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Intel Releases Interface for USB 3.0

Intel Corp. on Wednesday shared technical plans for an important element needed to develop the Universal Serial Bus 3.0 (USB 3.0) specification. The company has made its Extensible Host Controller Interface (xHCI) draft specification revision 0.9 available to hardware manufacturers and software providers.

The spec is available only to contributor companies or those that are part of the USB 3.0 Promoter Group. It's licensed under RAND-Z (reasonable and nondiscriminatory with zero royalty) terms and companies have to sign an xHCI contributor agreement, Intel announced.

USB 3.0 is a next-generation high-speed interface specification for data transfer between devices, promising data transfer rates of up to 4.7 Gbps, or about 10 times the speed of the current USB 2.0 standard. The technology is also called "SuperSpeed USB."

The spec's release comes amidst a background of unease among chipset makers about getting the host controller interface spec in time to develop their own USB 3.0 products. Some companies apparently were willing to band together and create their own host controller interface, fearing that Intel would delay releasing the spec in order to gain competitive advantage.

Those grumblings prompted a response from Intel in June that the spec would be released in the second half of this year. Even after that response was publicized, Nvidia confirmed its opinion that Intel had been delaying the release.

The release of the xHCI draft is just an initial step toward product release. USB 3.0 products may not appear on the market until late 2009 or 2010.

Intel expects to issue another revision to the spec, called xHCI draft revision 0.95, in the fourth quarter of this year under the same RAND-Z licensing.

The members of the USB 3.0 Promoter Group contributing their expertise to the project include a variety of hardware manufacturers and software providers. Members include AMD, HP, Intel, Microsoft, NEC, Nvidia, NXP Semiconductors, Texas Instruments and Via Technologies.

Microsoft worked with the USB spec from its beginnings, contributing drivers, according to Chuck Chan, Microsoft's general manager of Windows Core OS. The company is planning future development efforts using the new xHCI documentation.

"Microsoft intends to deliver Windows support for hardware that is compliant with the xHCI specification; this is a huge step forward in enabling the industry and our customers to easily connect SuperSpeed USB devices to their PCs for exciting new functionality and usages," Chan said, in a prepared statement.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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