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Guide to USB File Transfer Rates and Improving Speeds

written by: Ryan C.•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 11/5/2009

Have you ever wondered what "full speed" and "hi-speed" USB meant? In this article we demystify USB transfer rates and discuss past, present, and future USB rates and how to improve your transfer rates.

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    Most peripherals on the market today connect to your PC or Mac via a USB connection. USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and is a connection standard for transferring data to and from your computer and various devices. USB connections are most commonly used for USB thumb drives and memory sticks, printers, wireless dongles, mice, keyboards, cell phones, media players, iPods, chargers, and more. Many of these devices are capable of “plug and play" right out of the box without the need to install extra drivers or restart the computer. This makes USB a convenient, easy to use, method of connection for a variety of devices. Living up to its name, it is also universal in that virtually every computer has at least a couple of USB ports to allow you to connect external devices.

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    The Different Transfer Rates and Speeds

    USB 1.0 and 1.1

    These certifications refer to transfer rates at a speed of 1.5 Mbit/s (megabits per second) and 12 Mbit/s for USB 1.0 and 1.1 respectively. These can also be referred to as low speed and full speed (not to be confused with the much faster designation of hi-speed USB 2.0). These standards represent the lowest speed achievable by all devices including USB hubs. For most devices USB 1.0 and 1.1 are painfully slow, but this standard was replaced by hi-speed USB 2.0 back in 2001.

    USB 2.0

    As I referred to earlier, hi-speed USB 2.0 was introduced in 2001 and is capable of transferring at a rate of 480 Mbit/s. In theory, it can reach speeds at a whopping 60 MB/s (megabytes per second)! You will rarely see that speed achieved because while the connection can sustain 480 mbit/s, the devices themselves are not capable of fully utilizing the bandwidth. USB 2.0 is also fully backward compatible with the first generation USB. If the connection is hindered in some way (using an old hub or too long of an extension cable), the rate will default to full speed USB 1.0.

    USB 3.0

    USB 3.0 is not out in any devices yet, but it promises to be extremely fast. It is capable of transferring at a mind-blowing rate of 5 Gbit/s (gigabits per second)! It was developed and released by Intel in August of 2008 and also goes under the name of SuperSpeed. To be able to utilize USB 3.0, you will need a new motherboard and cables that supports the connection. Currently, there are no motherboards and devices available on the market with the connector, but they should appear within the next year.

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    Improving Your Transfer Rates

    · Connect the device to the back of the computer (directly to the motherboard, if possible)

    · Use the shortest possible cable when extending a USB port

    · Use certified USB 2.0 hi-speed hubs, cables, and devices for the best and fastest connection

    Here is a more in-depth guide to improving USB file transfer rates in addition to these quick tips.