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USB 3.0 SuperSpeed gone wild at CES 2010, trumps even your new SSD

Tim Stevens

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Just in case you didn't notice the arrow, that's a USB 3.0 cable up there, plugged into a USB 3.0 port, running in a Fujitsu laptop that is the first to pack integrated support for USB 3.0. How fast was it? On the other end of this one was a Buffalo external enclosure stuffed with an old-fashioned, platter-based hard disk, which still delivered perfectly absurd transfer rates of about 135MB/sec. When another, similar setup ran with an Intel SSD what happened the results were even more impressive: a few ticks over 200MB/sec. Yes, we're about to enter another dimension. A time when external drives are as fast as internal ones. Where the speed at which you can fill up your MP3 player is limited only by the speed of the storage on that device itself. You are about to enter... the SuperSpeed zone.

Gallery: USB 3.0 displays at CES 2010 | 38 Photos

If you're unfamiliar with USB 3.0 we can't really blame you. Surely you know it's going to be faster than 2.0, but there's been plenty of confusion and dismay surrounding the standard's long and arduous trip to ratification, so here's a quick refresher. The first confusing thing? It's also called SuperSpeed, and the vibe we're getting is that the 3.0 moniker is going to be downplayed quite a bit once this tech starts to go mainstream. Given the new name and the notably chubbier cables it's easy to think that perhaps this new standard isn't backwards compatible, but fear not: It'll to work just fine with older cables and devices, so you can plug that scratched-up thumb drive into a SuperSpeed port if you like -- just don't expect any speed improvement.

That said, your chances of actually plugging something in to one of those ports are still fairly slim at this point. While more and more motherboards are showing up with the technology, with Gigabyte seemingly having the broadest support right now, most feature just a few blue-colored USB 3.0 ports next to the usual expansive stack of 2.0 openings. The controllers we looked at from companies like NEC typically provided just two and, given that we're expecting those controllers are considerably more expensive than 2.0 ones right now, manufacturers aren't generally opting to replace all the old-school ports wholesale just yet.

That's partly thanks to a competing standard: Light Peak, which has been championed by Intel and Apple quite strongly, leading neither of the two to throw their support behind USB 3.0. Indeed Microsoft hasn't yet either, and the story we got from representatives at MCCI is that it probably won't until Windows 8. Who is MCCI? Well, among other things it makes foundational elements of USB 3.0 drivers, meaning that lack of support is somewhat good for them. Overall, though, it's not exactly good news for the standard

Again, we saw multiple benchmarks showing that SuperSpeed can easily pass more than enough data to max out whatever was tethered to it. There was plenty of bandwidth for uncompressed 1080p60 video, and DisplayLink showed off a USB 3.0 external display adapter that easily enabled the streaming of 1080p video over USB before being converted into an HDMI signal. Do you need enough bandwidth to be able to completely fill a 32GB PMP in less than two minutes? Heck yeah you do, and given the choice between doing it with a backwards-compatible port like this or instead shifting everything over to a completely new one, we know which we'd prefer.

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