Universal Serial Bus (USB) is an industry standard developed in the mid-1990s that defines the cables, connectors and communications protocols used in a bus for connection, communication, and power supply between computers and electronic devices.
USB was designed to standardize the connection of computer peripherals (including keyboards, pointing devices, digital cameras, printers, portable media players, disk drives and network adapters) to personal computers, both to communicate and to supply electric power. It has become commonplace on other devices, such as smartphones, PDAs and video game consoles. USB has effectively replaced a variety of earlier interfaces, such as serial and parallel ports, as well as separate power chargers for portable devices.
A January 2013 press release from the USB group revealed plans to update USB 3.0 to 10 Gbit/s, effectively putting it on par with Thunderbolt by mid-2013. The USB 3.1 specification was released on 31 July 2013, introducing a faster transfer mode called “SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps”; its logo features a Superspeed+ (stylized as SUPERSPEED+) caption. The USB 3.1 standard increases the signalling rate to 10 Gbit/s, double that of USB 3.0, and reduces line encoding overhead to just 3% by changing the encoding scheme to 128b/132b. Though, some initial tests demonstrated usable transfer speeds of only 7.2 Gbit/s, suggesting a 30% overall overhead.
The USB 3.1 standard is backward compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0. Using three power profiles of those defined in the USB Power Delivery Specification, it lets devices with larger energy demands request higher currents and supply voltages from compliant hosts – up to 2 A at 5 V (for a power consumption of up to 10 W), and optionally up to 5 A at either 12 V (60 W) or 20 V (100 W).
The theoretical maximum data rate in USB 2.0 is 480 Mbit/s (60 MB/s) per controller and is shared amongst all attached devices. Some chipset manufacturers overcome this bottleneck by providing multiple USB 2.0 controllers within the southbridge.
Typical hi-speed USB hard drives can be written to at rates around 25–30 MB/s, and read from at rates of 30–42 MB/s, according to routine testing done by CNet. This is 70% of the total bandwidth available. Mask Tests, also known as Eye Diagram Tests, are used to determine the quality of a signal in the time domain. They are defined in the referenced document as part of the electrical test description for the high-speed (HS) mode at 480 Mbit/s.
According to a USB-IF chairman, “at least 10 to 15 percent of the stated peak 60 MB/s (480 Mbit/s) of Hi-Speed USB goes to overhead—the communication protocol between the card and the peripheral. Overhead is a component of all connectivity standards”. Tables illustrating the transfer limits are shown in Chapter 5 of the USB spec.
For isochronous devices like audio streams, the bandwidth is constant, and reserved exclusively for a given device. The bus bandwidth therefore only has an effect on the number of channels that can be sent at a time, not the “speed” or latency of the transmission.