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back to article Inside USB 3.0

NEC last week announced what it claims is the world's first host controller chip for USB 3.0 - aka SuperSpeed USB because of its 5Gb/s peak data-transfer rate. Since the Universal Serial Bus isn't a peer-to-peer system - unlike Firewire, for instance - NEC's chip isn't enough to allow manufacturers to offer USB 3.0 peripherals …

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Gold badge

USB2

USB2 could never deliver 480Mbps, too reliant on CPU interaction. Firewire on the other hand does deliver 400Mbps or 800 in Firewire 800.

Lets home USB3 works better than 2.

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Firewire better No?

Would it not be better to use Firewire 800 I don't get why they want to use USB2.0 rather than Firewire.

I understand there is a faster Firewire in the pipeline as well.

Having transfered Video to my PC using both USB 2.0 and Firewire I have to say that Firewire was better both in speed and being able to control the Video Camera attached to it.

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Nah

I think I'll wait for USB6.0, it's sure to have extra zing!

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Anonymous Coward

I'm no expert but...

USBs coup de grace is that it can connect pretty much everything: from dinky webcams, mice, keyboards, cup warmers, pen drives, hard drives, legacy adapters such as serial and parallel ports, Ethernet, wireless... the list goes on. Universal indeed.

Firewire is designed to be a fast data transfer specification and it does this extremely well, but isn't designed to connect 'dumb' devices.

So USB 'won' the battle because it's a no-brainer in terms of being a jack of all trades. You can easily build a system without a 1394 connection (ironically most PC mobos seem to include 1394 just as Apple, one of the original Firewire supporters, seem to have binned it from many of it's own systems!), but try and imagine one *without* USB!

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Firewire...

... is more expensive to implement. That is why USB is what it is today. If I get the option, I always choose Firewire over USB. It is superior in every way. Faster, more reliable, more versatile. Sure, it's overkill for small-scale transfers, so USB does have its place. It will be interesting to see USB 3.0's real-world performance.

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Sigh.....

I had hoped that they would remove the CPU from the USB3 equation, but I suppose they figure that since CPUs are so much more powerful now than they were, we wouldn't notice the extra clock cycles. Like the first two posters mentioned, CPU dependance makes USB completely unsuitable for high bandwidth applications. Though perhaps with the extra bandwidth it might become useful. Hopefully they will fix CPU dependance and lack of P2P next time when they make USB4.

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Bronze badge

I guess at that speed it uses DMA

Doesn't that have the same vulnerability as with firewire (unmediated mem access)? What controls are there on this, if indeed any are possible.

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Boffin

USB vs FireWire

The USB vs FireWire dispute comes up every time anyone mentions transfer speeds. Yes, FireWire is better at utilizing the availabe bandwidth, but it is a much more complex protocol, being basically a fully-fledged network, rather than a simple point-to-point connection.

The advantage of USB is that the slave side is very basic. (You can get USB chips for less than a quid), whereas FireWire requires a fairly complex stack on either end.

Sure USB3 will increase the complexity, but most likely the shear size of the market will press down the prices fairly quickly.

(I just wish they'd make the USB-A connector a little less symmetric. I always try to force the bloody thin in upside-down. But that would ruin the backward compatibility.)

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USB vs Firewire

This article is sure to re-ignite the USB vs Firewire debate although Firewire is a major underdog in today's consumer market. Firewire has been relegated to the professional and military market.

In specific reference to the article about USB cabling: Firewire cables have been thicker, shielded, and much more expensive from the get-go and that was IEEE1394a. The "b" cables are even more expensive, but bless those boffins for finding a way to avoid going to fiber for the next major speed upgrade allowing us to use "b" cables to hit gigabit speeds. And it is true Virginia, Firewire is way faster than USB, but only the pros and military care about it.

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Stop

5G, 8-N-1

I appreciate the backward compatibility of USB 3 but they have to do better with the connectors. The standard A is super, the rest are pants. It is one thing to make sure the old devices work by simply using the old cable, perfect. To hobble new devices with the old cable is pitiful since the 3.0 standard allows new devices to work with old hosts by using the new cable. It could have been simple, old device == old cable; new device == new cable, but no it has to be old device == old cable; new device == any cable.

