Coming to a computer near you: USB 3.0

This article begins a series outlining the important characteristics of a new take on an existing technology, a revision that is certain to affect you in the future — USB 3.0.

While you might also hear USB 3.0 referred to as "SuperSpeed USB", in fact these terms are not quite interchangeable: USB 3.0 is actually a specification that encompasses both the USB 2.0 you are used to and the new, fast "SuperSpeed" side of USB 3.0.

This interface will not require you to change your thinking — it is evolutionary rather than revolutionary — but its advances beyond USB 2.0 will significantly add to the speed of storage technology and to the convenience of mobile computing, among other things.

USB, an interface we are all familiar with, is changing (or changing again, if you remember USB 1.1). USB 2.0, which by now is as familiar as the electrical outlets on the wall, is getting a makeover that will bring it up to date with users' demands for  increased bandwidth and peripheral support.

Turning the clock back, you might remember that the change from USB 1.1 to USB 2.0 entailed, most importantly, a forty-fold increase in speed from 12 Mbps to 480 Mbps. This speed increase put USB 2.0 in the ballpark with the FireWire of the time (400 Mbps IEEE 1394a), and made USB a practical interface for memory sticks, cameras, external USB drive enclosures, and so forth.

Nothing stands still for long however; FireWire 400 evolved to the faster FireWire 800 (IEEE 1394b), hard disk drive interfaces added the eSATA (external Serial ATA) interface, cameras started taking pictures with much larger megapixel counts, digital video overtook analog video, and everybody wanted to back up and transfer heaps of music and movies in digital form. USB 2.0 started to look old.

Enter USB 3.0. This specification adds a number of new features, most importantly:

  • a new architecture with strong backward compatibility
  • a much higher bandwidth with matching hardware
  • greater speed from more efficient data and protocol signalling
  • more sophisticated power management
  • higher power output on the USB port

The next article will talk about the first of these differences, and subsequent articles will cover the other points.


All About Serial

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