What’s the Difference Between USB 3.1 and USB 3 Cables?

Take a look around your home and you’ll probably find a lot of electronic devices using some kind of Universal Serial Bus, or USB, cable. They’re practically everywhere – but remember that not all USB cables are created equally.

Take your smartphone, for instance. Every device has an average lifespan of about two years, and chances are, the last time you had to upgrade your phone you also had to upgrade your charger along with it. Or maybe you simply opted for better cell phone accessories. The standard iPhone 6 and 6 Plus come with 5-watt smartphone cables, but with a 12-watt USB power adapter you can power up the device in half the time — just 50 minutes for an iPhone 6 or 2.5 hours for the 6 Plus.

But lately, there have been more drastic changes made to the USB system itself. The USB 3.1 is the latest cable type, superseding the old USB 3 cables and, before that, the USB 2.0 device cable. What exactly is different here — and do you need to go about replacing every cable in your house? Not exactly. Here’s what you need to know about the differences between the USB 3 cables and the newer 3.1 version.

  • Speed: The USB 3 has a top speed 5Gbps in SuperSpeed mode. The 3.1 can get 10Gbps.
  • Power: USB 3 cables can deliver 5V, 1.8A of power, while the 3.1 can draw up to 2A at 5V or 5A at 12V or 20V.
  • Compatibility: The 3.1 is backwards compatible with the 3.0, and both the 3.1 and the 3.0 are backwards compatible with the 2.0. That means that unless you have the need for speed and more power, any type of cable will work just fine in any system.
  • Configuration: Perhaps the biggest change with the 3.1 are the Type-C plugs, which are actually unidirectional — no more flipping the cable over six times before it fits! The 3.0 is typically configured with Type-A to Type-B connectors.

If you’re the tech-hungry type always looking for a better connection, then the USB 3.1 is the way to go. For the average consumer, however, the 3.0 still works perfectly fine across most devices. Soon enough, a new improvement will come out, and we’ll all eventually make the upgrade — maybe with our next smartphone purchase.

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