Here is something you will never hear, "I'm so glad I can save 8 quid and use my old USB2 cable for my new £750 USB3 Homy SandyVid2 Terabyte edition." Why, because for £750 there had damn well better be a new cable in the box.

Seriously, if they are just going to be conjoined twin connectors, why bother. The footprint on any device using a micro connector should probably, IMHO, be SMALL and I think many device makers will determine the USB 3 speed isn't worth the tradeoff to fit that horrid connector. Why couldn't they chose something closer to the 9 pin 1394b connector? Sorry, it's just logic gone awry to focus compatibility on an old two bit cable.

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re:

Quote from article: "so USB 3.0 Standard B sockets will take USB 2.0 versions, but not the other way round - though there'll surely be plenty of adaptor cables on the market."

what rubbish why would you need an adaptor if the device is clearly USB2 B socket you use your normal USB2 cable!

@ James Robertson

"Would it not be better to use Firewire 800 I don't get why they want to use USB2.0 rather than Firewire"

Some points:

USB is ubiquitous and backward compatible right up to USB3.0

Firewire chipset costs extra to add to devices compared to USB

USB3.0 is 5Gb/s that is a massive step in speed so a little CPU overhead still makes it faster than the proposed firewire S3200 3.2Gb/s

Firewire is a fine protocol for moving large amounts of data but is limited compared to the diversity that USB brings to the table so will always be a niche product.

The other interesting development that probably reduce firewire chips on external hdds even more is the advancing of eSATA currently 3Gb/s but planned 6Gb/s but even that is under threat from USB3.0 too

Interesting times ahead

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Flame

We need a super chip or bring back the math co processer

I am sick of seeing stuff invented just to have their hardware specs leach off the cpu.

So I propose some hardware geeks make a PCI-E card that

will do the combined following:

Video Physix processesing - Already on the market

NIC card overhead processing - Already on the market

Sound overhead processing - Already on the market

But now put the 3 above on one card.

Leave my gaming CPU alone!!!!! That also goes for those who think ever little app must show up in the task bar or always run 24/7 when not used..... GOT THAT PUNK BUSTER!!!!!

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Bronze badge
Stop

Bigger too

The electrical and mechanical specifications seem expensive from a technical point of view and clumsy from a consumer point of view. 5Gbps USB will have to kick butt in real world tests to overcome its costs and existing distrust of USB performance. If not, computer makers may keep their cheap USB 2 chips and go with a completely new port for speed.

There's distrust of Firewire too. Early 1394a chipsets were prone to lock-ups at full bandwidth and burnouts when on and off devices were mixed. Consumers might want a new name for a new port.

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Silver badge

Finally they read a book on high frequency electronics

They finally got the brains to actually terminate the bus. Now the only problems will be on the software side, as well as on the power supply and connector side.

We should take bets if Microsoft will implement the 20 most important device class drivers. :) I doubt they will.

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Couple Points

@Calum

Firewire connectors are backward compatible from 3.2 Gbps to 800 Mbps. (The 50 Mbps to 400 Mbps connectors are different. [And yes, Firewire started back in 1990 at 50 Mbps.])

In quantity Firewire chipsets are not that much more expensive than USB chipsets but in huge quantities (millions) even a few pennies count. The disparity comes when you want to connect two peripherals to each other. Want to connect a USB 3.0 Super Speed camera to your USB 3.0 Super Speed HDTV? Better put that home theater PC in between to control the connection. That changes the entire pricing equation. With Firewire 3.2 Gbps on each item (camera and TV) you'd just run a cable between the two and go for it.

Firewire for 1.6 Gbps and 3.2 Gbps over copper using the existing 1394b (800 Mbps over copper) connectors has been approved for well over a year. It is not "proposed". Additionally, 1.6 & 3.2 Gbps over fiber has been approved for several years (approved about the same time as 800 Mbps over copper, IIRC). To my knowledge no one is shipping any systems or peripherals with 3.2 Gbps over copper Firewire, but the standard does exist.

General thoughts...

Even with the overhead and CPU leeching of USB 3.0 Super Speed it is still probably faster, on average, even for streaming media than Firewire 3.2 Gbps. While I have not done any detailed calculations of the 10b8 overhead and such it is difficult to believe that the overhead and latencies of 5 Gbps USB will take the useful bandwidth below 3.2 Gbps.

