USB 3.0: Five Things You Need to Know

The first devices began hitting stores this year, and a flood of new products is expected to follow

USB-perhaps the most successful, versatile computer interface yet-is getting a major overhaul. The third version brings big improvements, including higher speeds and better power management. The first devices began hitting stores this year, and a flood of new products is expected to follow. Adoption of USB 3.0 could bring an end to interfaces that use serial ports like e-SATA, which, while fast, require an additional power cable.

IT'S FAST. USB 3.0 features an extra set of pins that creates a faster data bus capable of supporting real-world speeds of between 3.2 and 4 gigabits per second. That makes it about 10 times as fast as today's USB 2.0 and comparable to using serial ports. A fully Ã'­bidirectional bus means that data can be sent and received at the same time, further boosting performance. To reflect this, equipment makers have dubbed the new version "SuperSpeed."

IT'S BACKWARD COMPATIBLE. USB 3.0 sockets are designed to accept today's plugs and cables, they'll just operate at USB 2.0 speeds. To get the faster performance, you'll have to use new cables between compatible devices. Consequently, USB 3.0 will take over the external-drive market by 2013 and ship in 225 million flash disks in 2014, predicts In-Stat.

IT'S SMART ON POWER. USB 3.0 increases the power available via a USB connection by 50 percent to 150 milliAmps, but that doesn't necessarily mean your laptop battery will run down faster. Whereas the current USB protocol keeps devices powered and ready at all times, USB 3.0 has superior power-management capabilities that allow unused devices to enter idle, sleep and suspend modes, cutting down on power consumption.

IT'S NOT EVERYWHERE. Support for USB 3.0 was added to the Linux kernel last September, and the first hardware controllers and devices appeared at this year's Consumer Electronics Show show in January. But it's still an emerging technology. Microsoft hasn't implemented it in Windows yet, though it's rumored to be coming soon in the first service pack for Windows 7. Intel doesn't plan to support it until 2011.

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Martyn Williams

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