What are USB Headers? 2.0 vs 3.0 vs 3.1 vs 3.2 Headers

If you are new to PC building then trying to understand the different headers can get a bit daunting. Basically, a motherboard typically has several different headers (connectors) for connecting various devices. One such header type are the USB headers. So what are USB Headers?

USB headers are basically the physical connectors found on the motherboard for connecting the extra USB ports found on the PC case. 

There are different types of USB headers intended for different versions of USB ports on the PC case. So for instance, 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, their different types, but first let us talk about the different USB versions because they are atrociously confusing to the uninitiated.

Different USB Versions and Their Speed

There are many different versions of the USB standard as you may already know. But at the same time know that who ever has been deciding the nomenclature of the different versions (Looking at you -> USB-IF) has literally wreaked a havoc for consumers particularly with how the version 3.0 has been bifurcated. 

At the same time you MUST understand the different versions  as this will give you an insight into not just their speeds, but also help you understand the different types of headers.

There are essentially 8 USB versions/names that you may come across. They are summarized in the table below.

USB VersionRelease
Year
Transfer Speed
(Gbps)
Interface
Options

RemarksTransfer Mode
USB 2.020000.48Type A- Introduced 0.48 Gbps SpeedsHigh Speed
USB 3.020085.0Type A- Introduced 5.0 Gbps speedsSuperSpeed
USB 3.1
Gen 1
20135.0Type A
Type C
- Same as USB 3.0
SuperSpeed
USB 3.1
Gen 2
201310.0Type A
Type C
- Introduced 10.0 Gbps speedsSuperSpeed+
USB 3.2
Gen 1x1
20175.0 Type A
Type C
- Same as USB 3.0SuperSpeed
USB 3.2
Gen 1x2
201710.0Type C- Dual ChannelSuperSpeed
USB 3.2
Gen 2x1
201710.0Type A
Type C
-Same as USB 3.1 Gen 2SuperSpeed+
USB 3.2
Gen 2x2
201720.0Type C- Dual Channel
- Introduced 20.0 Gbps speeds
SuperSpeed++

You can see how confusing the names for the USB can be. 

Key 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 revised over and over with different versions. They all use the specifications called SuperSpeed.
  • Often when we talk about USB 3.1 speeds, we are actually referring to USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds (10 Gbps) NOT Gen 1 since USB 3.1 Gen 1 is the same as USB 3.0 (5.0 Gbps). 
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2 has the same specifications as the USB 3.1 Gen 2 which is called SuperSpeed+.
  • The only new specifications USB 3.2 introduces are dual channels usable only over Type C ports. They double the transfer rate of the older specifications. It is thus named as USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (indicating dual channel). This specification is called SuperSpeed++ and can reach 20 Mbps.
  • USB 3.2 Gen 1×2 uses the specifications of Gen 3.0 (aka SuperSpeed) and doubles it over two channels (i.e 5.0 x 2 = 10 Gbps).
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 uses the specifications of USB 3.2 Gen 2 (SuperpSpeed+) and doubles it (i.e 10 x 2 = 20 Gbps) and thus conveniently calling itself SuperSpeed++.

If you are confused on the first glance, its ok. Even the most adept PC builders often do.

The only important USB versions you need to take note of are as follows as they brought a change in speed.

  1. USB 2.0 = ~0.5 Gbps
  2. USB 3.0 = 5.0 Gbps (aka USB 3.1 Gen 1, USB 3.2 Gen 2) – SuperSpeed
  3. USB 3.1 Gen 2 = 10.0 Gbps (aka USB 3.2 Gen 2) – SuperSpeed+
  4. USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 = 20.0 GbpsSuperSpeed++

Hopefully, with the USB 4.0 around the corner, the naming convention will get a bit simpler. 

With that out of the way, let us now look at what are USB headers.

What are USB Headers?

USB headers are basically connectors on the motherboards for connecting the USB ports found on the PC Case.

If your PC case has USB ports, then it will also come with plugs that need to be connected to the correct headers.

pc case usb ports
USB Ports as Found on NZXT H710i. This case has 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (Type A) ports – which are same as USB 3.0 essentially. And 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (Type C) port – which is the same as USB 3.1 gen 2.  

Different USB versions have different USB headers on the motherboard. In other words, a USB 2.0 header is different from a USB 3.0 header.

The following section explain this.

Type of USB Headers

There are essentially four types of USB headers:

  1. USB 2.0 Header
  2. USB 3.0 Header
  3. USB 3.1 Gen 2 Header
  4. USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Header

Therefore, depending upon what USB ports you have on your PC case, you will connect them to the corresponding header.

So USB 2.0 ports will go into the USB 2.0 header, USB 3.0 ports will go into USB 3.0 headers and so on.

1. USB 2.0 Header

These are the simplest to follow. 

What are USB Headers
USB 2.0 Headers

They are small and their pins are arranged in a 5×2 grid. USB 2.0 headers have 9 pins. The 10th missing pin from the array serves as the key for aligning the plug correctly.