If USB 3.0 catches on, as it is likely to, then Firewire will go the way of PATA.

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@calum - its the slave CPU power that counts

@calum; "USB3.0 is 5Gb/s that is a massive step in speed so a little CPU overhead still makes it faster than the proposed firewire S3200 3.2Gb/s"

Back on the planet I live on Full Speed USB2 rarely gets much above 60% of usable bandwidth and that's with a measurable hit on our 3GHz CPU's, low utilisation mostly caused by the much less powerful CPU at the slave end of USB. That's going to get worse with USB3 and Firewire will continue to be faster at 3.2Gb/s than USB3 at 5Gb/s.

Slave devices aren't often going to have the benefit of a $100 CPU or even $1 worth of hardware assist (like Firewire) and that 10x speed increase is going to be imaginary for most devices. A few percent at the PC end may be acceptable, 100%+ needed at the slave is clearly impossible and I'm already annoyed enough with my Humax PVR falling over trying and failing to keep up with 12Mb/s HiSpeed!

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@Inachu

Video physics is already being migrated to the video card (which is still away from the CPU), negating the need for physics accelerators. As for Network and Sound overhead, those come from using cheap chips (common on the consumer end where a lot of CPU time is idle). If you want on-device load handling, you need to step up to more sophisticated (and more expensive) dedicated network and sound cards.

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Happy

Pepsi?

They'd better change that logo unless they want Pepsi lawyers to come a-knocking.

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Mobile phones.

The mobile people just agreed to standardize their USB ports. Now they can all change them for different USB 3.0 ones and protect their car charger markets again.

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Just rambling

"...like a router..."

Forgive me, but I'd say it's more like a switch. A router generally does address translation and needs specific rules to route unsolicited packets; a switch is transparent. A switch is like a hub, but it directs packets instead of broadcasting them. (Except broadcast packets, of course. :)

I too am interested to see how this compares to Firewire, especially where CPU stealing is concerned. BTW if we're going to do FW vs. USB comparisons, I don't think anybody mentioned the fact that you can daisy-chain FW. In fact, I think that's one feature that rarely gets mentioned. Of course, it depends on the peripheral having two FW connectors, but it's something that USB simply can't do. Run out of USB connections? You need to buy a hub.

I'm not trying to make claims that FW is superior to USB overall, merely pointing out one advantage FW has. Like I said, I'm interested to see how this works out.

I do hope FW doesn't die, though.

Just a couple typos I happened to notice:

"...at least not without signing and NDA." Surely you intended "an NDA". Unfortunately I'm intimately familiar with this particular typo myself. :)

"...80 per cent than they could under USB 2.0." Missing "more", yes?

Do with them what you will.

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This is turning into a bodge.

adding extra pins here and there.

Why not give in, make a new connector and stop worrying? Or, for that matter, follow the scsi or firewire dream?

What happened to wireless USB and Bluetooth-high-speed anyway?

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@Inachu

"We need a super chip or bring back the math co processer"

Funnily enough, Intel have this new chip called Larrabee and it has cycles to burn.

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Firewire forever

Give me Firewire any day over USB and twice on Sundays.

The number of times I've been backing up to a USB external drive (or copying data from it to the host PC) only to have the USB device stop responding has made me give up on USB for anything apart from connecting mice, keyboards, drawing tablets, cameras, printers, scanners and the like. For mass data transfer and storage, only Firewire is completely reliable in my experience, and certainly much faster.

Apple may have removed Firewire from their new 'unibody' Macbooks, but you may recall that FW800 was briefly dropped from the 17" Macbook Pro when it first appeared, but came back soon after. Apart from that one machine for which Firewire is forsaken, Apple has FW across the board, including the unlikely Mac Mini which recently had FW800 added. I would almost guarantee that FW800 will reappear across the line soon enough. So I think it is premature to declare Apple and Firewire in the divorce court.

The new 1.6 Gbit/s and 3.2 Gbit/s FW standard, using the same Beta connectors found in FW800, is ready to hit mainstream with an enhancement approved for 6.4Gbit/s over fibre also using the same connector and much faster speeds are proposed for FW using optical cable going forward.

I think it is safe to bet that FW will continue to be the transfer method of choice for video, audio and moving data both reliably and quickly, and USB for moving other less critical 'bits'.

