BY NOW WE expected to have seen at least some competition in the USB 3.0 host controller market, but it seems like making a host controller is trickier than many thought. The Taiwanese IC makers aren’t having much luck with getting their solutions approved by the USB-IF which controls the certification of all USB devices to make sure that they’re interoperable as well as meeting the standards of the various specifications.
Digitimes is reporting that ASMedia, VLI and Etron are all having problems getting their products through the stringent testing of the USB-IF. The reason appears to be a combination of hardware and software related issues, although the latter seems to be causing the larger part of the problem. Despite the fact that USB is mostly an open standard as far as the implementation is concerned – minus the cost for development tools – the driver stack is so far proprietary to each of the USB 3.0 host controller makers. As such, many of the companies are thinking about delaying their product launches until next year.
So far only Renesas and Fresco Logic have been approved by the USB-IF and so far Renesas owns most of the USB 3.0 host controller market. We should point out that Fresco Logic has so far only had its single port gen 1 PCI Express host controller approved and not its two port gen 2 PCI Express host controller. Renesas was first out with a USB 3.0 host controller and hasn’t proven willing to license its drivers to its competitors and as such they’re stuck doing their own software, something that can be both costly and time consuming.
Despite the lack of competing solutions in the market, the Taiwanese are busy pushing the pricing of USB 3.0 host controllers downwards, products in hand or not. Renesas is currently asking for $3-3.50 per chip in lots of half a million while Etron is asking for $3.50-4, VLI asking for about $3.50 for two ports and $5 for four ports, while ASMedia is really pushing the envelope with prices as low as $1.70-1.80 if Digitimes sources are to be trusted. It’s worth noting that Renesas charged just under $10 about six months ago, so despite the lack of competition, demand has not outstripped supply and prices have come down due to Renesas increasing production of USB 3.0 host controllers.
The motherboard and add-in card manufacturers should see significant cost savings once there’s some serious competition in the market. However, without support from Intel and Microsoft, USB 3.0 is going to continue to be a niche standard until at least next year, despite the obvious performance benefits. However, this won’t stop the motherboard manufacturers from adding support and with lower costs for the host controllers; we’re likely to see USB 3.0 trickle down to even the most affordable boards.
In related news, HKEPC is reporting that Intel is considering adding support for USB 3.0 on its upcoming reference design motherboards with the Cougar Point (P/H67) chipset. This doesn’t mean that we’ll see chipset level support, just that there will be a third party controller on the boards. This would be Intel’s first real public support for the USB 3.0 standard as so far Intel doesn’t seem to have been all that interested. It’s possible that AMD and Renesas co-operating on getting USB 3.0 into future AMD chipsets have spurred Intel’s interest in the standard.S|A
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