The new USB 3.1 SuperSpeed specification has been finalised by the USB Promoter Group, allowing manufacturers to begin building devices that can communicate at a blistering 10Gb/s.
First announced by the USB Promoter Group earlier this year
, the new USB SuperSpeed standard has been given its official designation - USB 3.1 - and doubles the possible throughput of a USB connection from 5Gb/s to 10GB/s. As you might expect from a USB standard, backwards compatibility is also confirmed for previous USB devices - which will, naturally, run at their usual, slower speed even when connected to a USB 3.1 port.
'The USB 3.1 specification primarily extends existing USB 3.0 protocol and hub operation for speed scaling along with defining the next higher physical layer speed as 10Gbps,
' explained Brad Saunders, USB 3.0 Promoter Group chair, at the announcement earlier this week. 'The specification team worked hard to make sure that the changes made to support higher speeds were limited and remained consistent with existing USB 3.0 architecture to ease product development.
The move to push 10Gb/s through USB connections is believed to have been a response to the threat of Thunderbolt technology developed by Apple and Intel. First seen on Apple's own products, and now trickling out into the mainstream PC world, Thunderbolt offered 10Gb/s - but shortly after the USB Promoter Group announced that USB would match that speed, Intel announced the Falcon Ridge controller
which doubles Thunderbolt's throughput to 20Gb/s.
In both cases, the peak performance is theoretical: actual real-world transfer rates will depend on cable quality and length, chipset and bus limitations and a myriad of other factors. Nevertheless, both provide the potential for vastly improved transfer rates when paired with suitable hardware.
Therein lies the rub, of course: with the USB 3.1 standard requiring hardware modifications, no existing USB 3.0 devices can be upgraded to the new standard using a simple firmware replacement. Instead, those who need the extra performance are going to have to wait for vendors to roll out the new standard in their devices - with Intel, AMD and Texas Instruments all confirming their support at the event.