USB 3.0 brings optical connection in 2008

Universal Serial Bus will be overhauled with optical data links for a tenfold bandwidth increase, Intel promises. The spec is due in 2008.

Update: I added some details about USB 3.0 device availability and performance.

Intel showed off prototype USB 3.0 connectors and an add-in card at Intel Developer Forum Tuesday. Stephen Shankland/CNET Networks

SAN FRANCISCO--Intel and others plan to release a new version of the ubiquitous Universal Serial Bus technology in the first half of 2008, a revamp the chipmaker said will make data transfer rates more than 10 times as fast by adding fiber-optic links alongside the traditional copper wires.

Intel is working fellow USB 3.0 Promoters Group members Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments, NEC and NXP Semiconductors to release the USB 3.0 specification in the first half of 2008, said Pat Gelsinger, general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, in a speech here at the Intel Developer Forum.

In an interview after the speech, Gelsinger said there's typically a one- to two-year lag between the release of the specification and the availability of the technology, so USB 3.0 products should likely arrive in 2009 or 2010. A prototype shown at the speech is working now, and USB 3.0 will have optical and copper connections "from day one," he added.

The current USB 2.0 version has a top data-transfer rate of 480 megabits per second, so a tenfold increase would be 4.8 gigabits per second. Many devices don't need that much capacity, but some can use more, including hard drives, flash card readers and optical drives such as DVD, Blu-ray and HD DVD. The fastest flash card readers today use IEEE 1394 "FireWire" connections that top out at 800 megabits per second.

In addition, USB 3.0 will offer greater energy efficiency, Gelsinger said. It will be backward compatible, so current USB 2.0 devices will be able to plug into USB 3.0 ports.

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