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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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