Microsoft is integrating a software stack into the Windows 8 to provide a native support for USB 3.0 devices, which is likely a response to Intel’s Thunderbolt. USB 3.0 is a direct successor to USB 2.0 and promises ten times faster data transfer between PCs and external devices such as storage devices and cameras. USB 2.0 ports are now available on desktops and laptops, while USB 3.0 ports are offered as option. At this moment, Windows 7 doesn’t natively support USB 3.0 but drivers are available for the OS. The wide usage of previous USB versions and the growing support for USB 3.0 are compelling reasons for the integration of the USB 3.0 software stack in Windows 8. By 2015, analysts expect that all new devices will have native USB 3.0 support. But because there only a few of USB 3.0 devices on the market, Microsoft needs to build and simulate virtual USB 3.0 devices, hubs and ports.
Supports for USB 3.0 grow steadily and Intel will integrate USB 3.0 support for its future chipsets, which will be used for a CPU family called Ivy Bridge. AMD’s Fusion chipset already support USB 3.0 and motherboards based on the chipset are already widely available today. USB 3.0 can transfer up to 5Gbps, which is somewhat slower than the competing Intel’s solution, the Thunderbolt. Intel promises that its technology will allow 10Gbps data transfer between computers with external devices such as portable storage and monitor. Although people view Thunderbolt as a competitor to USB 3.0 standard, Intel claims that its technology is only intended as complementary, Apple will use Thunderbolt for its future products. Thunderbolt also supports DisplayPort and PCI Express protocols and it has minimal software requirements.
Despite the slower performance, experts still believe that the USB technology will still become the predominant interface for data transfers, because many manufacturers and users already tied heavily to the standard. It’s quite possible that Thunderbolt will join Firewire and IEEE 1394 as optional peripheral solutions. At this moment, Thunderbolt is developed based on copper wires, but eventually the next improvement of the technology will be based on optical technology, which will boost its effective distance and transfer speed.
Provided it takes off, the wireless charging could eventually trump both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt and although the data transfer is not as fast, the possibility of transmitting energy wirelessly has attracted many device makers. Wireless charging may eliminate all cables when using mobile devices.
For average Windows users, drivers are usually not something that they worry about, but the integration of native support for the latest USB standard can’t hurt. Native support can effectively eliminate possible USB 3.0 compatibility issues. Because Windows 7 doesn’t natively support USB 3.0, some users found that USB 3.0 devices can only transfer files at USB 2.0 data speed. Possible problems may lie on faulty drivers, as the result the USB 3.0 speed can’t be achieved when equipments are initialized at wrong order or when the computer is overclocked.