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USB 3.1 demo shows new spec well on its way towards 1.2GB/sec goal

Bad news for Intel's pricey Thunderbolt

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At CES this January, Jeff Ravencraft, the president and chief operating officer of the USB Implementers Forum USB-IF), told The Reg that the unfortunately named "SuperSpeed" USB 3.0 would double its throughput from 5Gb/sec to 10Gb/sec in its 3.1 incarnation. We recently sat down with him again and saw it in action.

The demo was conducted using a Fresco Logic–developed, FPGA-based, USB 3.1 prototype controller board connected not to a storage device, but to DDR memory. Why not an SSD? "Because there are no solid-state drives that are at that level yet," Ravencraft explained.

With this setup running the ATTO Disk Benchmark, USB 3.1 transmitted large packets at up to 900MB/sec – and this using a spec that was just released in July.

"With USB 3.0 at five-gig," Ravencraft said, "you'd typically see, at the high end, around 450 megabytes. So here we are, eight weeks out, and we're already showing double that."

According to Ravencraft, USB 3.1 will "easily deliver" up to 1.2GB/sec when it's fully tuned and productized, speed that will be capable of delivering uncompressed 4K video. "We think we'll see real products that you can buy in a retail store probably in the market for the holiday season next year," he told us.

Speaking of "real products", Ravencraft proudly pointed to the fact that there are now over 1,000 certified USB 3.0 products in the market, and said that the analyst group MRG estimates 700 million individual SuperSpeed USB–enabled devices – certified and uncertified – will be shipped in 2013, and that shipments will grow to around 2.2 billion by 2016.

MRG sees this as bad news for Intel's baby, Thunderbolt. "Thunderbolt suffers extensively from a pricing problem," they write. "The cost to add Thunderbolt to a notebook computer remains exorbitantly high when compared to the costs for adding USB 3.0 to the same notebook."

The reason is simple. Intel's Thunderbolt controller chips currently cost around $10 apiece, and USB 3.0 has been integrated into all of Intel's consumer chipsets since 2012.

"Another important factor to consider," MRG writes, "is that Thunderbolt cables, while having declined in price since launch, still retail for about $30 each. Essentially all of this means that when a consumer is faced with a choice between buying an external hard-drive with Thunderbolt or USB 3.0, the USB 3.0 device should have a significant price advantage."

In addition to the USB 3.1 demo, Ravencraft also discussed the USB-IF's new Media Agnostic (MA) USB effort, which will allow wireless devices and docking stations to communicate using the USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 protocols without a physical connection. MA-enabled devices could communicate over 60GHz WiGig, 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, and WiMedia ultra-wide band radios operating between 3.1GHz and 10.6GHz.

In point of fact, being media agnostic, MA could operate on essentially any other applicable existing or future type of media – even a good ol' Ethernet cable, should that usage model make any sense for your application. ®

Bootnote

Not everyone is pleased with the convenience, affordability, and increasing speed of USB. Back in November 2010, The Guardian and other news outlets reported that a Brazilian evangelical cult had forbidden its members from using USB devices because that connectivity standard's familiar trident icon proved "that all users of that vile technology are actually worshipers of Satan." As an old hand in the personal computer biz, your humble Reg reporter begs to differ – if there were ever a cabling construct that was the work of the Evil One, it was SCSI.

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