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.