First USB 3.0 product gets certified, floodgates get closer to breaking

You heard it here first, folks: SuperSpeed USB is a reality. After waiting around for what feels like ages, USB 3.0 can now say it has its first certified product in NEC's xHCI host controller. We know this may not be the most exciting first product to get the all-important seal of approval, but you've got to start somewhere. And hey, for those who know a thing or two about building a product to spec, having a legitimate host controller could sure come in handy. We spoke to Jeff Ravencraft, president and chairman of the USB-IF (the group that oversees certification and the like), and he stated that (officially) the group is still anticipating end products to hit shelves in early 2010. That said, this here host controller is available now in the open market, and he did confess that a number of manufacturers would likely try to get USB 3.0-equipped wares onto store shelves before that magical day in December.

He also noted that a smattering of companies would be showcasing USB 3.0 gear at upcoming trade shows, with a Buffalo external hard drive, an ExpressCard-to-USB 3.0 adapter and even a full-on laptop with a functioning USB 3.0 port making a stop at IDF later this week. Aside from the aforesaid ExpressCard adapter -- which will let existing lappies enjoy the spoils of SuperSpeed USB -- he also noted that a PCI card would be available for desktop users looking to add a few sockets to their rig. We were also informed that USB 3.0 receptor ports will play nice with USB 2.0 cables and gadgets, albeit at USB 2.0 speed; additionally, USB 3.0 wares will be able to connect via older USB 2.0 sockets, though again at a slower rate. We've got to say, the dual-backwards compatibility is pretty sweet.

We also asked him about cabling and the general market transition to USB 3.0, and he did note that USB 3.0 cables will be physically different inside. In other words, a USB 2.0 cable cannot carry data at USB 3.0 speeds, end of story. To enjoy USB 3.0, you'll need a USB 3.0 receptor port, a USB 3.0 cable and a USB 3.0 product; if you swap any of those pieces with USB 2.0, everything slows to USB 2.0 rates. Jeff also noted that the USB-IF would be coordinating the release of end products and cables, and he even said that older USB protocols may actually never completely fade from the market. After all, wireless keyboards would never need USB 3.0 speeds unless some sort of display were integrated, and particularly in cheaper products, using an older USB chipset could help keep costs down and MSRPs lower. So yeah, USB 3.0 is officially here, but the public can't play with any USB 3.0 gear just yet. But if our hunches are correct, we'd bet on at least one or two big players pushing out SuperSpeed-packin' wares before the year ends.