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USB 3.1 set to reach desktops

The emerging USB 3.1 standard is set to reach desktops as hardware companies release motherboards with ports that can transfer data two times faster than the previous USB technology.

MSI on Wednesday announced a 970A SLI Krait motherboard that will support the AMD processors and the USB 3.1 protocol. Motherboards with USB 3.1 ports have also been released by Gigabyte, ASRock and Asus, but those boards support Intel chips.

USB 3.1 can shuffle data between a host device and peripheral at 10Gbps (bits per second), which is two times faster than USB 3.0. USB 3.1 is also generating excitement for the reversible Type-C cable, which is the same on both ends so users don’t have to worry about plug orientation.

The motherboards with USB 3.1 technology are targeted at high-end desktops. Some enthusiasts like gamers seek the latest and greatest technologies and build desktops with motherboards sold by MSI, Asus and Gigabyte. Many of the new desktop motherboards announced have the Type-C port interface, which is also in recently announced laptops from Apple and Google.

New technologies like USB 3.1 usually first appear in high-end laptops and desktops, then make their way down to low-priced PCs, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst of Mercury Research.

PC makers are expected to start putting USB 3.1 ports in more laptops and desktops starting later this year.

The need for faster access to external storage could make the motherboards with USB 3.1 attractive to enthusiasts, McCarron said.

Some storage peripherals with Type-C connectors are becoming available, but can’t reach full USB 3.1 speeds yet. However, the data transfer speeds will continue to improve as controllers are refined.

Enthusiasts won’t buy new motherboards just for USB 3.1, but they’ll factor in other reasons like processor upgrades, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

The new MSI 970A SLI Krait motherboard supports the latest AMD CPU and multiple graphics processors. The USB 3.1 ports will just be icing on the cake, Brookwood said.

But buyers will have to watch the type of USB 3.1 ports they are getting in the new motherboards. The new MSI motherboard has larger USB 3.1 Type-A ports, which are similar in size to the current USB 3.0 ports in PCs. The larger connectors will ensure existing USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 peripherals plug into desktops, but won’t deliver the blazing fast speeds of USB 3.1.

McCarron said that most of the peripherals and PCs will come with the Type-C connectors. Cables will become available so PCs with USB 3.1 Type-A connectors can connect to peripherals with Type-C connectors.

The price for MSI’s 970A SLI Krait motherboard wasn’t immediately available.

Source: PC Mag

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USB-C vs. USB 3.1: What’s the difference?

With the launch of the Apple MacBook and Google’s Chromebook Pixel, USB-C (also called USB Type-C) and the accompanying USB 3.1 standard are both hitting market somewhat earlier than we initially expected. If you’re curious about the two standards and how they interact, we’ve dusted off and updated our guide to the upcoming technology. The situation is more nuanced than it’s been with previous USB standard updates — USB 3.1 and USB Type-C connectors may be arriving together on the new machines, but they aren’t joined at the hip the way you might think.

USB Type-C: Fixing an age-old problem

The near-universal frustration over attempts to connect USB devices to computers has been a staple of nerd humor and lampooned in various ways until Intel finally found a way to take the joke quantum.

USB Type-C promises to solve this problem with a universal connector that’s also capableof twice the theoretical throughput of USB 3.0 and can provide far more power. That’s why Apple is pairing up Type-C and USB 3.1 to eliminate the power connector on the MacBook. It’s a goal we agree with, even if we’re less thrilled with the company’s decision to dump USB ports altogether with that single exception. Google’s approach, in providing two USB-C and two regular USB 3.0 ports, is obviously preferable, even though it adds a bit of bulk to the machine.

Type-C connectors will be shipped in a variety of passive adapters (an earlier version of this story erroneously asserted that such cables would not be available, Extremetech regrets the error). The spec provides for passive adapters with USB 3.0 / 3.1 on one end and USB Type-C on the other.

USB-C, USB 3.1 not always hooked together

The Type-C plug can be used with previous standards of USB, which means manufacturers don’t automatically have to adopt expensive 3.1 hardware if they want to include it in mobile devices. Apple, to be clear, is offering USB 3.1 on the new MacBook, though the company hasn’t disclosed which third party vendor is providing the actual chipset support.

The disconnect between USB 3.1’s performance standard and the USB Type-C connector is going to inevitably cause confusion. One reason the shift from USB 2.0 to 3.0 was relatively painless is because coloring both the cables and plugs bright blue made it impossible to mistake one type of port for the other.

The upside to decoupling USB 3.1 from USB-C, however, is that companies can deploy the technology on mobile phones and tablets without needing to opt for interfaces that inevitably consume more power. Then again, some might argue that this would be a moot point — the USB controller can be powered down when it isn’t active, and when it is active, the device should be drawing power off the PC or charging port anyway. Heat dissipation could theoretically remain a concern — higher bandwidth inevitably means higher heat, and in devices built to 3-4W specifications, every tenth of a watt matters.

If I had to bet, I’d bet that the 100W power envelope on USB 3.1 will actually be of more practical value than the 10Gbps bandwidth capability. While it’s true that USB 3.1 will give external SSD enclosures more room to stretch their legs, the existing standard still allows conventional mechanical drives to run at full speed, while SSDs can hit about 80% of peak performance for desktop workloads. It might not be quite as good, but it’s a far cry from the days when using USB 2.0 for an external hard drive was achingly slow compared to SATA. Signal overhead is also expected to drop significantly, thanks to a switch to a 128-bit and 132-bit encoding scheme, similar to that used in PCI-Express 3.0.

The ability to provide 100W of power, as opposed to 10W, however, means that nearly every manufacturers could ditch clunky power bricks. There would still be concern about ensuring that connect points were sufficiently reinforced, but provided such concerns can be accounted for, the vast majority of laptops could switch over to the new standard. Hard drives and other external peripherals could all be powered by single wires, as could USB hubs for multiple devices.

