Performance Differences between External USB 3.1 and USB 3.2 SSD

When you go to buy an external SSD , you can find it in countless shapes, colors and manufacturers, but the interface is practically always USB. In the past the first SSDs were USB 3.0 because internally they were SATA, but with the arrival of SSDs with a PCIe interface and more specifically with the NVMe protocol, this fell short and they proceeded to make use of the new USB 3.1 and USB 3.2 interfaces. is it worth the jump in performance between the two?

Many times you will see, especially when buying an external storage device with a USB connection, that there is talk of different versions of the standard and even different generations of it. Thus, an external SSD can be USB 3.2 Gen.1 or USB 3.2 Gen.2 for example, which can be a bit confusing. For this reason, we are going to proceed to explain, in theoretical terms, what is the bandwidth of each one of them to know whether or not there is an appreciable difference in performance for us as users.

USB 3.1 vs USB 3.2

External SSD USB 3.1 vs USB 3.2

The difference between USB 3.1 Gen.1 and USB 3.1 Gen.2 is purely in their bandwidth, since while Gen 1 supports speeds of up to 5 Gbps, Gen 2 doubles that speed to 10 Gbps. The USB-IF organization decided to give different names to the USB 3.1 and USB 3.2 connections simply for marketing reasons, but what they got is a lot of confusion among users, especially because they also changed old names.

Since the arrival of USB 3.2, USB technology has advanced even more and since 2017, when USB 3.2 arrived, four variations of it began to be used, leaving aside the previous versions.

USB 3.2 Gen 1×1 USB 3.2 Gen 1×2 USB 3.2 Gen 2×1 USB 3.2 Gen 2×2
Transfer speed 5 Gbps 10 Gbps 10 Gbps 20 Gbps
Formerly known as USB 3.1 Gen 1 / USB 3.0 USB 3.1 Gen 2
Interface options USB-A, USB-C, micro USB USB-C only USB-A, USB-C, micro USB USB-C only

Thus, according to this table that we have just shown you, USB 3.1 connections are no longer called that, but have become USB 3.2 but with different generational numbers. A USB 3.1 Gen 1 is now a USB 3.2 Gen 1 × 1, while USB 3.1 Gen 2 is now USB 3.2 Gen 2 × 1. At the very least, confusing, right?

USB 3.2

Thus, the difference in performance is evident because the new generations double or even quadruple the first. When you go to buy an external SSD with a USB connection, the recommendation is that you buy models from USB 3.1 Gen 1 × 2, since they are the ones with 10 Gbps of bandwidth. The higher-end models, which already normally have M.2 SSDs mounted with a PCI-Express interface inside, use USB 3.2 Gen 2 × 2.

USB 4, the generation that will bring it all together

There are few of us who are waiting like rain in May for the arrival of USB 4, the specification that in principle will unify everything and will make things stop being as confusing as they are until now. This standard will allow speeds of up to 40 Gbps, will be compatible with Thunderbolt 3, and will only use the USB-C interface. Some of the benefits of USB 4 are the following:

  • Display, data, and charge / store functionality with a single USB-C connector.
  • Universal compatibility with all existing USB and Thunderbolt products.
  • Homogenization of port capabilities for a consistent and predictable user experience.
  • Increased flexibility to configure bandwidth and manage power and other performance parameters tailored to system needs.

USB-C vs Thunderbolt vs USB 3.0

Now comes the inevitable question, when will USB 4 arrive? Is it worth waiting for it to arrive to buy an external SSD? The USB 4 specification was already published at the end of 2019, and it usually takes about 18 months for the first compatible products to appear, which means that we will surely start seeing them in mid-2021. There is not much left for that, but it does deserve whether it is worth waiting or not depends on how fast you are and what you need.