If you have a PC case with USB 2.0 ports, it will be accompanied with this plug:

usb 2.0 cable
USB 2.0 Header Cable

2. USB 3.0 Header – aka USB 3.1 Gen 1, USB 3.2 Gen 1 Header

USB 3.0 Header
USB 3.0 Header

A USB 3.0 header has 19 pins arranged in a 2 x 10 array.

This header has been called by many different names including

  • USB 3.0
  • USB 3.1
  • USB 3.1 Gen 1
  • USB 3.2 Gen 1

Basically the name that you find for this header on a motherboard specsheet depends upon WHEN the motherboard was manufactured.

The latest motherboards label this header as USB 3.2 Gen 1 header. The older motherboards may have the other names.

So basically as the USB standard changes the nomenclature, so do the motherboard manufacturers.

But essentially, they are ALL THE SAME.

If you have a PC case with USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen 1 / 3.2 Gen 2 ports, then it will come with a cable similar to the one shown below:

USB 3.0 header cable
USB 3.0 Header Cable

3. USB 3.1 Gen 2 Header – aka USB 3.2 Gen 2 Header

A USB 3.1 Gen 2 header has a very unique form factor. It does not have pins sticking out like the rest of the USB headers.

usb 3.1 gen 2 connector
USB 3.1 Gen 2 Header
Source: ASUS

In the recent motherboards, this is known as the USB 3.2 Gen 2 header. 

If you have a PC case with a relevant port, then it will come with the following cable. 

USB 3.2 Gen 2 header cable
USB 3.1 Gen 2 header cable

4. USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Header

These are similar to the USB 3.1 Gen 2 headers above. However, they have dual channels are specifically labelled as USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 on the specifications.

These are quite rare and only a select few top of the line motherboards feature this at the moment.

USb 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 header
USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 Header as found on ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII Extreme. Note the label reads 2×2 indicating dual channels and support for upto 20 Gbps transfer speed.

How To Locate USB Headers?

USB headers are often located at the bottom or the right edge of your motherboard.

But essentially, there are two ways to locate the USB headers exactly.

  1. Physical Inspection
  2. Through the Manual

1. Physical Inspection

If you can find your way across the motherboard, then USB headers aren’t too difficult to spot.

They are often labelled and may also indicate what version they belong to.

USB Headers
USB 2.0 Headers labelled

Here you can see that my motherboard has two USB 2.0 headers. They are labelled as F_USB2 and F_USB1. I can tell by the pin count and the size of the header that it belongs to USB 2.0.

2. Through the Manual

Another easy way to figure out where your USB headers are located is to refer to your motherboard’s layout in the manual.

Motherboard layout
USB Header location on Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD3

Also Read:

FAQ

Can You Use a USB 3.0 Case Port with a 3.2 Motherboard Header?

If the motherboard header is a 19 pin connector then yes, 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 5.0 Gbps.

However, if you have a USB 3.1 Gen 2 port (aka USB 3.2 Gen 2 port), then you will need to buy an adapter to connect your 3.0 case ports. 

usb 3.1 Gen 2 to USB 3.0
USB 3.1 Gen 2 to USB 3.0 adapter. These can be troublesome as for some they do not work, for others they only power up a single USB 3.0 port.

USB Ports on the Back I/O Panel DO NOT Connect to USB Headers

motherboard usb back io panel
Motherboard’s Back I/O Panel also feature a plethora of USB ports. They do not have to be connected to the USB headers.

Motherboards also have a USB ports on the back I/O panel. These do not connect to the USB headers. 

USB Ports on the Case are NOT the Same as USB Expansion Cards

A USB expansion card fits into the PCIe slot. As such they interface with your PC via the PCIe lanes directly and hence DO NOT require to be connected to USB headers.

USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 expansion card
A USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 expansion card connects to PCIe slot.

How Many USB Ports a USB Header Can Support?

Generally, USB headers can support 2 USB ports per header, but that also depends upon the type of header it is.

  • USB 2.0 Header – Supports 2 USB ports
  • USB 3.0 Header now called USB 3.2 Gen 1 Header – Supports 2 USB ports
  • USB 3.1 Gen 2 Header now called USB 3.2 Gen 2 Header – supports one port (Usually Type C)
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Header – supports one 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.

Additionally, Thunderbolt 3 is much faster at 40 Gbps transfer speed! To put that into perspective, USB 3.2 Gen 2 reaches 10 Gbps and dual channel USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 reaches 20 Gbps transfer speed.

Hence Thunderbolt 3.0 is twice as fast as the dual channel USB 3.2 Gen 2×2.

Also Read: Why RAM is Called Volatile Memory?

Photo of author

Author:

Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101. He is a digital nomad who loves everything PC. He is a PC builder, tech enthusiast, engineer, and a lover of single player lore-rich RPG games.

2 thoughts on “What are USB Headers? 2.0 vs 3.0 vs 3.1 vs 3.2 Headers”

  1. Awesome writeup. Thanks for this. I am building a PC for my music studio and will need to connect over a dozen USB devices. Performance will be critical. This is very helpful.

    Reply

Leave a Comment