Native USB3 Support From Intel Could Be 18 Months Away

USB 3 is one of the best standard updates the computer industry has come up with, but reports indicate Intel may not support the standard natively until 2012. That's particularly surprising since Intel designed much of the USB 3 standard—by all rights, Santa Clara should have been one of the first companies out the door, not one of the last.

While it's still only found on a relative handful of motherboards, it's impossible to the performance difference between it and USB 2, even under modest test conditions. One of the most useful features of USB 3, though it's not something we've seen vendors taking advantage of yet, is the fact that it allows external HDDs to run just as fast as they would if they were sitting inside the case.

Intel hasn't confirmed or denied rumors that its USB 3-enabled chipsets won't see the light of day until 2012. Motherboard vendors will continue to offer both USB 3 and SATA 6G via third-party controllers, though Intel's native SATA 6G chipsets are expected to arrive relatively soon. Our best guess for why Intel is delaying USB 3 is that it wants to prioritize its Light Peak interface, which it may launch as early as this year.

Intel demonstrating Light Peak's throughput potential

If you haven't heard of Light Peak, it's an optical interface Intel will debut at 10Gb/s (double USB3's 4.8Gb/s) and plans to scale as high as 100GB/s. Even the initial 10Gb/s is far more bandwidth than any single system can saturate, but Intel designed the standard hoping it will be "the last cable that you ever need."

Unlike USB 3, it'll be possibly to daisy-chain Light Peak devices and it'll be compatible with DisplayPort. Intel doesnt' see Light Peak as a direct USB 3 competitor but as a long-term, more broadly supported replacement. Given the momentum behind USB 3, Intel could have a spot of trouble building OEM support for Light Peak.