The State of USB: Renaming USB 3.x is a Confusing Mess for Consumers

Subject: Editorial | February 27, 2019 - 11:53 AM |
Tagged: usb-if, USB Implementers Forum, USB 3.x, usb 3.2, usb 3.1, usb 3.0, usb, universal serial bus

There was a time when USB simply meant Universal Serial Bus, and we watched as devices that had previously relied on serial and parallel (etc.) ports moved to the new, more convenient standard; and in the enthusiast community we watched with some trepidation as PS/2 became a legacy option for keyboards in favor of USB. Since then we have seen tremendous increases in speed for this interface with huge strides from USB 2.0 and then USB 3.0, but in the recent past there has been a proliferation of different generations of the technology with their own speed ratings, a new connector, and a lot of confusion.

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Types of USB connectors (via conwire.com)

Now, in an apparent - yet misguided - effort to clarify the situation, the people making decisions about what to call these standards has released documentation for the re-naming of existing USB 3.x standards - which makes about as much sense as continuing to call the latest version of USB another three-point-anything, when we clearly should have moved on to USB 4.0 by now.

The organization calling the shots about the standard is called the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), described from their about page as "a non-profit corporation founded by the group of companies that developed the Universal Serial Bus specification" which was "formed to provide a support organization and forum for the advancement and adoption of Universal Serial Bus technology".

So what did the USB-IF come up with? Truth is, as they say, stranger than fiction:

The USB 3.2 specification absorbed all prior 3.x specifications. USB 3.2 identifies three transfer rates, USB 3.2 Gen 1 at 5Gbps, USB 3.2 Gen 2 at 10Gbps and USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 at 20Gbps. It is important that vendors clearly communicate the performance signaling that a product delivers in the product’s packaging, advertising content, and any other marketing materials.

  • USB 3.2 Gen 1
    • Product capability: product signals at 5Gbps
    • Marketing name: SuperSpeed USB
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2
    • Product capability: product signals at 10Gbps
    • Marketing name: SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2x2
    • Product capability: product signals at 20Gbps
    • Marketing name: SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps

If this was not crystal clear already, the USB-IF goes on to emphasize the importance of clarifying the performance potential separately from the protocols when advertising one of these standards, itself suggesting that they have failed to clarify anything with these changes:

"It is critical for manufacturers to distinguish between USB 3.2 Gen 1, USB 3.2 Gen 2 and USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 products. USB-IF also strongly urges manufacturers to identify the performance capabilities of a product separately from other protocols or physical characteristics in product names and marketing materials."

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Various USB-IF standards

For your edification I have added the entire release after the break, which is also available at this link (PDF) from their website.

USB 3.2 Specification
Language Usage Guidelines from USB-IF

USB-IF emphasizes the importance and value of consistent messaging on USB product packaging, marketing materials, and advertising. Inconsistent use of terminology creates confusion in the marketplace, can be misleading to consumers and potentially diminishes USB-IF’s trademark rights.

The USB usage model is evolving. The USB ecosystem has expanded to include multiple connectors, performance levels, and power capabilities to meet the needs of manufacturers and developers. When referring to a product that is based on and compliant with the USB 3.2 specification, it is critical for manufacturers to clearly identify the performance capabilities of that device separately from other product benefits and/or physical characteristics.

USB 3.2 Specification
The USB 3.2 specification defines multi-lane operation for new USB 3.2 hosts and devices, allowing for up to two lanes of 10Gbps operation to realize a 20Gbps data transfer rate. While USB hosts and devices were originally designed as single-lane solutions, USB Type-C™ cables were designed from the outset to support multi-lane operation to ensure a path for scalable performance.

The USB 3.2 specification absorbed all prior 3.x specifications. USB 3.2 identifies three transfer rates, USB 3.2 Gen 1 at 5Gbps, USB 3.2 Gen 2 at 10Gbps and USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 at 20Gbps. It is important that vendors clearly communicate the performance signaling that a product delivers in the product’s packaging, advertising content, and any other marketing materials.

  • USB 3.2 Gen 1
    • Product capability: product signals at 5Gbps
    • Marketing name: SuperSpeed USB
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2
    • Product capability: product signals at 10Gbps
    • Marketing name: SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2x2
    • Product capability: product signals at 20Gbps
    • Marketing name: SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps

NOTE: SuperSpeed Plus, Enhanced SuperSpeed and SuperSpeed+ are defined in the USB specifications however these terms are not intended to be used in product names, messaging, packaging or any other consumer-facing content.

