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USB 3.0 To Deliver a Tenfold Speed Increase

Tighten your seat belts. Data transfer is going into overdrive as the ubiquitous Universal Serial Bus, better known as USB, prepares to make a tenfold jump in speed.

At a glance:USB 3.0
Faster: Ten times faster than USB 2.0 and six times faster than FireWire 800

Greater power efficiency: New interrupt driven protocol optimizes power management.

Better Power Output: Power output bump to 900 milliamps from 100 milliamps allows more devices to be charged faster via USB.

Backward Compatible: New Connectors and cables will work with work with devices running the older USB 2.0

That means the vast sea of USB devices -- from HD camcorders to hard drives and music players -- will be able to transfer music, video, photos and other data much, much more quickly.

The new standard, the first update to the USB specification in eight years, will also deliver greater power efficiency and the ability to recharge a wider variety of gadgets -- and it will most likely mean the death of the competing standard known as FireWire.

To get a sense of the speed increase, consider this: Transferring high-definition video of 27 GB, the amount on a standard Blu-Ray disc, takes about 10 minutes with the current USB 2.0 standard. With USB 3.0, it will take just about a minute.

"What the user will see is really a much faster response time, less waiting, more productivity," says Patrick Moorhead, vice president of advanced marketing at AMD, one of the supporters of the USB 3.0 standard.

The USB Implementers Forum, a non-profit group founded by companies to promote the standard, will announce Monday the final set of specs that will clear the way for the adoption of USB 3.0 by device and component manufacturers. It's the first major update to USB technology in nearly eight years.

"USB 3.0 will take USB 2.0 to the next level and take away performance as an issue for data transfer in many devices," says Brian O'Rourke, an analyst with research firm In-Stat. "USB 3.0 will make it even more pervasive across devices than it is today."

Since the USB specification was first introduced in 1996, it has changed the way we interact with our computers. USB has allowed everything from keyboards, mouse, PDAs, printers, digital cameras and personal media players -- pretty much the entire spectrum of consumer electronics -- to be connected to a host PC using a single standardized socket.

It has also made the process truly plug-and-play. Devices can be connected and disconnected without having to reboot the host computer and offered perks such as allowing for many devices to be charged using the USB socket with no need for individual device drivers to be installed first.

Not surprisingly, USB's ease of use and capabilities has meant it has become nearly ubiquitous. More than 2.6 billion USB-enabled devices were shipped in 2007, estimates research firm In-Stat.

And USB's star will continue to rise, says the firm. Nearly four billion USB-enabled devices are expected to ship by 2012. Its ubiquity has meant that some manufacturers use USB ports and plug for recharging devices such as bluetooth headsets and phones without utilizing its data-transfer capabilities.

But USB 2.0 is getting a bit long in the tooth, with its slow speed, inefficient power usage and relatively small wattage. The new standard takes aim at all of those shortcomings.

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