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Intel spreads USB 3.0 love to everyone

Intel finally announced the availability of the draft specification for the USB 3.0 host controller. Intel dubbed the specification the Extensible Host Controller Interface (xHCI). The USB 3.0 architecture is also known as SuperSpeed USB.

Intel says that the xHCI draft 0.9 -- which it has made available under royalty free licensing terms to all USB 3.0 Promoter Group and contributor companies -- provides a standardized method for the host controller to communicate with the USB 3.0 software stack.

Intel says the specification describes the registers and data structures needed to provide the interface between system software and USB 3.0 hardware. Intel also says that it plans to make available a revised xHCI 0.95 specification in the fourth quarter of 2008. The revised specification will also be subject to the licensing terms of the original .90 specification and will be distributed free of charge.

Along with the announcement that the open host controller for the USB 3.0 specification is now available, Intel also has some major manufacturers and software companies backing its open host specification for USB 3.0 -- including Dell, Microsoft, NEC Electronics, and AMD.

AMD's Phil Eisler, vice president and general manager of the Chipset Business Unit, said in a statement, "The future of computing and consumer devices is increasingly visual and bandwidth intensive. Lifestyles filled with HD media and digital audio demand quick and universal data transfer. USB 3.0 is an answer to the future bandwidth need of the PC platform. AMD believes strongly in open industry standards, and therefore is supporting a common xHCI specification."

Eisler's statement may be confusing to some who remember back in June when AMD and NVIDIA accused Intel of withholding the USB 3.0 specifications. AMD, NVIDIA, VIA, and SIS all announced in June that they would team up to devise their own USB 3.0 host controller specification. Now AMD is saying that it will fully support Intel's xHCI specification.

That leaves many wondering exactly where NVIDIA stands with its competing specification, which would seem to be dead at this point. When you combine AMD support for Intel's xHCI specification with the fact that VIA announced this month that it was leaving the chipset business altogether, it could reasonably be expected that NVIDIA would jump on Intel bandwagon as well.

Back in June, when AMD and NVIDIA accused Intel of withholding the specification, Intel fiercely denied the claim. Intel maintained at the time that the USB 3.0 specification simply wasn't ready to be released. However, there is no doubt that insiders at Intel were privy to the specification before it was released the other chipset and hardware manufacturers. That would mean that Intel should have a lead to market for USB 3.0 chipsets and hardware.

AMD is not the only manufacturer throwing their support behind Intel's xHCI specification. Microsoft says that it has supported drivers for the USB industry since the inception of USB and is committed to support the latest USB 3.0 specification on the Windows platform. NEC electronics promises to be a leader in the USB 3.0 market using products and solutions based on Intel's xHCI specification.

The USB 3.0 specification promises to increase performance by 10 times what USB 2.0 is capable of. USB 3.0 or SuperSpeed USB promises bandwidth in the 600 MB/s second range. Products utilizing USB 3.0 are expected to arrive in 2009 or 2010. USB 3.0 is also backwards compatible with USB 2.0 and USB 1.1.

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By 306maxi on 8/14/2008 2:03:22 PM , Rating: -1
This is so great! My mouse will work better - oh wait! No it won't. My printer will work better - oh wait! No it won't. Surely my flash drive will be faster! - oh wait! No it won't.

I'm all for advances in technology but is anything actually bottlenecked by USB 2?

RE: w00t!
By TomZ on 8/14/2008 2:08:19 PM , Rating: 5
Sure, external HDDs are USB bottlenecked - which is why eSATA external drives are faster.

Gigabit Ethernet adapters...

External USB-based video adapters...

Your logic is of the "nobody will ever need more than 640k of memory" variety. I say, provide the bandwidth and let's see what people can do with it.

RE: w00t!
By mindless1 on 8/14/2008 3:10:56 PM , Rating: 2
External HDDs are bottlenecked by the low cost, low performance controller too. Getting rid of USB, like in a low cost consumer NAS, you still don't get anywhere near GbE's potential performance.

Gigabit ethernet will be slower on USB3, remember this is a low cost, host controller.

USB3 is definitely a huge step forward but mostly in replacing USB2, not in replacing other current viable alternative connectivity standards.

RE: w00t!
By TomZ on 8/14/2008 3:48:19 PM , Rating: 2
It's chicken-and-egg. Low-cost controllers are only used today for USB2 because that link only supports 480mb/s. But someone designing a USB3-based device needing more throughput than USB2 will obviously be looking at different requirements and will reach a different design.

Put another way, I think that there will be a large market for external drives that use USB3 to achieve performance that exceeds what is possible today with USB2. After all, the speed is the #1 complaint people have of USB-based external drives.

Finally, I think that USB3 will replace other connectivity standards. For example, do you think eSATA would have gained any traction if USB3 was available 3 years ago? No, it wouldn't have.

