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Intel: USB 3.0 in 2012 with 'Thunderbolt'

Intel will put both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt together in its chips in 2012, bringing sorely needed high-speed connection technologies to a wide range of devices.

Intel went on the record today saying that its silicon will support USB 3.0 in 2012 and urged developers to target both USB and its new "Thunderbolt" technology.

"Intel is going to support USB 3.0 in the 2012 client platform. We're going to support Thunderbolt capability. We believe they're complementary," said Kirk Skaugen, a vice president at the Intel Architecture Group, speaking at Intel's developer conference in Beijing today. The event was streamed over the Web.

Only select laptops, such as the Dell Precision M6500, support USB 3.0 today using non-Intel silicon.
Only select laptops, such as the Dell Precision M6500, support USB 3.0 today using non-Intel silicon. Dell

The "2012 client platform" that Skaugen referred to is known more commonly by the code name "Ivy Bridge," which is the family of chips that will follow the "Sandy Bridge" processors shipping in PCs today.

USB is one of the most widely used connection technologies in the world, found on everything from PCs to tablets to smartphones. Intel laid the groundwork for widespread adoption in spring 2002 when it put the technology in its silicon. When Intel includes USB 3.0--which is about 10 times faster than current USB technology--in Ivy Bridge silicon in 2012 that will mark 10 years since the chipmaker upgraded its chips to the newest USB tech.

Today, Intel has support for USB 3.0 only in select desktop motherboards. And those boards don't use an Intel chip but a separate part from NEC to implement USB 3.0.

On other hand, Intel's 2012 Ivy Bridge technology will put USB 3.0 directly into the Intel chips--referred to as chipsets--that accompany the main Ivy Bridge processor, making USB 3.0 available universally across all types of computing devices, including laptops. Not unlike what Intel did back in 2002.

And with Advanced Micro Devices also on board, USB 3.0 appears on track for industry-wide adoption--finally. AMD said yesterday that the chipsets that come with its Fusion processors will support USB 3.0.

But USB 3.0 is only half of the connection story for Intel. Skaugen was careful to point out that developers of peripheral devices like printers, scanners, and cameras should target both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt--the latter a new connection technology that combines high-speed data transfer and high-definition video on a single cable and runs at a peak speed of 10 gigabits per second. Apple uses Thunderbolt connectors on its MacBook Pro laptops.

"We encourage all of you working on peripherals around the PC to engage on both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt," Skaugen said.