Business, Hardware

AMD Beats Intel by a Year in the USB 3.0 Wars

This week a lot of media have reported that AMD announced formally and officially that their A75 and A70M Fusion Controller Hubs (FCH) are the first certified USB 3.0 chipsets in the world. This alone is not really news, as the chipsets have been in the certification list for weeks, so it’s mere reiteration of a known fact. The real fun begins when looking at the slides of a track about USB 3.0 on Intel’s IDF held in Bejing in the past week.

AMD Certifies USB 3.0 Chipset on IDF Beijing 2011
AMD Certifies USB 3.0 Chipset on IDF Beijing 2011

Not only does Intel unequivocally state that USB 3.0 is needed and important for the ever growing amounts of data (e.g. HD movies) and capacity of external storage media. No they even have the guts to tout their main competitor AMD to be the first to market with a USB 3.0 capable chipset. Their compilation also highlight other major achievements of other companies regarding USB 3.0 capable products.

List of Certified SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.0) Manufacturers
List of Certified SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.0) Manufacturers

It gets even better. The next slides contain logos of all companies having one or more products featuring USB 3.0 in their portfolios. The compilation features most major PC makers and component vendors. The one company glaringly absent? You guessed right, it is Intel itself. Intel continues to highlight other milestones, like how many products featuring USB 3.0 in the PC space are already available since 2010. According to Intel, Renesas has shipped more than 20 million USB 3.0 host controllers in 2010 and projects to sell more than 60 million in 2011. At a cost of six dollars per piece, Renesans achieved a revenue of up to 120 million U.S. dollars, expanding up to $360 million during this calendar year. That’s basically additional chipset revenue down the drain for Intel.

Worldwide Shipment of USB-enabled devices - almost 4 billion USB devices shipped in 2010
Worldwide Shipment of USB-enabled devices reached almost 4 billion in 2010

Intel continues to line out that USB 3.0 will really get off ground only in 2012 and 2013. Coincidentally, this is when Intel has finally added USB 3.0 support to its chipsets. For 2012 they plan to release the "7 series" chipset codenamed Panther Point paired with the tock-step CPU Ivy Bridge featured on the 22nm. To be fair, AMDs upcoming "9 series" desktop chipsets for their high-end offerings lack USB 3.0. The same can be said about Intels X79 enthusiast chipset sheduled for later this year.

Back on Computex Taipei 2008, AMD and nVidia went on record to attack Intel for deliberately delaying the introduction of USB 3.0 by withholding the electrical specification from other USB-IF members. This was supposedly done in a bid to strengthen the position of its back then under development Light Peak technology (now dubbed Thunderbolt) and prevent other chipset competitors to develop Light Peak as well. However, Light Peak got the light part removed and now serves as a copper-based meta-interface that can host other connectivity technologies (such as PCIe, DisplayPort) – including USB 3.0. AMD and nVidia sat down together and agreed to create an Open USB 3.0 Host Controller which prompt Intel to go back to the table and resolve the situation. nVidia withdrew from the chipset business due to litigation with Intel, which ended in Intel paying nVidia 1.5 billion U.S. Dollars in a settlement / cross-licensing deal.

Sadly, it looks like Intel did not learn the lesson with WiMAX, their heavily-backed failed communications standard. The company banged on the WiMAX drum for years and heavily invested in the standard, without actually implementing the standard in their products. Result was familiar: unlike the original Centrino platform,
which created the Wi-Fi world we all know and love (Thank You), tactics deployed during WiMAX heyday only brought the standard to its knees, overtaken today even by 3G+. Yes, we treat HSPA and HSPA+ as 3G standards, regardless of what T-Mobile thinks.