USB 3.2 Key Messages

  • Defines multi-lane operation for new USB 3.2 hosts and devices, allowing for up to two lanes of 10Gbps operation to realize a 20Gbps data transfer rate, without sacrificing cable length.
  • Delivers compelling performance boosts to meet requirements for demanding USB storage, display, and docking applications.
  • Enables end-users to move content across devices quickly, conveniently and without worrying about compatibility.
  • Backwards compatible with all existing USB products; will operate at lowest common speed capability.
  • Enables devices from different vendors to interoperate in an open architecture, while maintaining and leveraging the existing USB infrastructure.
  • Allows system OEMs and peripheral developers adequate room for product versatility and market differentiation without the burden of carrying obsolete interfaces or losing compatibility.

USB 3.2 Naming and Packaging Recommendations

To avoid consumer confusion, USB-IF’s recommended nomenclature for consumers is “SuperSpeed USB” for 5Gbps products, “SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps” for 10Gbps products and “SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps” for 20Gbps products.

In order to identify performance capabilities, USB-IF strongly recommends submitting products to the USB-IF Compliance Program and then, once successful, using the logos for consumer recognition. The USB-IF logo guidelines are available here: http://www.usb.org/developers/logo_license/.

The SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps Compliance and Logo Program is currently under development and will be announced once available.

It is critical for manufacturers to distinguish between USB 3.2 Gen 1, USB 3.2 Gen 2 and USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 products. USB-IF also strongly urges manufacturers to identify the performance capabilities of a product separately from other protocols or physical characteristics in product names and marketing materials.

Please note the following:

  • USB 3.2 only defines the transfer rate of a product.
    • USB 3.2 is not USB Type-C™, USB Standard-A, Micro-USB, or any other USB cable or connector.
    • USB 3.2 is not USB Power Delivery or USB Battery Charging.

There are separate Language and Packaging Usage Guidelines for the USB Type-C™ Cable and Connector Specification, found here: http://www.usb.org/developers/usbtypec/USB_Type-C_Language_Product_and_P....

USB Compliance Messages

  • Only products that have passed the requirements of the USB Compliance Program can utilize the USB-IF logo licensing program. Please reference the Trademark License Agreement (found here: http://www.usb.org/developers/logo_license/) for more information.
  • USB-IF logos may be used solely in conjunction with product as set forth in the USB Logo Usage Guidelines.
Source: USB-IF

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February 27, 2019 | 12:34 PM - Posted by WayneJetSki

With these confusing name changes it makes me not trust any of the listings online... so I will delay buying any USB stuff until I see this new marketing.

You would think the USB-IF would be concerned that this confusion would lead people to buying less

February 27, 2019 | 01:50 PM - Posted by CollosalCollapse (not verified)

I guess they hope that this confusion would lead people to buy twice, or thrice, or 2x twice, or something along those lines...

February 27, 2019 | 12:38 PM - Posted by willmore

So, what about the 2x5Gb/s variant of what used to be USB3.2?

We've got four different signalling configurations with only three resulting bit rates:
5x1 (5Gb/s, 5Gsignals/s)
5x2 (10Gb/s, 5Gsignals/s)
10x1 (10Gb/s, 10Gsignals/s)
10x2 (20Gb/s, 10Gsignals/s)

February 27, 2019 | 01:00 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

We call that one ERGDFW$%TGGDF.

February 27, 2019 | 01:09 PM - Posted by willmore

Gersebermps?

February 27, 2019 | 01:05 PM - Posted by Bob the Scutter (not verified)

With type-c they should have broken backwards compatibility. It should have type-c on both ends and every type-c port should have the ability to recharge a device and output video.

USB 4 or something new.

February 27, 2019 | 01:23 PM - Posted by chipman (not verified)

USB must D I E!

It's a pretty bad interface.

Whoever used an USB xDSL modem will never forget the so many bad device drivers in the 2000 era.

The user doesn't deserve to waste his lifetime with USB devices.

USB is like communism, it shares the misery!

February 27, 2019 | 01:55 PM - Posted by CollosalCollapse (not verified)

USB was a pretty good interface. After all, USB has to be credited with ending the era of when every PC was equipped with half a dozen different ports for different purposes and devices. Ironically, modern USB probably would also have to be credited with ending the era of USB's simplicity...

February 27, 2019 | 04:00 PM - Posted by chipman (not verified)

USB like PCI-E interfaces are broken by design, since they provide power generating EMI.

Graphic card manufacturers nowadays supply the power through specific power lines in order to improve the interface speed.

USB never was simple considering bad drivers and practical limited speed.

