Intel, AMD prep USB 3.0 chips for 2012

Intel, AMD prep USB 3.0 chips for 2012

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Official word on the AMD and Intel chips could come as early as March 9. That’s when the USB Implementers Forum holds a developers conference in Amsterdam and is expected to release news about USB 3.0.

Multiple sources said the chips have already appeared in an early form at plugfests hosted by the USB-IF where vendors conduct interoperability testing. One source said the Intel chips sets were implemented in FPGAs, and other sources said AMD is ahead with sample chips now in the process of getting certification.

Intel originally planned to sample chip sets supporting USB 3.0 in early 2010 but pushed out its plans, disappointing many companies banking on a fast uptake of the interface. USB 3.0 revs the 480 Mbit/s USB 2.0 spec up a theoretical maximum data rate of 5 GTransfers/second.

Both AMD and Intel declined to comment on the reports.

The emergence of PC chip sets supporting the USB 3.0 specification will seed a broad market for peripheral devices supporting the spec. To date the market has moved relatively slowly due to the need for separate discrete USB host controllers, an added cost that PC makers sometimes avoid.

To date, only two companies are shipping USB 3.0 host controllers certified by the USB IF. Renesas is by far the leader, shipping a two-port chip. Fresco Logic is shipping a single-port host and has a dual-port host in the certification process.

"Last year was limited to high-end PC models and adapter cards," said a spokesman for Renesas. "We are seeing a big uptick in number of models [using USB 3.0] this year," he said.

A spokesman for Fresco Logic said the company has shipped about one million of its single-port USB 3.0 hosts. It hopes sales rise tenfold this year, in part due to the expected release of its dual-port chip.

At least four other companies are working on USB 3.0 host controllers including Texas Instruments and three Taiwan companies—Etron, Via and AS Media, a spinoff of AsusTek. TI has a four-port chip that could pass certification testing as early as this week and ship in April, said a TI spokesman.

The market for USB 3.0 host controllers is expected to decline significantly when the AMD and Intel integrated parts emerge. About 10-20 percent of PCs this year will support USB 3.0 with discrete controllers, and 2012 will be a transition year as AMD and Intel phase in their chip sets leading to USB 3.0 support in as many as 90 percent of all systems in 2013, the TI spokesman said.

The rise of PCs with native USB 3.0 jump starts the market for peripheral chips. For its part, Fresco is already preparing a family of at least four USB 3.0 peripheral chips, one of which it hopes to ship this year.

Once the AMD and Intel chips ship, host makers will turn much of their attention to embedded systems where volumes are significant but lower.

About 10 million USB 3.0 chips shipped in 2010, according to a report from market watcher In-Stat. It expects volumes will leap to 1.7 billion devices by 2014. In September the USB-IF announced it had certified 120 USB 3.0 products, including motherboards, notebooks and external hard drives.

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