updated 09:00 pm EDT, Thu September 1, 2011
Apple could embrace USB 3 sooner than expected
Apple might not only be still open to USB 3.0 but willing to add it before Intel does on its own, sources divulged Thursday. The company has reportedly been investigating third party USB 3.0 host controller chips now that the prices of these are negligible, at below $3. Its timing wasn't certain to VR-Zone informants but would preempt Intel's Panther Point chipset, which will officially add USB 3.0 sometime in the spring.
Despite many making assumptions that Apple would want to pick Thunderbolt over USB 3.0 because of its involvement in the former, the faster USB port would be welcome as a complement to Thunderbolt, not a threat or a replacement. A Thunderbolt controller is more expensive at $10 to $15 per chip, but it also needs a corresponding chip on the device and raises the cost even as it limits the types of devices available. USB 3.0 would, as a result, still be useful as a catch-all for faster devices that don't need Thunderbolt in addition to the USB 2.0 devices it would inherently recognize.
Apple may be aware of Thunderbolt's current obstacles, the sources added. Apple is supposedly talking directly with some of its hardware partners, most likely early Thunderbolt supporters, to have them develop external drives more suited to the home or to small companies. What few Thunderbolt devices are on the market are usually high-end, multi-drive RAID storage arrays, such as the Promise Pegasus array and LaCie's Thunderbolt version of the Little Big Disk. Home users wouldn't necessarily need Thunderbolt, but it could help with external single-drive SSDs or multi-drive boxes with rotating hard disks working in a RAID stripe.
The rumor, while not yet corroborated, would reflect a possible sense at Apple that it's being left behind. Many Windows PC builders already include one or more USB 3.0 ports, especially newer AMD-based systems where the chipset has native support. USB 3.0 hasn't been completely embraced because, in part, of Intel's hesitance to support the technology itself. Without Panther Point, PC builders have to buy controller chips and are often limited in how many USB ports they can or are willing to support, in many cases leaving just a few or even one port running at the spec's full 5Gbps.