Computers may have multiple types of USB ports, but how do you know which ones are which? Follow the sections below to learn what USB 3.0 is, and how to find it on a PC or Mac.
USB 3.0 (aka USB 3) is a specific generation of USB ports. The main difference between USB versions is their transfer rate (speed) and how many connector pins they have. USB 3.0 ports have 9 pins and have a transfer rate of 5 Gbit/s, but 3.1 versions have 10 Gbit/s. While not technically a USB 3 port, the USB-C connector supports USB versions 3.1 and 3.2 and can connect to USB 3 ports with the correct cable or adapter.
USB connections are backwards compatible. That means older versions will work with new versions, but they’ll only work at their original speed. For example, if you connect a USB 2 hard drive to a USB 3 port, the transfer rate will be USB 2 speeds. Or, if you use an adapter to connect a USB 3 hard drive to a USB-C port, the transfer rate will be at USB 3 speeds. You can go the other way around, too. That means connecting a USB 3 hard drive to a USB 2 port will work, but only at the USB 2 speeds.
USB 1, 2, and 3 connectors are all similar, but the USB-C connector is unique. USB-C has more contact pins which increases bandwidth and charging capabilities. Paired with the right cable or adapter it can be used at 2.0, 3.0, 3.1, and 3.2 speeds. Another unique feature of USB-C is that it can be Thunderbolt 3 enabled, which supports connections to Thunderbolt 3 enabled devices. If your computer is Thunderbolt 3 enabled, that means the USB-C connector can still be used for USB speeds, but also Thunderbolt 3 connections and speeds. You’ll just need the correct Thunderbolt 3 cable or adapter. Learn more about What Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Mean to Musicians and Engineers.
Examples of USB ports.
Many computers identify USB 3.0 with blue ports, but newer PC’s typically don’t. Mac computers have never used blue ports. When initially released, USB 3 ports were used alongside USB 2 ports. Differentiating them by color makes it easy to identify as to avoid connecting to the wrong port. As USB 2.0 ports were commonly replaced with 3.0 ports, their color differentiation became less necessary. The introduction of USB-C has also made 2.0 ports less common, and thus the color differentiation less necessary.
On a PC, USB 3.0 ports can be identified by checking the Device Manager. You can also identify the physical ports on your computer which will either be blue, or marked with a “SS” (SuperSpeed) logo. Follow the instructions below to figure identify the USB ports on your PC.
1. Right-click the Windows icon (bottom left) and select Device Manager.
2. In the Device Manager window, select Universal Serial Bus controllers.
3. Locate the USB port by its type (e.g. 3.0, 3.1). If there are not 3.0 or above ports, your computer is not USB 3 enabled.
Viewing USB port information on a Windows PC.
On a Mac, USB ports can be identified in the System Information menu. They’re not blue or marked like on a PC. Here’s an Apple article where you can learn more about USB connections on Mac computers. Follow the instructions below to figure out if you have 2.0 or 3.0 USB ports on your Mac.
1. Click the Apple icon (top left) and select About This Mac.
2. Within the About This Mac window, click System Report.
3. In the System Information window, click Hardware and select USB.
4. Locate the USB port by its type (e.g. 3.0, 3.1). If there are not 3.0 or above ports, your computer is not USB 3 enabled.
Viewing USB port information on a Mac.
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