’t possible with USB 2.0.

USB hubs become more useful especially for external hard drives and charging, see how to charge multiple tech devices using a usb charging hub.

Will existing USB stuff work with USB 3.0?

Superficially the new USB ports look almost identical to old ones because they have been designed to make sure USB 2.0 devices can still be plugged in.

The blue color indicator helps identify the new ports and USB 3.0 devices still work in USB 2.0 ports. To find out how USB 3.0 is future proof see is usb 3.0 backwards compatible?

Many reasons to upgrade and use USB 3.0

Put simply, USB 3.0 is faster, is more economical in it’s power usage and is able to output more power (particularly useful for charging) when compared to USB 2.0. It is backwards compatible allowing old and new ports to be used together.

When looking at USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0 speed, there is no doubt that there is a huge difference between the two. Although the marketing claims speeds of up to 10 times faster, actual real world speeds are nearer 6 times faster. That’s still a big difference and is a real time saver for transferring data.

How fast is USB 3.0?

USB 3.0 is advertised as being 10 times faster than USB 2.0. Lets find out how fast is USB 3.0 in typical everyday use.

Data transfer comparison

Let’s see how other data connections compare to USB 3.0:

As you can see compared to USB 2.0, FireWire, Sata/eSata, USB 3.0 really is superspeed!

A newly fitted USB 3.0 pci card will provide speeds of up to 4800 Mb per second compared to USB 2.0’s speed of 480 Mb per second. That’s 10 times faster.

USB is a standard connection on computers and so will be around for quite some time in the future. USB 3.0 is even faster than gigabit networks!

This is obviously impressive but there’s another reason why USB 3.0 is faster – it’s bidirectional. This means it’s able to send and transmit data at the same rate. This full duplex speed is achieved by adding four new data wires to the USB 3.0 interface.

Two are used to transmit and two are used to receive data. That means that the data transfer lanes have been doubled compared to USB 2.0 .

The new wires make the actual USB 3.0 cable slightly thicker than USB 2.0 cables but this is barely noticeable for everyday usage.

Imagine transferring 25GB’s worth of data in about a minute! That could be a movie, your music library or some data backups.

Find out how to check your computer for USB 3.0 PCI card compatibility.

Don’t worry, USB 2.0 is still supported!

The nice people developing USB 3.0 knew that compatibility with USB 2.0 was going to be needed so they designed USB 3 with this in mind.

New USB 3.0 devices can be plugged into existing USB 2.0

New USB 3.0 cable retains compatibility.

Since the new design is physically the same size and shape it can be plugged into existing USB 2.0 ports although you won’t get the speed increase, you can still use the device.

In some cases USB 3.0 devices still work slightly faster in USB 2.0 ports.

Six new wires added

The USB 3.0 cable uses a blue color to differentiate from the old.
The existing wires in the USB cable remain and six new wires have been added to accommodate USB 3.0. These allow both interfaces to work in parallel with each other.

A helpful blue colour on the end of the new USB 3.0 connector lets us know it’s a USB 3.0 cable.

USB 3.0 uses less power than USB 2.0

The new USB 3.0 interface uses less power and is more energy efficient. How?

No polling

USB 2.0 uses something called polling. Imagine leaving all the lights on in your house all the time in anticipation of needing to use one of the rooms. It would waste a lot of energy right?

USB 3.0 now utilises asynchronous notification which means it isn’t on all the time in anticipation of a data transfer between an external hard drive for example. Instead the external hard drive notifies the USB 3.0 host and when both are ready the data transfer takes place. It’s like the person entering a room only turning on the light when needed.

Increased speed and efficiency

The computers bus (the computers data transfer highways) encounters less traffic because of the speed of data transfers in USB 3.0. This means the bus powers down a lot quicker.

Link power is better managed

The link between the USB 3.0 card and the device plugged into it do not constantly need to be active because polling has been eliminated. The idle state of the link and the longer it stays idle causes the computers bus to better manage power resulting in power savings.

Huge power savings

All these factors combined mean that USB 3.0 is much less power hungry than USB 2.0. In fact the developers of USB 3.0 estimate that 25% less power is used when transferring 20 MB of data compared to USB 2.0. USB 3.0 is also backwards compatible.

External Solid State USB 3.0 drives are perfect for low power usage.

USB 3.0 outputs more power than USB 2.0

USB 3 will now output up to 80% more than USB 2.0. Why is that good you may ask?

Well you can plug in a USB device into your computer without needing to plug in a separate power adapter. Devices like wireless adapters and external hard drives are examples of USB 3 devices that can be bus powered.

Portable gadgets will now charge faster

The power being output from USB 3.0 is now up to 900 milli amps compared to USB 2.0’s 100 milli amps. Gadgets like phones, MP3 players and cameras will potentially charge faster saving you time and energy. It also means devices that required too much power to be USB powered can now be charged through a USB 3.0 port.

It’s good news for USB hubs

It’s good news for USB 3.0 hubs because more than four devices can be plugged in. As the demand for smaller and smaller tech increases, the ability to use power more efficiently is the way of the future.

Less power drain for your laptop

Since less power is needed for your usb devices the new usb 3 interface conserves energy and does not drain you battery. See if you can upgrade your laptop to USB 3.0.

Why does USB 3.0 use less power than USB 2.0?