If you’re new to building computers, trying to understand the different USB headers can be a little daunting. Basically, a motherboard usually has several different headers (connectors) for connecting different devices. One of these types is USB headers. So what are USB headers?
USB headers are basically the physical connectors on the motherboard to connect to the additional USB ports on the PC case.
There are different types of USB headers for different versions of the USB ports on your computer case. So for example, a USB 2.0 header is different from a USB 3.0 header.
In the following article I will talk in detail about USB headers and their different types but first, let us talk about the different USB versions as they are horribly confusing for the uninitiated.
Different versions of USB and their speed
There are many different versions of the USB standard as you may already know. But at the same time, know that whoever ever decided to name the different versions (looking at you ->
USB-IF) literally made a mess of consumers, especially with how 3.0 was partitioned.
At the same time, you should understand the different versions as this will give you an insight into not only their speeds but also help you understand the different types of heads.
There are basically 8 USB versions/names you might come across. They are summarized in the table below.
You can see how confusing USB names can be.
The main points to note here are as follows:
- USB 3.0, 3.1 Gen 1, and USB 3.2 Gen 1 are all the same, just different names that have been revised over and over with different versions. They all use the specification called SuperSpeed.
- Often when we talk about USB 3.1 speeds, we are actually referring to the speeds of USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) and not Gen 1 because USB 3.1 Gen 1 is the same as USB 3.0 (5.0 Gbps).
- USB 3.2 Gen 2 has the same specification as USB 3.1 Gen 2 which is called SuperSpeed+.
- The only new specification introduced by USB 3.2 is dual channels that can only be used via Type C ports. They double the transfer rate of the older specification. Hence it is named as USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 (indicating dual channel). This specification is called SuperSpeed++ and can reach speeds of up to 20Mbps.
- USB 3.2 Gen 1 x 2 uses the Gen 3.0 (aka SuperSpeed) specification and doubles it over two channels (ie 5.0 x 2 = 10Gbps).
- USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 uses the USB 3.2 Gen 2 (Superspeed+) specification and doubles it (i.e. 10×2 = 20Gbps) and thus aptly calls itself SuperSpeed++.
If you are confused at first sight, that’s okay. Even the most skilled PC builders do this often.
The only important USB versions you need to note are as follows because they have made a change in speed.
- USB 2.0 = ~0.5Gbps
- USB 3.0 = 5.0 Gbps (also known as USB 3.1 Gen 1 and USB 3.2 Gen 2) – SuperSpeed
- USB 3.1 Gen 2 = 10.0Gbps (aka USB 3.2 Gen 2) – SuperSpeed+
- USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 = 20.0Gbps – SuperSpeed++
Hopefully, as USB 4.0 approaches, the naming convention will get a little simpler.
With that out of the way, let’s now take a look at what USB headers are.
What are USB headers?
USB headers are basically connectors on motherboards to connect to the USB ports on a PC case.
If your computer case has USB ports, it will also come with plugs that need to be plugged into the correct headers.
Different USB versions have different USB connectors on the motherboard. In other words, the USB 2.0 header is different from the USB 3.0 header.
The next section explains this.
USB headers type
There are four basic types of USB headers:
- USB 2.0 connector
- USB 3.0 connector
- USB 3.1 Gen 2 connector
- USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 connector
So, depending on which USB ports are on the computer case, you will connect them to the corresponding header.
So USB 2.0 ports will go into a USB 2.0 header, USB 3.0 ports will go into USB 3.0 headers and so on.
USB 2.0 header
This is the simplest to follow.
It’s small and its pins are arranged in a 5 x 2 grid. USB 2.0 connectors have 9 pins. The missing 10th pin from the matrix serves as a key to correctly aligning the plug.
If you have a computer case with USB 2.0 ports, it will come with this plug:
USB 3.0 connector – aka USB 3.1 Gen 1, USB 3.2 Gen 1 connector
The USB 3.0 header has 19 pins arranged in a 2 x 10 array.
This title has been called by many different names including
- USB 3.0
- USB 3.1
- USB 3.1 Gen 1 port
- USB 3.2 Gen 1
Newer motherboards name this header as a USB 3.2 Gen 1 header. Older motherboards may have other names.
So, as the USB standard changes naming, so do motherboard manufacturers.
But basically, they are all the same.
If you have a PC case with USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen 1 / 3.2 Gen 2 ports, it will come with a cable similar to the one shown below:
USB 3.1 Gen 2 Connector – aka USB 3.2 Gen 2 Header
The USB 3.1 Gen 2 connector has a very unique design. It does not have protruding pins like other USB connectors.
On modern motherboards, this is known as a USB 3.2 Gen 2 header.
If you have a PC case with a relevant port, it will come with the following cable.
USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 header
These are similar to the USB 3.1 Gen 2 connectors above. However, they do have dual channels that are specifically labeled as USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 in the specs.
These are very rare and only a few top select motherboards have them right now.
How to locate USB headers?
USB headers are often located on the bottom or right of the motherboard.
But basically, there are two ways to locate the exact USB headers.
through the directory
If you can find your way across the motherboard, it shouldn’t be too hard to locate the USB headers.
They are often categorized and may also indicate which edition they belong to.
Here you can see that my motherboard has two USB 2.0 headers. They are labeled as F_USB2 and F_USB1. I can tell by the pin count and header size that it belongs to USB 2.0.
Through the directory
Another easy way to find out where the USB headers are is to refer to the motherboard layout in the manual.
Can you use a USB 3.0 case port with a 3.2 header for your motherboard?
If your motherboard header is a 19-pin connector, you can.
USB 3.0, USB 3.1 Gen 1, and USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports are all the same. They use the same header and connector and have the same transfer speed of 5.0Gbps.
However, if you have a USB 3.1 Gen 2 port (aka USB 3.2 Gen 2 port), you will need to purchase an adapter to connect the enclosure’s 3.0 ports.
The USB ports on the rear I/O panel do not connect to the USB connectors
Motherboards also have USB ports on the rear I/O panel. These do not connect to USB connectors.
The USB ports on the box are not the same as USB expansion cards
A USB expansion card is placed in a PCIe slot. As such, they interact with your computer via PCIe lanes directly, and therefore do not require connection to USB connectors.
How many USB ports can a USB connector support?
In general, USB headers can support two USB ports per header, but this also depends on the type of header.
2.0 USB connector – supports two USB ports
USB 3.1 Gen 2 header is now called USB 3.2 Gen 2 Header – supports 1 port (usually Type C)
USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 – Supports 1 port (Type C only)
Is USB 3.2 Gen 2 the same as Thunderbolt 3?
no, they are not. Thunderbolt 3 ports have a completely different header.
In addition, Thunderbolt 3 is much faster with a transfer speed of up to 40Gbps! To put that in perspective, USB 3.2 Gen 2 reaches 10Gbps and dual-channel USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 reaches a transfer speed of 20Gbps.
Hence Thunderbolt 3.0 is twice as fast as dual-channel USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2.