Superfast USB 3.0 spec races toward 2008 debut

Top vendors form group to develop specs for updated interconnect standard

A group of major technology vendors last week unveiled the USB 3.0 Promoter Group, which will oversee the development of specifications for Version 3.0 of the high-performance Universal Serial Bus (USB). The consortium was announced at Intel's annual Developers Forum in San Francisco.

The USB 3.0 standard is expected to be finalized in the first half of 2008, according to members of the group, which includes Intel, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, NEC, NXP Semiconductors and Texas Instruments.

Jeff Ravencraft, USB 3.0 Promoter Group chair and a technology strategist at Intel, said the group hopes the new version of the standard upgrades USB performance by up to 10 times. For example, Ravencraft said that he expects that USB 3.0 will enable a 27GB high-definition movie to be downloaded in roughly 70 seconds, a dramatic improvement over the 14 to 15 minutes it takes to download the same size movie using the current USB version.

The new specification will be backward-compatible with USB 2.0, he noted.

Ravencraft said the group plans to take several steps to boost the performance, including the creation of a new architecture that would replace the current polled-device technology, which continually polls devices to determine whether traffic exists. The architecture for USB 3.0 will let a device remain in an idle state until traffic appears on the network, he said.

The design plan of USB 3.0 will also include a focus on maximizing power efficiency to ensure longer battery life, Ravencraft added.

Ravencraft said the upgrades are vital due to a surge in the use of portable mobile devices and to the exploding demand for the ability to share content. The new specifications will aim to help IT vendors satisfy emerging storage formats and to keep pace with high-speed data delivery expectations, he added.

"There are emerging applications in flash areas that will benefit from higher-performing capabilities," he said. "We're looking to see where technology is going, and we need to start building a highway to intercept that, because we don't want USB to be the bottleneck."

In a statement, USB standards group executives said they expect work on products that meet the new standard to begin shortly after work on the standard is finished early next year, with products expected to start coming out by late 2009. Broad deployment of USB 3.0 is targeted for 2010, the executives said.

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