Cypress’s USB 3.0 Superspeed Explorer Kit

Enabling easy USB 3.0 device development…

USB 3 Dev board (3 of 4)

Back at IDF we got a chance to talk to Cypress Semiconductor, noted maker of West Bridges and other widgets, about their latest creation the SuperSpeed Explorer Kit. This kit uses Cypress’s USB 3.0 controller the CYUSB301x and has an ARM A9 core with a half megabyte of RAM for interfacing with other devices through its fully programmable GPIF II interface. It also has pin interfaces for connecting to optional daughter boards that can interface the explorer kit with image sensors and FPGAs. For debugging and programming from a PC there’s also a microUSB 2.0 port on the board.

Cypress USB controller (2 of 1)

The kit comes with an instructional book on how to develop devices using the Superspeed Explorer Kit. At about 300 hundred pages long SuperSpeed Device Design by Example leaves little to the imagination when it comes to understanding the inner workings of the USB 3.0 standard or how to use the developer kit to exploit the performance and features that Cypress’s controller has to offer. Along with the book there’s also an SDK which contains code samples, a designer for the GFIP II interface, and Eclipse.

Cypress USB controller (1 of 1)

Here is Cypress’s USB 3.0 controller itself. The explorer kit is aimed at enabling companies to build devices that require a high bandwidth, low latency data transfer between the data source and storage. A real world example of the type of device that they’re aiming at is a web camera or Mircosoft’s Kinect which uses an array of cameras to do real-time motion tracking.

USB 3 Dev board (2 of 4)

In our conversations with Cypress at IDF the subject of USB 3.0 adoption came up. With USB 3.1 and the type C reversible connector finally upon us it seems fair to say that the rate of USB 3.0 adoption on devices other than external hard drives, flash drives, and PCs has been quite low. According to Cypress the slow adoption of USB 3.0 was in part due to the lack of a product like their Superspeed Explorer kit. Now that gap is fill they expect to see a significant increase in the number of consumer devices and peripherals sporting their USB 3.0 controller.

USB 3 Dev board (4 of 4)

Speaking of performance Cypress seem quite confident that they have one of the fastest USB 3.0 controller on the market. The company notes that they had so far been unable to find a real-world application that could saturate the capacity of their controller. To demo their hardware they ended up hooking explorer kit straight into another explore kit and passing data between them. For a more practical conceptualization of the controller’s performance we watched it passing a real-time video stream at 1080P 60 frames per second.

While the Superspeed Explorer Kit certainly isn’t for everyone Cypress has done their best to make it a well-documented and approachable development platform. With an extremely reasonable $49 price point its hard to imagine a reason why you wouldn’t want at least one of these thing to play around with if you were looking at connectivity options for a device. I’m sure that even some hobbyists will find a use for this kit given how accessible the book, sample code, and SDK makes it.S|A

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Thomas Ryan is a freelance technology writer and photographer from Seattle, living in Austin. You can also find his work on SemiAccurate and PCWorld. He has a BA in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Urban Design and Planning and specializes in geospatial data science. If you have a hardware performance question or an interesting data set Thomas has you covered.