Next-gen USB 3.0 controller to be faster, cheaper

— 11:16 AM on July 23, 2010

The adoption of USB 3.0 is surely being hampered by the fact that support for the new standard has yet to be brought to core-logic chipsets from AMD and Intel. That's left things open to other chip makers, and NEC has been quick to capitalize, garnering an impressive 90% of the market according to a report by Digitimes. Not that we should be surprised by that figure; every motherboard that's passed through our labs with a SuperSpeed USB port has used an NEC controller, for which there are few alternatives.

NEC could soon face much more competition, though. Intel is said to be working on a discrete USB 3.0 chip, and a trio of Taiwanese firms have designs that could start shipping as early as October. USB controllers from ASMedia (a subsidiary of Asus), Etron, and Via have yet to be certified by the standard's governing body, but the chips are expected to be priced aggressively.

To answer this new competition, NEC is reportedly planning to cut prices substantially for its first- and second-generation USB 3.0 controllers. A third-generation controller that promises faster performance and lower power consumption is slated to arrive in the first quarter of next year, and it could cost less than $2 per chip. Let's hope the promise of better performance is fueled by a faster PCIe interface. Current NEC designs use a single-lane PCI Express 2.0 link, which at 500MB/s, doesn't have quite enough bandwidth to saturate a single USB 3.0 connection, let alone the two supported by the chip.

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