Intel in all-out push on super-fast USB 3.0

14 Aug 2008

Chip giant Intel is going all-out to speed up industry-wide adoption of USB 3.0 technology, which is 10 times the bandwidth of existing USB 2.0 connections, for a myriad of electronic devices from cameras and phones to MP3 players and storage drives.

Reflecting the data-prolific times we are now entering, Intel has created a new, draft Extensible Host Controller Interface (xHCI) specification – in other words a Dummies Guide – for the forthcoming USB 3.0 or super-speed USB, which it has made available royalty free.

Intel said the industry is keen to adopt a single standard in order to ensure greater interoperability between USB 3.0 devices, which will very soon replace the current USB 2.0 standard we are all familiar with.

This specification describes the registers and data structures used to interface between system software and the hardware, and is developed to be compatible with the USB 3.0 specification under development by the USB 3.0 Promoter Group.

AMD, Dell, Microsoft, NEC and Nvidia Corporation are supporting the new specification.

“The future of computing and consumer devices is increasingly visual and bandwidth intensive,” said Phil Eisler, AMD corporate vice-president and general manager of the Chipset Business Unit.

“Lifestyles filled with high-definition (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 said.

Rick Schuckle, client architecture strategist at Dell, said the new standard will speed up the development of new gadgets sporting USB 3.0 by electronics firms. “This interface standard is important to ensure our customers have interoperable USB 3.0 systems, devices and software drivers.”

Microsoft has developed driver support for the USB industry standard since its inception and is committed to supporting the latest hardware technologies on the Windows platform.

Chuck Chan, Microsoft general manager of Windows Core OS, explained: “Microsoft intends to deliver Windows support for hardware that is compliant with the xHCI specification; this is a huge step forward in enabling the industry and our customers to easily connect super-speed USB devices to their PCs for exciting new functionality and usages.”

NEC Electronics has supported Intel’s EHCI specification for USB 2.0 and WHCI specification for Wireless USB 1.0, and developed solutions based on both of these standards, said Hiroshi Iguchi, NEC Electronics vice-president of its 2nd SOC (systems on a chip) Operations Unit.

“NEC Electronics will now provide USB 3.0 solutions based on Intel’s xHCI specification to ensure interoperability of our solution with multiple products from various manufacturers. As we have done for USB 2.0, NEC Electronics would like to lead the USB 3.0 market with our discrete USB 3.0 host controller,” Iguchi said.

Intel added that it plans to make available a revised xHCI 0.95 specification in the fourth quarter.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Die image of the Intel System on a Chip (SOC)

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years