Similarly to reconfigurable logic devices (e.g. FPGA), generic interfaces are way inefficients and their only advantage is cost to easily build crappy devices (i.e. gadgets).

February 27, 2019 | 02:49 PM - Posted by MoreNefariousBrandingIncomingFromDeviceOEMsMarketingDeps (not verified)

"USB is like communism, it shares the misery!"

Tell that to all the big corporations that created the USB-IF in the first place and the USB-IF is even a tax exempt non profit that managed and run by the very same corporate members.

The US is a Corporate State just like the Other "Western" countries and the Corporate Commissars control the Democrats and the Republicans.

Communism and Capitalism have the same end goals and that's to subvert Demorcracy in the name of power or profit.

The misery in the world is force multiplied by the uneducated masses that are fooled by both their Communist and Capitalist overloards. The uneducated masses like chipman are the fulcrum that provides the leverage that enables the Communist and Capitalist overloards to foist that misery worldwide on all of the educated believers in Democracy!

March 4, 2019 | 10:37 AM - Posted by Spunjji

"It's a pretty bad interface" - that's a pretty useless statement.

USB is less like Communism that it is like every other interface on the modern computer. HDMI 2.0b, DisplayPort 1.2a, everything gets stupid little version numbers and compatibility issues.

February 27, 2019 | 02:23 PM - Posted by MoreNefariousBrandingIncomingFromDeviceOEMsMarketingDeps (not verified)

Here we are again with the USB-IF rebranding for marketing obfuscation and during the last round of rebranding the laptop OEMs' marketing departments used that USB 3.1 rebranding to greatly enhance their product foisting onto many of the not so sophisticated counumers out there that where fooled into thinking that their laptops supported 10Gb/s USB bandwith when in fact it was only USB 3.1 Gen 1, with the OEMs' marketing departments only including the USB 3.1 part and completely omitting the Gen 1, or Gen 2, part of the branding.

So that was in the time that the USB-IF's Type-C plug form factor/pinout and electrical standard was announced alongside their other announcment of the New USB 3.1 controller's protocal/bandwidth standard that became Known as USB 3.1 Gen 2(10 Gb/s) and USB 3.1 Gen 1(5Gb/s, that was previously named USB 3.0)!

And now a new set of Branding that the PC/Laptop OEMs will begin using even if their products only supporrt for the most part that OLD USB 3.0/5Gbs that was rebranded to USB 3.1 Gen 1, and now will be branded USB 3.2 Gen 1. And laptop OEMs will in their marketing copy so very nefariously neglect to include any USB 3.2(Proper variant) but will instead just include the USB 3.2 without any qualifying generational information(Gen 1, Gen 2, and now Gen 2x2)!

Wikipedia(1) list the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) as not-for-profit organization and at the bottom of the Wikipedia paget they are catagorized under "501(c)(6) nonprofit organizations". So Maybe some Letters to elected officials and the FTC concering this constant rebranding for nefarious marketing obfuscation are in order.

These Industry Standards Trade Groups need to be regulated in how they Brand/label their technology standards with respect to some required product Labeling/Branding requirements for all the Device OEMs that use their standards based hardware in consumer products. The USB-IF and the OEMs need product labeling requlations that require their marketng departments follow to the exact letter the full and complete USB-IF naming conventions be followed.

All these Industry Standards Organizations need to be required to submit their Naming/Marketing Branding guidlines to the FTC for approval. And after the FTC reviews and aproves the Branding/Labeling that approved labeling guidelines should be posted in the Federal Register by the FTC and become the regulated required labeling for all device OEMs/OEMs' marketing departments to follow.

So any OEMs' Marketing Departments getting cought not using the full and complete FTC Approved USB-IF labeling/Branding on thier products will be subject to fines and product recalls that require OEM's to recall and properly re-label the Products' Boxes and Documentation to conform to the proper full and complete(Non Obfuscated) USB-IF's labeling. Ditto for the Other Standards Groups(HDMI, VESA, Etc.) and their labeling that has to be approved by the FTC before the Branding/Labeling can be used by OEM's.

From Wikipedia:

"The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) is a not-for-profit organization created to promote and support the Universal Serial Bus. Its main activities are the promotion and marketing of USB, Wireless USB, USB On-The-Go, and the maintenance of the specifications, as well as a compliance program.

It was formed in 1995[1] by the group of companies that developed USB. Notable members include Hewlett-Packard, NEC, Microsoft, Apple Inc., Intel, and Agere Systems.

The working committees within USB-IF are:
Device Working Group
Compliance Committee
Marketing Committee
On-The-Go Working Group

The USB-IF web caters for developers who can freely sign up to the developer web-forums and access documentation, however to join a working group one has to work for a member company or register as a member. The developer forums cover USB hardware and software development and is not an end-user forum.

