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USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, which you probably already knew. You probably already know a lot about USB, being that it is now the most popular data connection for typical consumer end computers.
USB was originally designed to replace the motley assortment of cables coming out of the backs of personal computers with their big inconvenient connectors which were USB's predecessors: parallel and serial connections. USB 1.0 was introduced in 1995 but wasn't standardized in computers until 1998 when Apple Computers came out with the iMac G3. USB 1.1 was soon developed after that to help solve problems with the initial USB adoption process.
Later, large companies like Intel, HP, Lucent, Microsoft, etc. decided to join forces and develop a higher-speed USB standard. Improving upon USB 1.1's "Full Speed" of 12 Mbit/s, USB 2.0 to this day supports a max transfer rate of 480 Mbit/s.
USB 3.0 was demonstrated in 2007, and has increased USB 2.0's maximum transfer rates by 10 times, supporting 4.8 Gbit/s (which translates to roughly 600 Megabytes per second). USB 3.0 is just now becoming available in consumer products, and will become the standard in the future.
Perhaps one of USB's biggest limitations is its distance limitations. USB only extends across 16 feet of typical USB cable. Although you'd probably be able to get more distance, the further you go the more likely you will begin to experience slower transfer rates because of corruptions in the file packets, until entire files are not able to transfer any longer.
Many companies have created ways to overcome this set-back, including the basic USB 2.0 Active Extender which has an active USB booster chip built-in. If you're needing to go further than the 32 feet this booster cable will give you, try the 20 meter USB Active Extension Cable, which features multiple active repeaters to go even further.
Amazing USB Feats of Strength
USB has come a long way and has truly become quite Universal, handling more types of connections than the original creators might have imagined:
USB to DVI: Probably one of the more impressive uses of USB, this one allows you to use a USB port as a video port.
USB to VGA: Like the USB to DVI, this one allows you to use a USB port as a video port.
USB to HDMI: This amazing device allows you to send your computer’s A/V signal through HDMI to your HDTV.
USB to Bluetooth: This is a pretty cool way to free yourself of wires, especially if you already have bluetooth devices, like a bluetooth mouse, or a phone with bluetooth on it.
USB Video Capture Device: Another impressive feat, this device allows you to digitally record analog video in real time going from composite video (RCA) to USB and your computer.
USB to Ethernet: If you want to get a computer on a wired network and you don't have an ethernet port, you can use your USB port with this adapter.
USB Wifi Adapter: In order for a computer to be on a wireless network, they have to either have a wireless antenna built in, or use an external antenna like this one that connects via USB.
USB to Expresscard and USB to PCMCIA: Expresscard and PCMCIA are the most common slots in laptops and many manufacturers make cards for these slots for many applications. These USB adapters allow you to add expresscards or PCMCIA cards to a computer that doesn't have these slots available. This adapter comes in extra handy for 3G data cards given to you by your cell phone provider to get internet almost anywhere.