An updated USB 3.0 specification that promises to double theoretical maximum bandwidth is scheduled to arrive in mid–2013, the USB 3.0 Promoter Group announced Sunday. The improvements, thanks to revised hardware and more efficient data transfer methods, will double USB 3.0’s speed from 5 gigabits per second to 10 gigabits per second, rivaling the single-channel performance of Thunderbolt.
The news of faster USB speeds will be welcomed by those relying on external solid state or multi-disk hard drives, as some current high-end drives already saturate USB 3.0’s 5 Gb/s limit (equivalent to about 640 MB/s). For those not yet interested in faster speeds, the new technology will still be backwards compatible with older USB 3.0 and 2.0 devices and ports.
The new specification is expected to be finalized by mid-year, but devices taking advantage of it won’t hit the market until early 2014 at the earliest, with “much broader availability of products in 2015.”
The USB 3.0 Promoter Group, which announced the new specification, is composed of member companies in the technology field, including HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Texas Instruments, among others. Apple, which belatedly introduced USB 3.0 on its 2012 line of Macs, is not a member, although it pioneered Thunderbolt, an alternative high-speed interface.
Thunderbolt also offers maximum bandwidth of 10 Gb/s (about 1,280 MB/s) but is dual channel, allowing two transfers up to that speed to occur simultaneously between attached devices. However, the limited number of Thunderbolt-enabled computers and the complicated nature of Thunderbolt chipsets and cables have made the technology significantly more expensive than most other interface options. As a result, it is far less ubiquitous than the backwards compatible and cheaper USB 3.0 standard.
Users interested in the new USB 3.0 specification will need both updated computers and external devices to support it. New USB 3.0 devices will still work in the absence of both of these conditions, but they will operate at much slower USB 3.0 or 2.0 speeds depending on the exact configuration.
Cables, on the other hand, are another matter. Due to changes in the efficiency of the new specification, existing USB 3.0 cables may not work. “Existing SuperSpeed USB cables are not certified to operate at 10 Gbps; it is possible that some existing SuperSpeed USB cables may be capable of operating at 10 Gbps,” the group said.
Now that Apple has introduced USB 3.0 support, it is likely that the company will move to incorporate the faster USB specification once it is available, especially if Thunderbolt adoption continues to progress at a glacial pace.
Teaser graphic via Shutterstock.