SO FAR THERE has only been a single USB 3.0 host controller in the market, but this is about to change once the Fresco Logic FL1000 arrives. The new host controller is already being implemented on an upcoming motherboard from ASRock and we’ve got the first exclusive pictures of this new board and controller.
The model in question is the H55 Extreme3, although it doesn’t look all that extreme to us. We’re somewhat perplexed by ASRock’s choice of chipset for its first motherboard using Fresco Logic’s USB 3.0 host controller, but as this is meant to be a lower cost solution than the one from NEC/Renesas, a mid-range socket 1156 might just be the right market for the new controller.
The board itself is nothing out of the ordinary, although beyond USB 3.0 it also features SATA 6Gbps. ASRock appears to have gone for straight PCI Express connectivity for all of the additional controllers on the board which might be an issue in the case of the Marvell SATA 6Gbps controller, but not so much for the Fresco Logic controller.
Yes, we know this contradicts what we said earlier about the bandwidth required for USB 3.0 host controllers, but let us explain. The Fresco Logic controller differs in two major ways from the NEC/Renesas. For starters the FL1000 only offers a single USB 3.0 port, rather than a pair. Secondly it uses the older 250MB/s PCI Express 1.0 standard and as such a single PCI Express lane offers enough bandwidth. Confused? So were we.
There are a couple of scenarios where this kind of implementation makes sense. Both scenarios are notebook related, either as an onboard controller in a notebook, especially as Fresco Logic claims that their solution uses less power than the µPD720200 from NEC/Renesas, although we don’t know how it compares to the newer µPD720200A. Secondly would be in an Express Card solution, as the Express Card interface is limited to the performance of a single PCI Express lane.
However, we’re not so keen on this as a motherboard solution and things get even more confusing. ASRock is using the standard blue USB 3.0 ports on the rear of its motherboard, however only the bottom port of the two delivers USB 3.0 performance. We feel that this is close to false advertising, although it will all come down to how ASRock markets these boards. One USB 3.0 port is still better than none at all, but this unusual implementation is set to cause some confusion.
It’s also likely that the performance won’t be as good as that of the NEC/Renesas controllers once more bandwidth hungry devices appear on the market, but for the time being it’s an acceptable trade-off. Still, if we had the choice, we’d rather chose a product with a better USB 3.0 implementation. It’s also important to note that the FL1000 has as yet not been certified by the USB-IF, although it’s expected to pass certification shortly.S|A
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