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What Is A USB Header?

A computer hardware that we’re all familiar with, but don’t really know much about, is the USB header. We know that these are the slots to use to insert our storage devices, webcams, headsets, and other devices.

But how important is it for you to know what a USB header is? Well, it’s important enough that it’s going to help you build new PC’s better in the future.

In this article, we’ll be talking about what a USB header is and what they can do for your system.

What Are USB Headers?

Sample Shot USB Header

A USB header is a connector on the motherboard that lets you connect a USB port found on your PC case. If a PC case has USB ports, it will also come with plugs that let you connect to the correct USB headers.

Much like USB ports, there are different versions and types of USB headers.

What Are The Different Types of USB Headers?

Now, there are 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

Your PC case will let you know what kind of USB header you’ll need to use. Essentially, USB 2.0 headers will be intended for USB 2.0 ports and USB 3.0 ports will be for USB 3.0 headers, and so on.

USB 2.0 Header

USB 2.0 headers are small and their pins are arranged in a 5×2 grid. However, this header only has 9 pins in total. The missing pin from the array serves as a key for helping you align the plug correctly.

USB 3.0 Header (or USB 3.1 Gen 1, USB 3.2 Gen 1)

USB 3.0 Header USB Header

The USB 3.0 header contains 19 pins arranged in a 2×10 array. This USB header goes by different names such as:

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

You’ll know the USB header’s name on the motherboard’s book or spec sheet, depending on when it was manufactured. The latest motherboards usually have USB 3.2 Gen 1 header, while older motherboards might have the same USB header but under different names.

Motherboard manufacturers also take into consideration when the USB standard changes. If the USB standard changes the nomenclature, then motherboard manufacturers will follow suit.

But more or less, they’re all the same. A PC case containing USB headers 3.0/3.1 Gen 1/3.2 Gen 2 ports will come with the corresponding USB 3.0 header cable.

USB 3.1 Gen 2 Header (or USB 3.2 Gen 2)

USB 3.1 Header USB Header

Unlike the first two USB headers, a USB 3.1 Gen 2 header is unique in terms of its form factor. It doesn’t have pins sticking out, which makes it unique from the previously mentioned USB headers.

In modern or newer motherboards, this is known as 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.

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 2×2 Header

USB 3.2 headers are similar to the 3.1 headers, but the difference is that 3.2 headers are dual channels and labelled as USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 on spec sheets.

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.

How Do You Connect USB Ports to USB Headers?

Now that we identified the different USB headers, it’s time to move on to something called Internal USB Cable. This cable acts like an extension cable that allows you to connect USB port to a USB header.

Today, there are two kinds of internal USB cables. One cable will have a USB header jack and one cable will have individual wires for each pin. While both are essentially the same, the latter is a bit complicated to connect. So if you don’t secure the connection properly, you’ll probably encounter the error “USB Device Over Current Status Detected”.

So to avoid this, you’ll need to learn about the different connectors used by an Internal USB Cable.

  • VCC Pin – This is known as the Voltage Common Collector or VCC. This connector is responsible for carrying +5V signal to the USB ports. This connector will also have the letters VCC on its label, or you can easily tell it apart from its wire color, which is red.
  • DATA- Pin – This connector is located right next to the VCC pin and dons a white colored wire. The DATA- Pin is responsible for transmitting downstream data connections.
  • DATA+ Pin – Much like the Data- Pin, the DATA+ pin is responsible for the upstream data connections and maintaining proper communication between USB and your PC. The DATA+ Pin is right next to the DATA- Pin and is a green wire.
  • GND Pin – This is called the Ground Pin, which helps reduce electromagnetic interference. The last pin that we have sends back the voltage carried by the VCC pin. The GRND Pin ensures that there’s no additional current flowing from the motherboard to the device and vice versa, so you avoid short circuiting.

Is the USB 3.2 Gen 2 Header The Same as Thunderbolt 3?

Unfortunately, both are completely different from one another as Thunderbolt 3 uses a different header. Thunderbolt 3 is a lot faster than the USB 3.0 ports since it transmits data up to 40Gbps. USB 3.2 and 3.2 Gen 2×2 only hit 10Gbps and 20Gbps, respectively.

Newer motherboards are equipped with one or two Thunderbolt 3.0 or higher.

How Do You Install More USB Headers?

You have the option of installing more USB headers for your system using one of two methods:

1st Method – DIY USB 2.0 Header Duplication

You can turn a single USB header into a port for 2 cables if your motherboard has USB 2.0 headers. And this functionality is supported without any problem.

But you need to do some rewiring to make this possible.

  1. Take a pair of tweezers or any precision instrument to flip open the plastic tabs at the edge of the second USB header cable.
  2. You’ll need to extract the wires and pins from the second cable before placing them inside the ones for the first, which should be directly beside matching colors.
  3. Your formerly empty pins on the USB 2.0 header will now allow both devices to work simultaneously and flawlessly.

But this method only works for USB 2.0 headers, so if you’re planning to add more headers for USB 3.0 or a USB Type E Header, then you’ll need to purchase a separate hardware.

2nd Method – Using PCIe USB Headers or USB 3.0 to USB Type E Header

You can get more USB headers if you use the PCIe or PCI Express slot, which is another new feature of most motherboards released over the last two years.

Ideally, you want to look for PCIe Expansion Cards that come with onboard USB headers, regardless if you just want to add USB 2.0 headers or other versions. But apart from PCI Express cards, you’ll also see smaller devices that go on top of the original USB header.

For example, you’ll find a converter for a USB 3.0 Header to USB Type E Header (for Type C ports.But take note, these are niche devices so don’t expect big brands to carry these types of products. A quick search on Amazon will lead you to small companies selling this type of converter.

James Stephenson

james stephenson profile picJames is a gaming and tech enthusiast. He has been playing computer games since the Commodore 64 days in the 80s. He has worked as a Broadcast Engineer with BBC News and knows a thing or two about building, fixing, and playing with PCs.