Posts Tagged ‘What is’

What is USB4?

USB4 connector, close up

One-sentence summary; What is USB4

USB4 is the USB-C form factor for connecting; fully supports Thunderbolt 3 specification, all wrapped up using the USB 3.2 specification.

USB4 has four benefits over prior versions of USB.

Maximum Speed of 40Gbps. Using two-lane cables or a set of cables, devices may operate at up to 40 Gbps, the same speed as Thunderbolt 3. Keep in mind there is a big difference between Mb and MB. Mb is megabits, not Megabytes (MB). So for example 8Mb is about 1MB of data. As a reference, a typical MP3 audio file is about 3MB (megabytes). 5,000 MB/second is the theoretical maximum speed of USB4.

USB 4 supports DisplayPort 2.0. DisplayPort 2.0 cables feature 80Gbps bandwidth, making it possible to display ultra-high resolutions at previously impossible refresh rates. DisplayPort 2.0 can handle up to two 4K screens at 144Hz simultaneously, or an 8K display at up to 85Hz natively, with no form of image compression. This is true because USB4 uses all eight data lanes at once time.

Compatible with Thunderbolt 3 devices. USB4 is a protocol which supports all the specifications of Thunderbolt 3; however, Thunderbolt 3 is capable of 100Watts of bi-directional power delivery and not all manufacturers who support USB4 will not include the [full] power implementation of Thunderbolt 3.

Most efficient resource allocation scheme. USB4 devices use a process called “protocol tunneling” which optimizes the use of DisplayPort, PCIe and USB packets at the same time while allocating bandwidth to optimize efficiency. This scheme will create better performance across multiple devices with a collection of protocols.

USB4 will only operate through a USB-C type physical connector. USB4 peripherals will most likely not see older standard USB type A ports because the connection speeds and power delivery mechanisms will not be available. Although USB4 is 100% backward compatible with all other USB protocols, it doesn’t mean the older standard will get the improved benefits. If connecting, for example, a Type-A, 5 Gbps USB 3 port by using an adapter, the speed and power will drop to the lowest common denominator.

Some notable comments:

Device and host manufacturers will not [be required] to pay Intel royalties when implementing USB4 technology. This implies a better chance of mass adoption of USB4; however, there is a catch between manufacturing USB4 devices and making said products [fully] USB4 compliant. Specifically, the Thunderbolt compatibility specification may become a part of the product when developing and manufacturing a USB4 product which can use the USB4 logo. This issue means a consumer could buy a laptop with USB4 and find that it doesn’t work with a Thunderbolt 3 peripheral.

It is important to know Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 are logo certified programs from Intel which cost manufacturers time and money. So, while a USB4 powered computer could work with 40 Gbps devices or even those labeled as Thunderbolt, it may not be obvious because the product didn’t go through a certification process. Or the opposite of this would be a USB4 device does not support Thunderbolt because of the expense required to get the certificate.

USB4 has two speeds. As with Thunderbolt the paradox a USB4 product may not support the full 40Gbps specification. 40Gbps is the theoretical maximum speed, but many devices will use the lower 20Gbps standard because the manufacturing cost will be lower, thus creating a lower target price for consumers. If speed is the number one priority be sure and check the specifications of the USB4 product before purchase. At the time of this writing most USB4 products which support 40Gbps are cables and PCIe adapter cards.

Why the USB4 name?

An online article that summarized an interview with Brad Saunders the CEO of the USB Implementers Forum [ or USB-IF] indicated the lack of space between “USB” and “4” is to focus away from USB version numbers and focus more on brand. This branding concept for USB is a good change, but afraid the history of all the USB versions of the past will continue to haunt them.

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What is the Life Cycle of a USB Flash Drive?

The life cycle of a flash drive is a question which has been around for a long time. There are many factors which contribute to the longevity of a flash drive. Let us consider the following:

USB life cycle

There are three main components which effect the life cycle of a USB flash drive.

  • Flash memory type
  • Construction of PCB and components used
  • USB connectivity, the physical process

Flash drives use three primary types of flash memory. There is SLC, MLC and TLC memory wafers (NAND memory). SLC is Single Layer Cell memory. MLC is Multi Layer Cell memory. TLC is Triple Layer Cell memory. did an in-depth write-up about SLC and MLC flash memory if you’re interested, but for this article we have:

  • SLC memory is good for about 100,000 write cycles.
  • MLC memory is good for about 10,000 write cycles.
  • TLC memory is good for about 3,000 write cycles.

Most UFDs use MLC memory because it’s cheaper to make and allows manufacturers to offer more storage in a smaller space. It’s difficult to figure out which type of memory a UFD has, but it doesn’t matter anyway – most flash drives are more limited by other factors.

As of this article update of January 2022, most USB 2.0 product is made of MLC NAND memory because MLC is the least expensive being manufactured at this time. TLC memory is the most common memory type for USB 3.0 product because TLC is the least expensive which also satisfies the large storage capacities of USB 3.0 product. SLC memory is very difficult to source and very expensive and not found in most flash drive products.

The second component which makes up the life cycle of a USB flash drive is how it’s made. Yes, the PCB (printed circuit board) matters. So do the components used on the device and the soldering quality. Collectively, these elements are absolutely crucial to the performance and longevity of a flash drive. For example, the USB specification states that, at a minimum, a four-layer PCB is required to make a USB device to specification; however, 95% of USB flash drives use a two-layer PCB. Two layer PCB are much less expensive to make and thus keeps the unit price lower, but this is not a good strategy if the ultimate goal is performance and longevity. Companies like Nexcopy manufacture a four-layer product which results in better performance, more reliable and longer lasting.

Last, we must consider the physical connector of a USB flash drive and how the device is used throughout it’s life cycle. This is the actual socket which connects the UFD to the host computer. Doing some research, most USB Type A socket manufacturers provide a specification called Mating Durability. The spec is around 1,500 connections. WOW, that sure limits the life cycle, but I doubt many would connect the UFD to a host over 1,500 times.

Last, the chassis or case help the USB life cycle. The chassis helps the UFD look cool, but also provides a small amount of protection against wear-n-tear. UFDs are exposed to all sorts of shock. Whether it be physical shock or electric shock, it’s important to treat your UFD with care. True, there are some indestructible flash drives out there, but the point here is try not to let external factors instantly destroy your drive. The best method for shock protection is A) don’t drop, slam or smash your UFD and B) keep the cap on so the connectors don’t rub or touch another object which could create electric shock.

So, to sum everything up: Given you don’t physically ruin your drive, you have about 1,500 connections and about 10,000 write cycles before you can expect the USB life cycle to become questionable.

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