With mobile devices in fashion at this week's CES Show, the more traditional excitement of USB 3.0 could yet be the story of early 2010 with the announcement by semiconductor company Via that it is close to shipping a ‘SuperSpeed' USB controller chip.
If they sound dull, host controller chips are still critical in allowing USB 3.0 technology to percolate beyond the odd attention-grabbing announcement, and are designed to sit on the other side of the USB connections in everyday laptops and PCs, or inside USB 3.0 hubs.
To date, USB 3.0 SuperSpeed announcements have related to external devices such as Blu-ray drives, USB flash drives, complete motherboards, and external hard drives. A new generation of USB controllers such as Via's VL810 make the technology viable in inexpensive computers, and give these devices something to connect to at speeds up to the theoretical USB 3.0 maximum speed of 4.8Gbit/s.
The speed at which data can be shifted from device to device matters to most computers users. USB can do it at up to 480Mbps, but this is far too slow for today's data transfers tasks that increasingly involve shifting gigabytes of data. Power drain is another less commented on advantage of the new standard, made possible in the Via chip by using a lower-power 80nm CMOS manufacturing process. USB 3.0 also incorporates more advanced power management, namely the ability to turn off power to idling devices.
"SuperSpeed USB not only makes transferring HD video files, high pixel count digital photos, and backing up hard drives quick and easy, but VIA's new hub controller allows consumers to get the most out of the technology by expanding the capacity of PC systems," commented Via's vice president of marketing, Richard Brown.
The immediate application of the Via VL810 will be in USB hubs, as the released marketing photography makes clear, coupling the controller to 4 external ports. Its appeal to hub makers will be that it is the first close-to-shipping chip to put the necessary interfaces into single integrated chip, which reduces cost.