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Boffin

come on...

oh please just make the bloody connector to work in any position you try to fit it, i spend half of my life trying to figure how to plug right usb cables. Great technology, Biggest implementation mistake. A kick in the ass to who originally designed the plug.

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re:

@ Franklin Williams

Thanks for clarifying proposed vs availability, i did actually mean the latter.

I think your analogy of the HD TV and camera has a flaw as HDMI is already available that is more suitable for this task and is available now on the latest products.

I was a big fan of firewire a few years ago, i have used it for external HDDs and networked with it but i have come to realise it is a niche product that use seems limited to media purposes and limited fast data transfer. However in the general computing world it cannot compete with USB2.0, eSATA or Gb Ethernet for simplicity, cost and ubiquity

@Paul i think you have misunderstood the role of the processor chips in USB and the use of DMA to reduce their processing need drastically. Also your statement about 12MB/s is odd considering flash and external hdds easily achieve 35MB/s over USB2.0, sounds like a bad USB implementation on you PVR. I do concede it will require more processing power on your computer but USB2.0 atm barely pushes a 2Ghz CPU.

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Tom
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@Mobile phones

Who needs USB3 on a mobile phone? It might be of some use on a high end smart phone but I think for most the biggest advantage would be the faster charge rate.

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FW is fast enough to dump all your RA in a couple of minutes

I see no-one has mentioned a fundamental problem with firewire - it bypasses any attempt at providing physical security:

http://www.hermann-uwe.de/blog/physical-memory-attacks-via-firewire-dma-part-1-overview-and-mitigation

As Callum and Franklin Williams have pointed out, high-speed 3.2Gbps FW has been around as a finished product for a year. But good luck finding anything that uses this standard. FW is dead, get over it and stop whining.

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@Charles King

and hence my question on exactly that point.

Again, then, does USB3 use DMA and if so, is it susceptible in exactly the same way?

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Stop

Oh dear :(

This is going to end badly.

The thing about USB1/USB2 is that it all runs down the same cables with standardised connectors.

USB3 with its seperate transmit/receive busses means its NOT backward compatible with USB2, they are only claiming it is because they've added extra pins and just left USB2 in there alongside it.

Now thats all very nice on paper, but you can you really see manufacturers with names like "Unbrand-o-tron" bothering with that?

I see a future where you will have USB2 cables, USB3 cables that do USB2 and USB3 cables that only do USB3. I can see the same applying to some devices and host controllers too in order to trim a few cents off the bottom line.

I'm not saying this bus is bad, I'm just saying that trying to market it by abusing the name 'USB' is going to cause trouble. I think this bus would work a hell of a lot better if it simply had a different name, aslong as its called USB people will expect a level of compatibility that real world economics will not allow. Great, if you are selling kit and cables to customers who don't know the difference, once you've sold them the camera that only supports USB3 you get to sell them a host controller and a new set of cables too!

And then there is the question of where does it end?

I mean, if this multi-bus system was taken to extremes we'd end up with a six foot wide connector that has a serial, parallel, composite video, rgb, dvi, ide, sata, ps2.....

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Never be a serious data connector...

..until it has locking connectors.

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why stick with copper?

I'm constantly amazed that USB hasn't been replaced with some sort of standard, high bandwidth, optical connector* yet. Audio equipment has been using optical cables for years and my laptop has an optical out on the back so the hardware can't be too bulky and power hungry. While these are currently used as one way connections, the extension of them to be fully duplex doesn't seem that much of a stretch.

*or combined, optical for data, copper for power as low/unpowered devces would need something to run their end.

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Locking connectors...

...are lethal. They destroy boards/cases when they get yanked. I work in a world of BNC, and the devastatio that can happen when something gets dropped/yanked/tripped over just isn't funny. They're also bloody difficult to connect or disconnect when space is tight. What we need is a connector like USB b, but fully square with the ability to be connected in any orientation - all you'd need is a little sense pin. Why hasn't anyone done this yet?

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@webb

once you've sold them the camera that only supports USB3 you get to sell them a host controller and a new set of cables too!

sorry if ive misunderstood this but wouldnt all usb3 devics be compatible on usb2 controlers ??

man i hope so otherwise i agree !!!

p.s im gonna break something cause i have to use a stupid wireless keyboadr and the above post took me 12 min to write because it kept on dropping letter etc etc !!!

