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SuperSpeed USB 3.0





One of the best enhancements to computers in the last 10 years has been the addition of Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports.  Technologies like Firewire are terrific, but the popularity of USB is unprecedented.  USB is the most versatile and popular computer interconnect ever.  To date, over 6 billion USB ports have been sold.  If you purchase a desktop computer, USB is probably used for the mouse, keyboard, and printer connections.  In addition, many general purpose connections like a thumb drive use the USB port.  One of the best attributes of USB is that the connection can be made without restarting the computer. 






USB, in its current format is known as USB 2.0.  2.0 has been the standard since 2002.  USB 2.0 has a data transfer rate limit of 480 Mb/sec.  That rate is good for most applications, but is wanting for applications like video.


"The future of computing and consumer devices is increasingly visual and bandwidth intensive. Lifestyles filled with 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.”   Phil Eisler, President of the chipset business unit at Advanced Micro Devices.


The new specification is predictably called USB 3.0 (also called "SuperSpeed USB").  USB 3.0 is capable of data transfer rtes of 4.8 Gb/sec (10X faster than USB 2.0). USB 3.0 is a version of USB that is similar to PCIe Gen2 signal techniques, but with a connector cosmetically similar to the USB connector to which we are accustomed.  A 30 GB HDTV movie that takes about 15 minutes to transfer with USB 2.0, will take less than 90 seconds with USB 3.0.  The connectors were shown to the general public for the first time at last year’s CES (Consumer's Electronics Show).   Equipment designed to meet USB 3.0 will be backward compatible with USB 2.0 hardware, but when a USB 3.0 device is connected to a USB 2.0 device, the performance will be at USB 2.0 performance levels. 

USB 3.0 Form Factor

            USB 3.0




USB 3.0 has more pins than USB 2.0 (9 instead of 4), but the connector remains compatible with the old form factor.  Pins 1-4 are called the "USB 2.0 Pins" and Pins 5-9 are referred to as the "SuperSpeed pins”.  When interconnecting a USB 2.0 connector with a USB 3.0 connector, pins 5-9 will be open.  There are two mechanical configurations for USB 3.0.  "Standard A" connectors are fully compatible with USB 2.0. USB 3.0 devices are not required to be compatible with USB 1.1 and older devices.  A color coding (Blue Pantone 300C) of the USB 3.0 connector is planned.




Synopsys has prototyped an HDTV transmission system based on USB 3.0.   The company has demonstrated transmission of non-compressed 1080p at 30fps HDTV via USB 3.0.


Apple has anticipated USB 3.0 with built-in capabilities with the iPhone.  There is firmware on the iPhone to facilitate connecting your laptop computer to the phone via a USB 3.0 connection.   The iPhone can then be used as wireless modem for the computer.  Apple says that this capability exists with the iPhone 3.0 OS, but details still need to be negotiated with carriers.


At least one laptop manufacturer is already integrating the new connector into their system. The latest versions of the Asus M50 laptop come equipped with 2 ports that are ready for the additional contacts.  Asus has framed their system for USB 3.0, but the full system is not yet in place.


Consumer products utilizing USB 3.0 should become available later this year (2009), and in general use in 2010. The first products to market will probably be flash drives, digital music players, and digital cameras.  Initially there will be a price premium for the new technology.  In this case, it is justified, since it will be a significant challenge for the manufacturer to meet the specification requirements.




Appendix 1: Data Rates of Competing Interconnects



Data Rate (Mbps)

USB 2.0


USB 3.0


Firewire (FW400)


Firewire (FW800)


Serial ATA (SATA1)


Serial ATA (SATA2)


Serial ATA (SATA3)


SCSI 160


Ultra SCSI 320


Serial Attached SCSI (SAS)


HDMI 1.2


HDMI 1.3











 About the Author:


Brian Bradshaw is an InfoComm Certified Technical Specialist (CTS), Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), and CompTIA A+ Computer Technologist.  Areas of expertise include Video, HDTV, Audio, Computation, SATCOM Systems, and Communications.

Website:  http://bradshaw-vacuum-technology.com/