Next-gen USB SuperSpeed to eliminate power cords

Landfills may also benefit from fewer obsolete power cables being disposed

Intel has announced that the Thunderbolt and USB SuperSpeed specifications will soon double data transfer speeds, opening up peripheral pipes to greater throughput.

But what Intel hasn't hyped much is the fact that the upgrade to the USB Super Speed 3.0 spec will also boost power transfer in both directions from 10 watts to 100 watts.

The increase in power means that computer monitors, laptops and even high definition televisions could be powered through the use of a single USB hub, which would also allow for a bidirectional data flow.

The Thunderbolt peripheral interconnect will soon move from 10Gbps to 20Gbps. The USB SuperSpeed specification will double from 5Gbps to 10Gpbs.

For USB 3.0 (also called SuperSpeed), the data transfer speed increase is evolutionary, but the power transfer is revolutionary, according to Jeff Ravencraft, president of the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF). The USB-IF is a nonprofit organization founded by the developers of the USB specification, which includes Intel, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard.

"This is going to change the way computers, peripheral devices and even HDTVs will not only consume but deliver power," Ravencraft said. "You can have an HDTV with a USB hub built into it where not only can you exchange data and audio/video, but you can charge all your devices from it."

For example, a laptop typically requires 65 watts to power it and charge its battery, which leaves additional power for displays or other peripherals. At last year's Intel Developer's Forum, the USB-IF demonstrated a USB SuperSpeed hub powering a Lenovo notebook, which was also sending audio/video to two other displays while being charged from the cable. The built-in hub eliminated the need for separate power bricks for each device, Ravencraft said.

USB SuperSpeed
At the Intel Developer's Forum: A demo of USB Power Delivery. In this photo, the display is connected with a single USB cable. The data and power is supplied from the Lenovo PC to the displays.

The European Union now requires cellular phone vendors to use micro USB for charging. Ravencraft believes a similar movement, via consumer pressure, will also eventually force vendors to accept a standardized power and data interface based on the USB SuperSpeed specification.

The new USB Power Delivery specification, which comes with the bandwidth upgrade, is compatible with existing cables and connectors, enabling voltage and currents to be negotiated over the USB power pins. The power can be used or delivered over the same pins without having to change the cable's direction, Ravencraft said.

"So with this new specification, you can go from very small devices with 5 volts, 2 amps or 10 watts -- where USB starts -- up to 20 volts 5 amps and 100 watts," Ravencraft said. "This power delivery capability is going to extend the ease of use for consumers, reduce clutter in the work and home environment, but also reduce electronic waste filling up landfills with custom chargers."

Consumers toss out millions of battery chargers every year. In fact, cell phone chargers account for almost 100,000 tons of trash annually in the U.S. In the E.U., chargers represent about 51,000 tons of landfill waste.

The need for speed

For Thunderbolt, this is the first speed increase since its initial release in 2011.

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