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Comdex: Give me your big fat pipe

Second generation USB is now fully in charge

USB 2.0 rules Comdex, and seems to have walked the race with FireWire to become the de facto connectivity standard.

Those following the recent coverage of USB 2.0, the successor to USB 1.1, would be forgiven for thinking a hard battle lay ahead against the established rival FireWire (IEEE 1394) protocol. But a quick stroll around the booths here at Comdex reveals that, if anything, the fight is over, with USB 2.0 the clear victor.

World plus dog, it would seem, is touting a USB 2.0 device at Comdex, with big names such as Sony, Adaptec and Plextor showing their support for the interface.

This may come as a surprise, especially given the long and troubled introduction of the initial USB specification. Although more than adequate for printing and scanning, when it came to bandwidth-hungry applications like storage and video, USB 1.1 just couldn't cut the mustard.

Although the standard eventually gained universal acceptance, its critics still highlighted its sluggish 12Mbps (megabits per second) transfer speed compared to FireWire's 400Mbps maximum.

Version 2.0 levels the field, offering a hefty theoretical maximum 480Mbps of bandwidth. According to the USB-IF (USB implementers forum), this means you burn a CD six times faster (three minutes 57 seconds versus USB 1.1's 26 minutes 57 seconds) and get full-motion 30fps (frames per second) video where 1.1 could only mange 20fps.

To avoid confusion over what is and what is not capable of the increased speed, only devices that have been confirmed by the USB-IF as compliant are allowed to use the new high-speed logo (pictured).

USB 2.0 also has the inherent advantage of the huge installed base of USB 1.1. As the protocol is backwards-compatible, a 2.0 device can be used on a 1.1 host system, albeit at a slower speed, and vice versa.

Microsoft might have given an indirect nod of approval to FireWire by including native support in XP while omitting USB 2.0, but the industry seems to have embraced it with open arms making its future all but guaranteed. And now Microsoft is almost certainly going to offer drivers to update XP.


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