Intel's USB 3 Work: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

According to Intel, it gets no respect. The company has spent "gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours" on co-developing the new USB 3.0 spec and the commensurate USB 3.0 Intel host controller spec; yet Intel is perceived as wanting to keep USB 3.0 all to itself. At least that's the story that Nick Knupffer, blogger and Global Communications Manager for Intel, tells on Intel's Technology blog. 

Knupffer chose to use the Intel Technology blog as an opportunity for dispelling a number of rumors swirling around the development of the USB 3.0 spec. First up was the rumor that Intel is creating the USB 3.0 spec on its own: 

"USB 3.0 is not an Intel specification; it is being developed by the USB 3.0 Promoter Group (HP, Intel, MSFT, NEC, NXP, and TI). The USB 3.0 Promoters issued a call for contributors in November 2007 and since then the USB 3.0 Promoter Group has been joined by over 180 USB 3.0 Contributor companies (Including other chipset makers such as AMD and Nvidia) who are helping to finalize the USB 3.0 specification. This spec is expected to be made publicly available by the USB 3.0 Promoter Group along with an adopter agreement early in the second half of 2008. (Very soon)"

Knupffer goes on to distinguish the difference between the USB 3.0 spec and the Intel host controller spec:

"Think of the host controller spec as a 'Dummies Guide' to building a USB 3.0 compatible piece of silicon; it is NOT the USB 3.0 specification itself."

"Intel plans to make this spec available early in second half of 2008 with a no-royalty licensing obligation (Basically: free, gratis, unpaid, zero dollars, free of charge, at no cost, on the house). This isn't only because we are just nice guys, but it is also because Intel has set the bar for technology leadership and industry stewardship. It is Intel's stewardship that has lead to USB being the most successful interface in the history of computing. + We at Intel love it when available processor performance is used to the max."

We're not quite sure if we completely buy Intel's claims that it is not working alone on USB 3.0. While it is technically a true statement, it doesn't accurately represent the whole picture: Intel is part of a group of companies that is developing the new spec… But Intel is working alone on the host controller spec… And the host controller spec is essentially the instruction manual for making controller chips for USB 3.0 communications… And manufacturers are waiting for Intel's host controller spec to start developing USB 3.0 controller chips. This is a bit of a slippery slope if you ask us.

The second rumor Knupffer tries to dispel is that "Intel is holding back the specification, and not sharing with the industry." Knupffer explains:

"One danger however of distributing an unfinished spec is the risk of incompatible hardware down the line, leading to a right mess. As an Intel specification Intel has the responsibility to insure that specifications we deliver to the industry are fully developed and mature enough for others to use. The Intel host controller spec is expected to be unveiled to the industry as soon as possible, in the second half of the year. The impatience of our fellow chipset-makers (as described in the press) to leverage Intel's investment and begin to design great USB 3.0 supporting devices of their own is however very encouraging and should aid a fast USB 3.0 adoption ramp."

We're actually going to side with Intel on this one. We'd rather wait longer for something to be done right, as opposed to having it sooner, but half, er, baked. Of course, if Intel was working with engineers from other companies, perhaps the processes could have been sped up... Or perhaps bogged down even more with too many cooks in the kitchen.

The last rumor Knupffer addresses is "that USB 3.0 borrows technology heavily from the PCI Special Interests group." Knupffer denies this, but then goes on to say how Intel has been a major contributor to both the PCI-SIG and USB Promoter groups for many years--essentially implying that there very well may be some significant technology similarities after all. 

USB 3.0, which will also be called SuperSpeed USB, will be backward compatible with current USB devices, and will support transfer speeds of up to 4.8Gb/sec (600MB/Sec)--which is ten times faster than Hi-Speed USB (USB 2.0).

At the end of day, as consumers, all we really care about is getting reliable, interoperable USB 3.0 products to market sooner than later. So our message to Intel is to stop worrying about what the other kids are saying about you, and get back to writing that "Dummies Guide."
Tags:  Intel, USB, Work, USB 3, NPU, K