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What are the changes that will be introduced by USB 3? And what are the implications for existing technologies?

USB3 is the latest technological development of the connecting system, USB (universal serial bus). USB is a specification that allows communication between devices (typically a device and a host (usually a personal computer)) USB replaced many of the existing serial and parallel communication methods.USB connects many computer peripherals. Anything from Keyboards and mice, to scanners and printers, to cameras and flash drives- all of these can be connected via the USB interface.

Since USB was introduced in 1996 (USB 1.0), it has become the main connecting method used in computing. USB was created to make it easier to connect external devices to computers. It achieved this by designing a universal connector. This reduced the number of connectors at the back of a PC, solved the problems which came from having many interfaces and made it easier for software configuration purposes. Another benefit of USB was that it had a faster data transfer rate than the existing technologies. Because of these obvious benefits, around 2 billion USB devices are sold each year, and it is thought that around 6 billion USB devises have been sold around the world.

The new technology that is USB3

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USB3 has many new features. The main technological achievement is the SuperSpeed bus. This has a transfer speed of 4.8Gbits/s. These main cables support 4.8Gbits/s and, according to the specifications, can support a speed of 3.2Gbits/s after the protocol overheads, this in comparison to the previous version USB2?s specification which supported a speed of 480Mbit/s. This massive increase in speed is in part due to the fact that USB3 can support full duplex communication (the cable can support both directions of data transfer simultaneously).

This is a diagram of a new USB3 Socket.

As you can see, the USB3 Slot has High speed differential pair contacts- this is the new aspect of the cable which allows USB3 to achieve full duplex communication.

USB2 used half duplex signalling which only supported a unidirectional data flow. Thanks to the inclusion of four SuperSpeed cables USB3 can support a unidirectional data flow allowing full duplex communication.

Another reason that USB3 is faster than USB2 is the method in which data packets are transmitted between devices/hosts. USB2 transmitted the data packets to all devices- only the device the data was destined for accepted the data, this caused there to be unnecessary data traffic in the system which slowed down the transfer of data. USB3 solves this problem by routing the data packets directly to their destination. This cuts down on unnecessary data traffic- this in turn speeds up the data transfer process.

Another feature that will improve portable device support is the power supply features; USB3 can supply devices with multi level power options. USB3 can support idle, sleep and suspend power options. This will improve the power consumption of USB devices which, in an ever increasingly environmentally minded world, will prove popular.

USB3 will defiantly improve the world of computing for all users. USB3 is 10 times faster than USB2, immensely faster. USB by far is the most popular and common computer device cable; USB has many features developed around it (such as Plug and play) which make the users experience faster and easier. With this new development in the USB technology, it is hard to see any disadvantages.

Comparison with Firewire

USBs closest competitor is Firewire. Firewire is, like USB3, a high speed method of data transfer. Firewire?s latest version can handle speeds of 800Mb/s, although Firewire are releasing a version which can handle 3.2Gb/s. This is slower than USB3?s 4.8Gb/s. Another feature of Firewire devices is that they are ?Plug and play?- again USB3 also has this.

One area in which Firewire differs from USB is that Firewire can ?Daisy chain? this meaning that two Firewire devices can communicate without the need for a host computer. This can be used for ad-hoc networks (a network that only has terminals (even though a Firewire hub will be required)). This has its use in computer game consoles. One instance of its use was in the PlayStation2. It was used in a later incarnation of the console and because of this very few games developers used the Firewire capability in their games. Although USB3 now outshines Firewire, Firewire is the standard connection interface for audio/visual equipment.

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USB3 is faster than Firewire. Also the most commonly used computer devices such as keyboards, computer mice and printers all use USB. Now that USB3 has managed to overtake the speed of Firewire, It is hard to see how Firewire would manage to become more popular than USB. Firewire has few advantages over USB and, in my opinion, USB3 is the better choice.

What are the implications for existing technologies?

Hardware

This is a diagram of USB3 connectors.

As shown the new USB3 contacts use five lines. These new contacts sit parallel to the USB2 lines- this feature makes USB3 backwards compatible.

USB3 will be backwards compatible, but to utilize the bandwidth available you would need to use a USB3 cable and have the SuperSpeed devices and ports. The reason that USB3 is backwards compatible is the new design of the USB3 ports/connectors. The new USB3 contacts are running alongside to the USB2 connectors. This allows the USB2 connectors to still be used. Of course by using the USB2 cables, you will still have the same bandwidth as USB2.

