Why do so few PCs have USB 3?

14 Jan 2013
USB cable

Paul Ockenden wonders why it's taking so long for USB 3 to become ubiquitous

I'm looking at my calendar, which says it's 2013, but you’d never guess from inspecting the USB ports on a typical PC.

An unscientific survey of the laptops on display in my local PC warehouse reveals a good third of them with only USB 2 ports; those that do offer USB 3, have only one, the remainder being USB 2. Yet USB 3 has been around for years: PC Pro first benchmarked USB 3 hard drives in November 2009. You might expect three years later to be seeing USB 4 or possibly even USB 5.

Buying a machine with USB 2 ports right now seems silly unless you’re on a tight budget

It isn’t as if the electronics are expensive: for example, USB 3 external hard drives no longer command a premium over USB 2 versions, and USB 3 flash drives are now quite reasonably priced. I have a Dane-Elec Pro USB 3 drive in my laptop currently, and although I haven’t run any speed tests, I can say that it’s noticeably quicker than a typical USB 2 drive – and it cost only a tenner.

There aren’t any compatibility problems between USB 2 peripherals and USB 3 ports either – there may have been one or two quirks with the earliest chipsets, but those have long since been ironed out. The only issues you’ll hear about tend to concern problems with a small range of specialist music hardware.

One argument might be that not all peripherals need the speed of USB 3: printers and scanners, for example, don’t even stretch the limits of USB 2, so it might make sense for a laptop manufacturer to put a USB 2 port on one side and a USB 3 port on the other. Except that it doesn’t: how does the manufacturer know the layout of your desk? And on which side of it you’ve placed your printer? Do you really want the ergonomics of your working environment dictated to you by a PC manufacturer?

Frankly, buying a machine with USB 2 ports right now seems silly unless you’re on a tight budget, so please take care when shopping. Seek out machines with USB 3 ports (and, if possible, plenty of them).