The higher bandwidth is nice, and a major selling point, but the flippable connector and the power provisioning will likely make more difference in the day-to-day reality of life. As for competition with Intel’s Thunderbolt, USB 3.1 will continue to lag Intel’s high-speed standard, but as bandwidth rises this gap becomes increasingly academic. At this point, it’s the features USB doesn’t allow, like RAID and TRIM, that matter more than the raw bandwidth does in most cases.

Apple’s MacBook will be first out the door with USB 3.1 and USB-C support, with vendors scurrying to match the company on both counts. LaCie has announced a new revision of its Porsche Design Mobile Drive that takes advantage of the Type-C connector, but only offers USB 3.0. It’s going to take time for the 3.1 spec to really show up on peripheral devices, even those that adopt the USB-C cable. Motherboard support outside the Apple MacBook is probably 4-5 months away, though the first peripheral cables should be available well before that point.

Source: Extreme Tech

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10 Gbps USB 3.1 specification completed

10 Gbps USB transfer speeds are a step closer following completion of the new specification by the USB 3.0 Promoter Group.

First floated back in January and now going under the moniker of SuperSpeed USB 3.1, the specification promises a doubling of throughput performance compared to USB 3.0.

“The USB 3.1 specification primarily extends existing USB 3.0 protocol and hub operation for speed scaling along with defining the next higher physical layer speed as 10 Gbps,” says Brad Saunders, USB 3.0 Promoter Group Chairman.

The announcement enables vendors to begin the work of incorporating support for USB 3.1 into their chip designs and while there is no definite time-frame for the arrival of USB 3.1, it’s expected that these devices will start appearing on the market late in 2014.

While the predicted USB 3.1 transfer speed matches existing Thunderbolt technology at 10 Gbps, Thunderbolt has four lanes, so connect four Thunderbolt devices and technically you’re capable of transferring data at a rate of 40 Gbps.

Thunderbolt2 is also on the way with Intel recently announcing that it will become available by the end of the year with transfer speeds of up to 20 Gbps.

One definite advantage that USB has over its rival is that its use is far more widespread, and the boost in speed will certainly be welcomed by consumers. Whatever way you look at it, the future looks bright for transfer speed demons.

Source: USB 3.0 Promoter Group

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USB 3.0 vs. USB 2.0: How much faster is it?

This year, USB 3.0 hard drives and other gadgets are finally hitting stores. You can buy them — they’re real! They cost a little bit more up front, but the marketing speak promises data transfer speeds 10 times faster than the old USB 2.0 standard that you’ve been using for the past 10 years.

Is USB 3.0 really that much faster? And even if it’s not, is it fast enough to justify the slight premium? Experts have already tested it. Here’s what they discovered.

“10 times faster” on paper

USB 3.0 is capable of transfer speeds of up to 5Gbps (gigabits per second); that’s a little over 10 times faster than USB 2.0’s 480Mbps (1,000Mbps equals 1Gbps). In practice, it won’t always be this much faster — mileage may vary depending on hardware configuration — but it will always be much faster than USB 2.0

The New York Times decided to test this “10 times faster” line, so it used brand new USB 3.0 hard drives and a desktop computer with an ideal configuration for transferring data over a USB 3.0 cable. In the test, writer Rik Fairlie copied a folder containing 10GB of files. He did this once over USB 2.0 and once over USB 3.0. The USB 3.0 connection took 6 minutes, 31 seconds, and the USB 2.0 connection took 22 minutes, 14 seconds. That’s still a dramatic improvement (USB 3.0 was about 3.5 times faster), but it doesn’t live up to the marketing hype.

Other real-world tests have produced similar results — 23 seconds for 500 photos on 3.0, 1 minute and 12 seconds on 2.0 from Amazon, for example. TweakTown clocked the actual speed at 2.8Gbps. That’s still mighty impressive. USB 3.0 is significantly faster than its predecessor; it’s the difference between 20 miles per hour on a side street and 70 on the highway. It’ll get you where you need to go much more quickly.

More than speed alone

In addition to the speed gains, USB 3.0 is a step forward in other ways. USB 3.0 allows simultaneous reading and writing between two connected devices. That wasn’t possible on most older 2.0 gadgets and computers, where the information had to take turns (even if those waits were too fast for the human eye to notice).

Furthermore, eco-conscious consumers should be pleased to know that USB 3.0 consumes far less power. Environmental considerations aside, that means better battery life for all devices that use USB 3.0 technology.

Hardware support required

All this talk of speed is moot if you don’t have a computer that supports this new technology, and very few do at this point. The first devices that were certified for USB 3.0 were introduced just over a year ago, and they’re only just now arriving in stores. That holds for computers just as it does for hard drives and other peripherals.

Thus, if you’re in the market for an external hard drive for your laptop, both the hard drive and the laptop have to support USB 3.0 in order for you to take advantage of the speed it offers, which means they both have to be very new. And not even all new computers and hard drives support USB 3.0, so make sure you take a close look at the specifications for the hardware you plan to buy.

USB 3.0 devices also work with 2.0 partners, but only at 2.0 speed. If you buy that 3.0 hard drive but still have a 2.0 laptop, you’ll be able to use it; you’ll just pay more money for performance advantages you can’t yet enjoy. The same rule applies if you have a 2.0 hard drive and a 3.0 laptop. Your connection is only as fast as the slowest component, whatever that may be.

Competing file transfer standards do exist. For example, Apple and Intel are both backing another super-fast connection called Thunderbolt (formerly Light Peak). The industry is split on which one will ultimately inherit USB 2.0’s throne (or indeed, if either one of them will), so caveat emptor.

Source: Yahoo news