In 2014, they announced a USB connection called "USB Type-C". It transfers data with rates up to 10 Gbit/s and charges devices with up to 100 Watts.[4]" (1)

(1)

"USB Implementers Forum"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB_Implementers_Forum

March 1, 2019 | 12:47 AM - Posted by Anonymously (not verified)

I was just gonna ask who is "the people making decisions about what to call these standards" in the article. Thanks for this.

February 28, 2019 | 01:12 PM - Posted by Donkey (not verified)

"It is critical for manufacturers to distinguish between USB 3.2 Gen 1, USB 3.2 Gen 2 and USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 products."

Um no. It is critical for the USB-IF to get off their collective arse and sort out this mess.

I stopped buying USB products at USB 3.0. There is no way I'm going to spend time researching which one is most appropriate for me or assuming the manufacturer has labelled it right.

Let's just drop the whole .x and instead go with USB1, USB2, USB3, USB-C, USB4. That's it. One specification for each and drop all the rest of them. And preferably a single colour for each (USB3 = blue, USB4 = green, etc).

Seriously, what nutjob thought USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 was a winning product? Fire that person immediately.

February 28, 2019 | 04:32 PM - Posted by chipman (not verified)

"Seriously, what nutjob thought USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 was a winning product? Fire that person immediately."

Look at USB-IF and SATA-IO members then guess who from Intel promoted USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, Wireless USB, SATA Express and probably some other technical craps...

I don't believe it is only some bad luck!

sources:

https://www.usb.org/about
http://www.drdobbs.com/wireless-usb/184405888
https://sata-io.org/membership/about-sata-io/board-members

March 1, 2019 | 01:29 PM - Posted by Paul A. Mitchell (not verified)

our 2 Comments yesterday at the PCPer Podcast #534:

1 of 2:
Re: USB 3.2 confusion: If the "S" continues to mean Serial, then the "2x2" variant should drop the "S" and replace it with a "P" i.e. UPB = Universal Parallel Bus. That nomenclature would be a whole lot more honest than "2x2". Secondly, if a separate feature is the clock rate, then the different clock rates should become part of the nomenclature e.g. USB-5G, USB-10G, UPB-20G. Just my 2 cents, OK? Bottom Line: I reacted with the very same confusion when I read about this the first time. And, you guys are absolutely correct to wonder why the USB "implementers" would retain the "USB" label even when 2 serial channels operate in parallel. Serial/Parallel is one "orthogonal" dimension; clock speed is a different "orthogonal" dimension.

2 of 2:
And, there is another "orthogonal" dimension which is rarely discussed i.e. the frame layout: either 8b/10b "legacy" frame, or 128b/132b "jumbo" frame. Honestly, the choice of which frame to use really ought to be a decision that is negotiated mutually by the host and the device at startup or plug-in time; and, this should NOT be a decision that the end user should even know about. One of the really great engineering decisions that were made for NVMe storage devices was the adoption of 4 parallel channels that "synced" with the chipset, specifically by oscillating at the same rate as PCIe 3.0, and using the same 128b/130b "jumbo" frame as PCIe 3.0. If future USB standards anticipate an increase in the sheer number of permutations, at the very least those future standards should also mandate auto-detection/auto-negotiation at startup/plug-in time. Similar bad choices were made for SATA-Express, chiefly because the SATA standards group ignored published recommendations to "sync" future SATA standards with future PCIe chipsets. As such, NVMe just trounced SATA-Express, rendering the latter DOA (dead on arrival). Josh is RIGHT ON: go with USB4, USB5 etc. KISS (keep it simple, Sally!) Translation: if the future requires compatibility with a larger number of permutations, make those additional permutations transparent to the end user.

March 4, 2019 | 10:40 AM - Posted by Spunjji

I'd be up for USB-5G, 10G, 20G etc. - then all they need as a letter designation for the type of port.

USB-A-5G. USB-C-10G. It's not exactly "elegant" but it sure is crystal clear.

March 4, 2019 | 01:20 PM - Posted by chipman (not verified)

"SB 3.2 confusion: If the "S" continues to mean Serial, then the "2x2" variant should drop the "S" and replace it with a "P" i.e. UPB = Universal Parallel Bus."

I disagree. Serial doesn't forbid to widen the bus with more channels. It only means that any channel transmit data sequentially.

To reflect this fact it could be more concise to call it simply "USB 2x" similarly to "PCI-E 2x", though this could expose the profound lack of technical innovation from the USB-IF.

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