USB breaks speed barriers
October 19, 1999
October 19, 1999
by David Essex
(IDG) -- By this time next year, Universal Serial Bus ports and peripherals could be 40 times faster than current hardware -- if a standard proposed this week lives up to its billing.
USB 2.0's "target speed" of 480 megabits per second will make the fast-emerging Plug-and-Play standard a viable connection for video cameras and other high-speed devices that currently must use 1394 (or 'FireWire') ports, analysts and USB supporters say.
Ports supporting the current USB 1.1 have become commonplace on new PCs, and dozens of USB peripherals -- mostly scanners and printers that run fine at the slower 12-mbps speed -- have come out in the past year.
But the road has been rocky. Adequate operating system support did not arrive until the 1998 release of Windows 98, and Windows NT still does not come with USB drivers. Quirky PC circuitry and a lack of standards compliance (and thus interoperability) among products have also made USB harder to use.
But promoters of the new standard -- including such heavyweights as Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Microsoft -- hope to remedy that with stricter enforcement, says Anne Bui, a research analyst at IDC. "They recognize the mistakes they made with the 1.1 version," Bui says.
Feel the speed
USB 2.0 will give birth in the second half of next year to a new generation of high-speed peripherals with broadband Internet links, higher resolutions, and faster performance, the USB 2.0 Promoter Group claims.
That means consumers will be able to download a "roll" of film into a digital camera in seconds rather than minutes, and the time required for backups to USB hard drives will drop from a half hour to a minute. You'll be able to connect USB 2.0 hardware to 1.1 devices, but both devices will need USB 2.0 to get the higher speeds.
USB 2.0 will be about 10 percent faster than the competing Firewire until the next 1394 standard arrives early next year, says Rob Enderle, an analyst at GIGA Information Group. Still, it's cheaper for hardware makers to support one standard, and 1394's main champions, Apple and Sony, lack the clout of USB's backers.
Enderle predicts most vendors will pick USB 2.0. "It expands the capacity of USB so that you can use broadband devices, which was the whole reason for 1394 to exist."
In a statement posted at its Web site, however, the USB organization says the two technologies are complementary, with 1394 likely to continue as the dominant connector for audio-visual consumer equipment.
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