The USB 3.0 Promoter Group announced today that the USB 3.0 specification has been finalized, some 14 months (almost to the day) after Intel first demonstrated a prototype USB 3.0 device. The new standard isn't expected to start headlining on motherboards until the latter half of 2009 (at the earliest), with compliant devices hopefully appearing sometime in 2010. Expect USB 3.0-compliant motherboards to command a fair premium for the privilege; motherboard manufacturers will jump at the chance to differentiate themselves via support for the new, (high-speed) Super Speed interface.
Those of you hoping that the USB group would seize this chance to adopt a naming scheme that wasn't invented by six year-olds can commence weeping. Super-Speed USB 3.0, with its transfer rate of 4.8Gbps will join High-Speed (USB 2.0, 480Mbps), Full Speed, (USB 1.0, 12Mbitps) and Low Speed (USB 1.0, 1.5Mbps) on the list of easily understood USB standards. Anyone care to take an early stab at USB 4.0's eventual moniker? "Ultra Speed," "Xtreme Speed," or "OMGWTF Speed," all seem to be strong possibilities.
The road from prototype to finalized specification was marred by a few bumps, including a challenge from AMD and NVIDIA that Intel was unfairly sitting on the new standard's draft certification. USB 3.0 isn't just a faster implementation of USB 2.0??”the new standard will support a more flexible power scheme, including support for reduced power operation and an idle power mode, but several core concerns appear to have gone unaddressed. USB 3.0 sockets are apparently limited to providing just 500mA of power (unchanged from USB 2.0), and the bus will remain relatively CPU-intensive.
Unfortunately, Intel doesn't seem to have much of a reason to push the overall standard. There is a next-generation version of FireWire; the final specification for the S3200 and S1600 standards was published in late July. Devices, however, aren't expected until the end of next year/beginning of 2010, and let's face it??”FireWire is on its very last legs as a mainstream interconnect. Apple's decision to drop FireWire from the Macbook doesn't quite qualify as a stroke of doom, but the trend is clear. As the years go by, FireWire support (or, at least, support for the latest standard) is being driven into a smaller and smaller group of products and systems.
Ironically, most mid-range/high-end discrete motherboards now ship with FireWire 400/1394a support, but FireWire 1394b is virtually nowhere to be found. I won't go quite so far as to say it's literally nonexistent??”Apple still supports it on the MacPro among others??”but a search of even the highest-end boards on NewEgg doesn't reveal a single 1394b-equipped board. Given just how expensive premium boards can run these days, it seems fair to say that manufacturers aren't including it because they don't see it as an option consumers want, as opposed to it being an issue of cost.
If the only way to gain access to S1600 or S3200 is to buy a separate PCI/PCIe add-in board, the nascent S3200 standard's death knell has effectively sounded before the products even hit market. This may not immediately impact USB 3.0??”devices and motherboards that support a new connection standard are always expensive at launch??”but it may affect how quickly the price of USB 3.0-equipped devices fall. As for what those devices will be, expect an early surge of flash drives, external hard drive enclosures, digital music players, and digital video cameras. External solid-state drives, in particular, will benefit from USB 3.0's higher bandwidth; I'd expect a strong push from the likes of Western Digital when it comes time to deploy the standard.