This week marks a major milestone for the universal serial bus (USB) standard, which has just received its official 3.0 stamp of approval (PDF warning). The new standard is expected to be available in early 2010, and bring along a substantial speed boost.
According to official specifications, USB 3.0 will officially be known as SuperSpeed USB and carry with it a whopping bandwidth of 5 Gbps, which is roughly 1 CD’s worth of data (650 MB) per second. At this point, no hard drive that’s solid or otherwise can write or read at this rate, but it will certainly leave room for expansion. Some reports have indicated that SuperSpeed USB will operate at 4.8 Gbps, but the official specification calls for 5.0 Gbps.
The drawback with the USB standard is that it’s a host-based technology. This means that data transfer relies heavily on the host CPU to do all the processing. This is why we don’t see USB 2.0 (480 Mbps) exceed more than 50-percent of its total bandwidth — FireWire on the other hand comes a lot closer to its maximum bandwidth capacity. Because SuperSpeed USB is based on the same standards as USB 2.0, we can expect to see the same bandwidth drawbacks.
The new SuperSpeed USB will also be backwards compatible with older USB hardware, but you will still be required to use fully compliant SuperSpeed USB devices to achieve the highest throughput. Connectors will also be completely different, with the new SuperSpeed USB connector having more pin-outs and a different form factor — although we can expect new devices to contain both the old and new form factor.