The original USB 2.0 cables used four lines. Two lines for data transfer (input/output), one line for power, and another line for grounding.

USB 3.0 adds five new lines. Two SuperSpeed differential line pairs (one for downlink and another for uplink (these line are capable of transmitting data up to 5Gbit/s)), a power line (running at 5volts) and two ground lines. The new USB3 connectors also incorporate the existing USB2 differential lines (these can handle a high speed (HS) mode of 480Mbit/s, a full speed (FS) mode of 12Mbit/s, and a low speed mode (LS) which runs at 1.5Mbits/s).

Therefore it is safe to say that the new USB3 is backwards compatible, although to utilise the power of USB3 not only will USB3 cables and connectors have to be used, but the devices to be used will also have to be developed to harness USB3?s power. So far only a few USB3 devices exist and even the manufactures claim that these new devices do not utilise the full capabilities of USB3. We can expect USB3 devices to become more ?mainstream? in 2010. The reason for this delay is that the USB3 specification was not finalized until recently and because of this the devise manufactures could not design devices in case the speciation was changed. We should not expect USB3 devices to flood the market for another few years.

Most likely the first devices to utilize USB3?s SuperSpeed will be the high rate data transfer applications such as video cameras, digital cameras and backing store devices. For the next few years only high-specification products will use USB3.

It is thought that in 2010 motherboards will come enabled to use USB3 although at first, it is expected to supplement USB2 ports. When computer manufacturers start to implement USB3 as standard, it can then be expected that USB3 will become the new standard.

For the next few years USB2 will continue to be the most used and USB3 will be used to compliment it by being used for devices that require a fast connection.

Software

The software implications of USB3 are also taken care of. Microsoft has said that Windows 7 would have USB3 support. The first release of Windows 7 has not, but they say that future releases of Windows 7 will be compatible. It has also been suggested that they might release a service pack or update to accommodate the new software that will be required. It is also thought that if the release of this software is a success then they might release an update for Windows Vista.

Microsoft?s position on realising an update for Windows XP to accommodate the new SuperSpeed USB is unknown. It is my opinion that Microsoft won?t release one; the Windows XP operating system is 7 years old and to provide this update would cost money and time. In today?s financial climate, I think that it would not provide Microsoft with any financial gains. Also because of the age of the operating system, it is not going to forward any technical advancements.

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Apple hasn?t released any information about whether or not the MacOS will support SuperSpeed. It is thought that with USB3 the market for SuperSpeed devices will become highly profitable, and apple will follow the trend.

The Linux operating system will most defiantly have USB3 support soon, as Linux is used by many developers, and they will want to be able to utilise the full power of USB3.

Any software release takes time. There are many problems to be sorted out- the software may be slow, have bugs and may not support all the features needed. Despite this, we can be sure that the software required to accommodate the new SuperSpeed USB3 will be created and it will support all the features that are needed.

Conclusion

USB3 will improve the world of computing. It is significantly more powerful than its rivals and its predecessors. It is faster than Firewire and 10x faster than USB2. It provides more power to its devices allowing them to be more powerful. Also in the ever increasing world of portable devices, this will allow them to charge quicker. Not only does it provide more power, it also can use less power- when a device is not being used, USB3 can allow the device to ?sleep?. This saves energy when the planet needs it most.

These changes will further the world of computing, from developers to programmers, to your everyday PC user. USB3 will even be better for the environment.

These changes will not hinder the computing world either. Computer manufacturers are all implementing software into their operating systems to allow the SuperSpeed USB3 to be used, this allowing the computing world to move forward. Any new technology like this will take time to implement and this time factor is accommodated by USB3 being backwards compatible.

The new technology that is the SuperSpeed USB3, will forward computing technology, and in the meantime, will not disrupt the computing world. In my opinion USB3 can only be a positive development.

References-

  • Computing enthusiast site- http://www.maximumpc.com/article/features/everything_you_need_know_about_usb_30_plus_first_spliced_cable_photos?page=0%2C1
  • USB3 Technical Report- http://www.infineon.com/dgdl?folderId=db3a304313b8b5a60113d4239297042f&fileId=db3a30431ff9881501206bd32fb176fb
  • USB Info site- http://www.everythingusb.com/superspeed-usb.html#3
  • USB Press release- http://www.usb.org/press/USB-IF_Press_Releases/2008_11_17_USB_IF.pdf
  • Free Encyclopaedia- http://www.wikipedia.org/