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Bronze badge

FW vs USB ... vs eSATA ... vs HDMI vs DisplayPort

Quit whining about Firewire being better than USB and vice versa. Don't forget eSATA! USB 3 is going to compete with HDMI and DP as well (there are already some displays that use USB 2 for video). Thing is: each technology is going to have it's own good points and bad points. The people who need lots of fast data transfer that doesn't hit the CPU aren't going to use USB. The people who don't care about a few seconds of transfer time and a slight CPU hit will use USB to get stuff done and they might even be happy.

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Go

How long should I wait...

...before they launch an USB standard that will eat them ALL: HDMI, mains, ethernet, all the smack. I hate cable clutter behind my PC.

I just want ONE FREAKING CABLE to connect everything. So, I plug my PC to wall with ONE CABLE. Power, network, everything goes in it. Think powered-SCART. ONE cable goes to monitor. The monitor DOES NOT HAVE TO BE POWERED, since it is sucking juice from the PC cable. Mouse, keyboard, webcam, all go from the monitor.

I also have a laptop, I just plug it on a spare port and let its batteries recharging, while running a backup. Why not? Wireless is bogus if you have still one cable dangling around. Wireless is a MYTH, since you still must power the damned thing, don't you?

Who's talking about meager 150mA or 1500mA, I want freaking 10 FULL AMPS on these cables, running at 127V.

Printer to pc? ONE CABLE. No wall-warts.

Scanner to pc? ONE CABLE. (Some already are USB powered, one-cable, good job Canon!)

NAS to pc? ONE CABLE. Router? Guess again... if it is plugged on the wall, I don't NEED to plug my PC on the wall, altough I may enjoy some redundancy.

Does anybody catch my drift here? I counted 54 cables (FIFTY FOUR!!!!) behind my PC, including speakers, subwoofer, printer, TV tuner, Ethernet router, IP phone, and all the wall-warts to power all this stuff. The backpanel is a convoluted plug-festival of all sorts, sizes, and shapes. Clean them all away, only one kind of plug remains, but you count 32 copies of it. Be sure to plug one of those on the wall, and that each device is connected to each other once, and one of those is plugged on the PC or the mains. PLC comes to play too. Somehow I am glad I don´t have 7.1 speakers, because all of those extra speakers will need cables eventually, even for battery-charging their wireless connections (as some models?).

I want ONE SIZE FITS ALL.

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. If you want to call it universal MAKE IT SO. It is not universal while it can´t replace all the other stuff plugged on the back of my PC.

Good riddance of serial and parallel ports. HDMI is next. Firewire is next. Mains is next. D-SUB (VGA) is next. P2 (earphones and speakers) are next. RCA is next. Ethernet is next.

I will wait for USB 15.0.

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Alert

Not Good... Dual Ports makes me shudder...

This looks like a nightmare..

I have several 'standard' devices already yet I have the following leads (tails) always connected:

A-B lead for a robot device.

A-MiniA lead for a 2.5 inch mobile drive.

A-MicroB lead for my new phone...

and guess what none of them fit each other! one lead one device...

I'm already in the situation of not hvaing the right lead unless it travels with the device.

If theres going to be a NEW type lets just have ONE new socket not 4! I dont want eight different tails coming out of my PC for different Devices!!!

If I have a USB3 Device I need a USB3 Cable.. (why use a USB2 backward compatibility cable and pay twice as much???) IF I have a USB2 Device I cant use a USB3 Cable it wont fit.. SO Im still going to have the tails That I already have.. One More is Preferable to four more!

We dont need and I dont want Multiple Device Side connectors.. "One new Device Side standard" say a double sided Micro connector?

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Flame

Firewire is dead. Give it up already.

"""""

The people who need lots of fast data transfer that doesn't hit the CPU aren't going to use USB. The people who don't care about a few seconds of transfer time and a slight CPU hit will use USB to get stuff done and they might even be happy.

"""""

People with half a brain that need the faster performance will simply buy a computer with a slightly faster CPU and not give a crap either way.

Firewire is full of failure because it requires much more intellegent hardware then what USB does. Each device that uses Firewire is just going to be more expensive. Instead of spending money on smarter devices most people would simply prefer to get a faster computer.

