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USB-3.0 chip costs falling as compatible devices come into play

With global demand for USB 3.0 devices forecast to reach 2.3 billion units by 2015, more and more Chinese companies are releasing products compatible with the new standard. USB 3.0-compatible cables, HDD enclosures, adapters and motherboards are all set to become less expensive in the months ahead.

NEC used to be the only company providing USB 3.0 chips, which reached a high of USD9 per piece in 2009. But the growing number of Chinese factories manufacturing compatible devices has boosted demand for the chips, prompting other suppliers to release their own. Now, USB 3.0 chips are down to USD3 each, with the price projected to fall further to USD2-2.50 later this year.

One of the reasons the USB standard was upgraded to 3.0 was to speed up transmission rates, given that data files are growing increasingly large. A 1080p movie, for instance, can exceed 20GB. Such files are often copied to external HDDs, and doing so on USB 3.0-capable devices is said to be 10 times faster than on 2.0. Market research professionals In-Stat predict that 70 percent of external HDDs will support USB 3.0 by 2012, with shipments of compatible flash drives reaching 200 million.

There are currently 15 USB-3.0 HDD-enclosure manufacturers in China. Adapters account for the third largest share of China’s output and are the most practical. Without compatible PCs, USB 3.0 cables, external HDDs and hubs would serve no purpose. Many suppliers are integrating adapters with two USB 3.0 ports that connect via a PCI-E interface, meaning even older PCs can be made compatible with the new standard.

In general, mainland China contributes only 5 percent of global motherboard supply, with Taiwan accounting for nearly 90 percent. Two of the world’s major providers, Asus and Giga, said 25-35 percent of their output will support USB 3.0 by the end of 2010. In China, companies such as Unika have also committed to releasing motherboards that support the standard later this year. American company Intel, however, is not set to launch USB 3.0 chipsets until as late as 2012.