Intel demos USB 3.0 at 4.8 Gbps. Wow.

Not sure if this will play out in commercial production, but Intel demoed USB 3.0 at the Intel Developer Forum last week.

There is good coverage of the event and the specification here on CNET.

Intel is working fellow USB 3.0 Promoters Group members Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Texas Instruments, NEC and NXP Semiconductors to release the USB 3.0 specification in the first half of 2008, said Pat Gelsinger, general manager of Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group, in a speech here at the Intel Developer Forum.

In an interview after the speech, Gelsinger said there’s typically a one- to two-year lag between the release of the specification and the availability of the technology, so USB 3.0 products should likely arrive in 2009 or 2010. A prototype shown at the speech is working now, and USB 3.0 will have optical and copper connections “from day one,” he added.

The current USB 2.0 version has a top data-transfer rate of 480 megabits per second, so a tenfold increase would be 4.8 gigabits per second. Many devices don’t need that much capacity, but some can use more, including hard drives, flash card readers and optical drives such as DVD, Blu-ray and HD DVD. The fastest flash card readers today use IEEE 1394 “FireWire” connections that top out at 800 megabits per second.

In addition, USB 3.0 will offer greater energy efficiency, Gelsinger said. It will be backward compatible, so current USB 2.0 devices will be able to plug into USB 3.0 ports.

It took me a while to trust USB 2.0 for high speed peripherals like hard drives (versus IEEE 1394 Firewire), but my recent 500GB USB 2.0 external drives have converted me.  The key is to keep them on a dedicated bus, so that USB 1.x devices don’t slow them down.

At 4.8Gbps, I’ve got to wonder whether or not 10G Ethernet will be available in the home in 2 years.  If not, I could see actually preferring USB 3.0 to either eSATA or GigE for my multi-terabyte NAS.

We’ll see.  A lot can happen in 2+ years.