And you also have to look at the usability benefits of having a computer with 5 or 10 instances of the same port, compared to having to support a number of different interface standards. The latter forces you to mix-and-match interfaces - devices to ports with certain interfaces - it would be much easier if everything used a single common interface.

This is really what USB2 today is (except for high-bandwidth applications) - and hopefully what USB3 will be in the near future.

RE: w00t!
By crystal clear on 8/15/2008 8:33:45 AM , Rating: 2
To summarize it-

"All things are changed, and we change with them."

RE: w00t!
By kbehrens on 8/14/2008 3:44:26 PM , Rating: 3
Exactly. At some point even USB 3.0 will seem very slow to us. But we won't start using that extra bandwidth until its available.

RE: w00t!
By Polynikes on 8/14/2008 7:56:37 PM , Rating: 2
"If you build it, they will come."

If you give people the bandwidth, they'll find a way to use it all.

RE: w00t!
By 306maxi on 8/15/2008 5:16:22 AM , Rating: 2
eSATA is a great interface. Lets stay with that. In a year or two's time they will be standard. Why do we need a multi-purpose interface when we have a specialist one that works great?

Onboard Gb Ethernet works fine and most if not all PC's these days come with them. I fail to see the point of a USB adaptor...

USB video adaptors. OK I can see a point to that.

But other than that all the things you've suggested are about as useful or as wanted as a chocolate teapot.

RE: w00t!
By joex444 on 8/15/2008 6:25:03 PM , Rating: 2
USB Gigabit adapter makes sense if you are trying to copy a lot of data over a network and your laptop only has a 100Mbps card.

After having bought a 1Gb switch, I can honestly say it was worth it. I've copied at around 100MB/s constant. (I have RAID arrays in both).

RE: w00t!
By 306maxi on 8/16/2008 6:51:09 AM , Rating: 2
Thing is most laptops today have gigabit ports and none of the laptops which don't have gigabit ports have USB3. Most if not all desktop PC's today come with gigabit ports.

RE: w00t!
By 4play on 8/14/2008 2:08:42 PM , Rating: 1
It will save you time. Your printer will only start a split second earlier, but the real time savings are from transferring data from your computer to your ipod or external HDD or from your digital camera to your PC. Instead of a 10 minute wait it'll only be a minute.

RE: w00t!
By mindless1 on 8/14/2008 3:15:22 PM , Rating: 2
Not quite, even USB2 was often bottlenecked by the flash memory or controller inbetween. USB2 can achieve about 35MB/s or more, but USB3 won't allow even double that with flash based devices until those devices make the necessary changes instead of only being built to a low cost with the USB2 ceiling in mind. That doesn't make USB3 less important, but it's a chicken-and-egg scenario that there is still a lot of work to be done before anything or anyone will be benefitting from USB3.

RE: w00t!
By PitViper007 on 8/14/2008 3:16:05 PM , Rating: 2
Or, taken a step further, you can print that book, download a full 80GB worth of music to your iPod, scan that 1200DPI photo into Photoshop (which is displayed on your second monitor hooked up through a USB video card), and STILL be able to use your USB mouse and keyboard, with no appreciable slowdown on any of them. At least due to the USB bus.

RE: w00t!
By 4play on 8/14/2008 6:01:56 PM , Rating: 3
I though it was just a transfer speed upgrade. Thats pretty neat.

RE: w00t!
By PitViper007 on 8/15/2008 3:39:40 PM , Rating: 2
It is, and I don't mean that they can physically attach more devices to USB3 than you could to USB2, but look at it this way. You have a pipe that can transfer say 100gpm. You have 100gpm of water that you can work with. If you have several devices that tap into this source that themselves only use say 10gpm of water, then until you get to ten devices, you're pressure stays pretty much constant. If you put more devices on that source flow than that flow can support, then you get a pressure decrease, follow? If you increase the size of the pipe, you can allow more stuff to pull from that source.

The concept is similar in data transfer. You have a USB2 bus that can transfer upto 480Mb/sec, so you have a limited number of devices you can put on that bus and keep the speed up. And if you put higher speed devices on that bus, the number of devices supported decreases that much more. But bring in USB3, which has the capability to transfer upto 4.8Gb/sec, and now you can add more of the USB2/1.1 devices onto it than you could on the original USB2 bus without significantly affecting the datarate of the other devices..

Now I know the comparison isn't perfect, no analogy is. But the concept is similar.

RE: w00t!
By joex444 on 8/15/2008 6:26:39 PM , Rating: 3
Now, I was under the impression that the internet is not a series of tubes. But apparently USB is?

RE: w00t!
By Silver2k7 on 8/17/2008 2:31:41 AM , Rating: 2
Of course it is ;)

why not use
USB2 60MB/s
USB3 600MB/s

that MegaBit crap is like made for confusion.. wish someone would stop using it in favor of MegaBytes.

RE: w00t!
By DASQ on 8/14/2008 2:10:14 PM , Rating: 5
I take it you've never used any kind of USB storage device.

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