That's all. It's not very complicated. After all; what the hell is all those extra cores in your system going to do for you? Make you type faster in Microsoft Office? Download your porn faster?

No. They make your computer cheaper and more flexible.

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Silver badge

@Lionel Baden

That's exactly the reason for the setups. USB3 devices can (and by spec must, just as with USB2 with USB1 busses) be hooked up with legacy cables. They won't go at SuperSpeed, but they'll work nonetheless. It's something USB users come to expect after the USB1->USB2 transition. USB strives to make as many things work on as many busses as possible. It's just that, this time, they had to make some compromises. As for optical, that may be a future step, but consider your average TOSLink cable--not very thin and not very flexible, whereas HDMI seems to work just peachy on just copper.

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Wow, the port/cable designs suck ass

Ok, so USB 3.0 is cool, but WTF on the cables and ports? That looks like a proposal by freshmen engineers who were in a hurry to finish their final paper!

Obviously USB 3.0's only real compatibility with USB 2.0 is the name. They made a new more efficient protocol. Good for them. They want to call it USB 3.0 for marketing reasons... well ok, but not a good idea. Then it requires its own cable so somehow they justify basically bundling and old USB 2.0 cable set along side their new cable, come up with horrid double connectors and then say it's backwards compatible?

You know what I taped a power cable to my DVI cable with duct tape. It's the new Power-Over-DVI standard!!!

Asshats!

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Joke

Give me coffee

USB 3 will be officially available when the first Chinese USB3 Coffee Cup warmers appear on the market. I'll upgrade then.

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Joke

Naming conventions ...

We've had:

USB2.0 - High Speed

Now we have:

USB3.0 - Super Speed.

What are they going to call USB4.0? 'Ludicrous Speed'?

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@ Charles

"That's exactly the reason for the setups. USB3 devices can (and by spec must, just as with USB2 with USB1 busses) be hooked up with legacy cables."

So the new and broken standard is focused on the cheapest part of the equation. They did fine on the "A" end so the USB[1,2] controller would work with USB3 devices. That isn't a reason to stupify the rest of the devices on the "B" end. I don't care what anyone says, sometimes changing the spec is the best option.

As it stands, what can, and will, happen is some dumb arse buys a new USB3 equipped computer complete with external USB3 hub and plugs in all his junk both new and old. All fine and dandy except our super jeanious* computer goo-roo makes the main link between computer and hub with a legacy cable forcing the entire Stupor Speed setup run at a speed matched only by Ted Kennedy crossing a bridge at the end of an all night pub sprawl. Brilliant!

* Super jeanious is soon to be an Apple trademark for a pants like accessory to the iPodket iPod accessory.

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Unhappy

The only thing I want.

Is for a return to the original ethos of plug-and-play (and-unplug) and not what we have at the moment of plug-and-play then arse-about-stopping-the-device-waiting-a-bit-for-Windows-to-do-it's-thing-and-tell-you-it's-stopped-and-THEN-unplug.

It's not a lot to ask is it?

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Joke

@Simon Ward

Regarding "What are they going to call USB4.0? 'Ludicrous Speed'?"

How about "On Speed"?

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Boffin

@Eddy Ito: connector standards

I think the reason for the backwards compatible connector is not for devices but for hosts.

Suppose USB3 has different connectors and suppose you are an OEM designing a netbook. There is only room for three ports. What combination do you choose? On one end of the spectrum will be power users who want to plug in loads of USB3 devices, and have hubs and adapters for any legacy USB2 devices, at the other end is the road warrior who has left his USB2 to 3 adapters at home and wants to plug in a USB2 mouse, thumb drive and printer.

With backward compatible connectors you don't have that dilemma. All the ports can be USB3 compatible (if the chipset allows it) and everyone is happy.

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Tom
Silver badge

By the time USB 3.0 ports are to be found in netbooks, they'll be running Windows 7 anyway -NOT!

Windows 7 will not run on Netbooks - MS say Netbooks dont exist - especially the really fast ones running arm chips!

Whatever it is trying to be I'm fairly sure wireless is a much more sensible way to go - nothing new to do there - I don't want cables FULL STOP.

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Coat

@ Simon Ward & unexpected Bill

They should follow unreal tournaments announcements

I think it should go Monster Speed followed by Godlike

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