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by Phil Ball

Q. I'm a little confused by some terminology. What's the difference between USB 2 ports and USB 3? Are they mutually exclusive or will a USB 2 device work at USB 3 speeds if connected to a USB 3 port?

A. First of all, a new USB technology was introduced recently called USB 3. The main difference is that things move much faster through a USB 3 interface. This is especially helpful when transferring big files such as photos or video since they are typically much larger than text files since it takes less time to transfer files through USB 3 than through USB 2. External devices such as flash drives and external hard drives will show improved speeds with USB 3 but slower devices such as a mouse or keyboard really won’t benefit from the faster ports of USB 3 because the higher speed is simply not needed. A port is the place where you plug the USB device or cord into.

All USB hubs, ports, and devices are backwards compatible, which means that you can plug a USB 2 device into a USB port and it will work. However, devices will only function at the highest version supported by both devices. So if you have a USB 2 port and USB 3 flash drive, it will function at the USB 2 speed. Similarly, if you have a USB 3 port and a USB 2 device, it will function at the USB 2 speed.

As an additional note, if your computer only has USB 2 ports, the only way to upgrade them to USB 3 ports would be to install a USB 3 card on your motherboard. This involves opening up the computer and inserting the card into an open slot on the motherboard. Note that it is possible that older motherboards/computers will not support USB 3 even with the card inserted.

Most times a USB 3.0 port is blue, so that is how you can tell if you have USB 3.0, though not always. Most new computers have one or more USB 3 ports.

Published: Courier 1/24/15 - Page 7A