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Summary:

Of all the connectivity technologies on the imminent horizon, USB 3.0 holds extraordinary promise. But although some devices based on it will debut at the upcoming CES show, we can’t herald the technology’s true arrival yet.

Of all the connectivity technologies on the imminent horizon, USB 3.0 holds extraordinary promise. But although some devices based on it will debut at the upcoming CES show, we can’t herald the technology’s true arrival yet.

When many of us think of USB technology, we think of it as the familiar connectivity solution for our laptops, cameras, digital music players, and more. Indeed when USB 2.0 arrived years ago, it made many tasks, ranging from syncing data to transferring music and video, much easier. There are some signs that USB 3.0 is set to start doing such transformative things for our familiar devices, but unfortunately, it will only happen on a limited basis for the time being.

In my recent post on predictions for what will be shown at CES, I mentioned several USB 3.0 technologies taking shape. In response, I got more than one email from companies that will be showing them.

The devices on tap for CES follow a range of USB 3.0 debuts that came at the Intel Developer Forum conference earlier this year. There, Symwave and MCCI demonstrated what they billed as the world’s highest-performing USB 3.0 system, achieving speeds of over 270MB per second. LucidPort Technology showed its USB Attached SCSI (UAS) protocol running over USB 3.0. And Synopsys touted SuperSpeed USB 3.0 data transfers for a host, hub and controller in a single demonstration.

USB 3.0 is set to show up on some ASUS and Gigabyte motherboards, as TechRepublic notes. The bad news, though, is that Intel will not support USB 3.0 in its chipsets until 2011, and AMD may not either. Add to that the fact that Windows 7 doesn’t have native support and drivers for the technology, and large and important parts of the computing infrastructure are currently just unable to benefit from USB 3.0.

There will be interim solutions, though. Microsoft has pledged to ship plug-in solutions for USB 3.0 and Windows 7. And if USB 3.0 gets some momentum early next year, that may coax Intel and AMD to focus on it more quickly.

It’s too bad that the necessary parts of the computing ecosystem aren’t coming together in unison for USB 3.0 to truly arrive in the short term. The technology is far faster than version 2.0. It offers data transfer rates over 10 times speedier, and that’s been shown in many tests. The USB Implementer’s Forum has made the point many times that version 3.0 will allow transferring a 25GB HD movie in 70 seconds instead of almost 14 minutes. Think about that: 70 seconds.

Likewise, because USB is the connectivity choice du jour for all kinds of consumer electronics devices, version 3.0 will allow for consumer applications that were either clumsy or downright unreachable before. Photo libraries will transfer many times faster, and syncing video content between devices will become more convenient. Working with multiple audio and video streams simultaneously in applications will become more approachable.

USB 3.0 is also bi-directional, while USB 2.0 is not. That promises to allow for simultaneous downloading and uploading at fast speeds — a potentially tremendous convenience. Additionally, USB 3.0 is targeted to allow peripheral devices plugged into, say, a laptop to suffer fewer charge drains. Devices being charged while plugged into a USB port will charge faster — and who doesn’t wish for that? Let’s hope that the stars can find a way to align behind USB 3.0 next year. I’m not betting on it to make its true splash in January, though.

Image courtesy of Oskay on Flickr.

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.

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  1. No mention of LightPeak?

  2. Sebastian Rupley Monday, December 28, 2009

    @Macdad — the debate over whether Intel is a holdout on USB 3 because of its own LightPeak technology does continue, and good point, but I have to wonder why the other folks who could put USB 3 on motherboards and in chipsets are also not jumping to do so. It’s a standards conversation that is taking a long time. Probably good to throw LightPeak into the mix, though.

    Best,
    Sebastian

  3. This article sounds like a PR puff-piece coming from the USB-IF.

    Not impressed.

  4. As somebody who worked on USB 1.o, I am anxiously waiting the arrival of 3.0

  5. LightPeak is perhaps the reason why Intel is moving slowly on USB 3.0.

    It all comes down to royalties. Why would Intel rush to USB 3.0 support when it is developing a competing technology?

  6. Intel’s Results Rocked, But It Can’t Count On the Old Guard – GigaOM Thursday, January 14, 2010

    [...] business practices with AMD. The company is even drawing criticism for what many people feel are exclusionary practices toward proposed industry wide-standards such as USB 3.0.  The new standard is much faster than USB [...]

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