Times Article 006
Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Other Buses
that can be invented has been invented."
Charles Duell, head of the U.S. Patent Office, 1899.
has not yet mastered prophecy. We
project too much for the next year and yet far too little for the next
the best way to take stock of where we are is from an historical
viewpoint. Twenty years
is a nice, round number. Gunsmoke
had just ended a 20-year run on CBS.
In Atlanta, Ted Turner had put his small, independent TV
station up on satellites. And
Coca-Cola was beating our brains with the annoyingly catchy "I'd
Like to Teach the World to Sing."
In 1978, the PC did not exist, and the only Mac around was a
hamburger. A laptop was where you put your kids. The IBM AT and its ultra-fast 6-MHz clock-speed was seven
years away. I had just heard about this invention called a
world was indeed a simpler place, but it took us far longer to write a
letter, and heaven help you if your five-part carbon paper was
we have new technologies that pop up every few weeks that are
advertised as the solution to our everyday problems, but which end up
confusing most of us beyond belief.
Let's take one of the newest buzzwords: the Universal Serial
Bus. Here, thanks to Jim
Louderback at PC Week, is a fictitious question-and-answer
session that tells you everything you need to know about USB for 1998.
What exactly is USB?
USB is a small port on the back of most new computers that
essentially lets you plug in multiple devices that will work
seamlessly with your computer.
What type of devices?
Keyboards, mice, scanners, digital cameras, fingerprint
scanners, and other devices that used to plug into serial or parallel
ports, or that require an add-in board.
Does it work with Windows 95?
It sure does, but you need the latest revision of Windows 95,
called OSR2, which is installed on all new Windows PCs.
Oh, so I have to buy a new computer for USB?
there will be USB add-in boards for upgrading PCs.
So just to connect that new mouse, I'll have to open up my
computer, add a new card, and upgrade my system with OSR2?
You got it! But
you probably won't get a new version of Windows 95 with the board.
Which would make it useless, right?
Well, yeah, at least until Windows 98 comes out late this year. Hey, did I tell you how great plug-and-play is with USB?
I heard about that, but I just tested a USB video camera. I plugged in the
camera and then installed the software.
My computer crashed when I tried to run it!
You were supposed to install the software before you
plugged the camera in. So
now you need to uninstall the camera and USB, then turn your computer
off and back on - and then reinstall everything.
What's a USB hub?
That's another cool part of USB.
You can run a single cable from your computer to a USB hub, and
then connect four or more devices right into it.
Soon, your video monitor will be a USB hub.
And the incentive for vendors to add a costly USB hub to their
Well, everyone else is doing it!
Okay, when I installed a USB hub on my system, and then tried
to add another device to it, it just wouldn't work.
It wasn't recognized at all by Windows 95, even as an unknown
device. I thought this
stuff was foolproof?
And it is, except that you bought an unpowered hub.
Many devices work fine with that hub, but other devices need
power. Better be safe and
return that hub for a powered one.
But how would I have known that?
The system didn't say anything to me about that, and neither
did the vendor's advertising!
Well, that's why I'm here!
I'll help you get all that USB stuff working just great.
Forget it. I don't
want to have to call you every time I have a problem.
It sounds like this USB stuff just isn't ready for prime time
yet. I'll wait until
December when Windows 98 finally ships.
I thought you were adventurous.
I am, but not on my company's time.
I have a job to do, just like you.
Yeah, but if USB really worked like it was supposed to, all of
us technical support guys would be out of work.
Good thing it's not here yet!
happy to say that USB is really quite a bit further along than Jim's
parody, and if you haven't already looked into this technology, I
suggest that you do. USB really addresses two of the major problems
with PCs: speed and conflicts. There are so many factors that affect
system performance that minor bottlenecks can significantly slow even
today's fastest computers. The
more devices that are added to a system, the greater the chance of
slowdowns, conflicts, and crashes.
95's plug-and-play capabilities make it somewhat easier to avoid system
conflicts, and the wider use of SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface)
devices expands connectivity. But
conflicts and bottlenecks are far from being eliminated.
The USB is capable of handling a wide range of devices, and will
hopefully do for PCs what the SCSI interface did for the Macintosh.
by a consortium of major firms including Compaq, DEC, IBM, Intel,
Microsoft, NEC, and Northern Telecom, USB has the potential to end the
peripheral port shortage that has plagued the PC world.
Don't believe me? Well,
how many of you have even two parallel ports on your current system, or
fully understand how to address COM 3 and 4?
USB, you can theoretically add up to 255 external devices (and you
thought your desk was a mess right now?).
It detects when devices are added or removed, and you don't even
have to turn off the power or reboot.
USB automatically determines which host resources, including
driver software and bus bandwidth, each peripheral needs, and makes
those resources available without user intervention.
The bus carries five volts for power, thereby eliminating the
need for power converters for each device.
And, what may be best, USB defines a standard connector and
socket that all peripherals can use (I have over 110 different computer
connectors in my storeroom)!
USB isn't the only new I/O option available on today's computer systems.
Intel has recently released the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP)
specification as an adjunct to the PCI (Peripheral Components
Interconnect) bus. AGP was
designed specifically for point-to-point graphics components, and
significantly improves the performance of 3D graphics and other visually
intensive applications running on Intel chips.
is physically separated from the PCI bus and uses a separate connector,
and works by adding new features for graphics accelerators, including a
dedicated pipelined access to main memory and much faster data transfer
rates. Near-term, I see the
main advantage of AGP as the acceleration of 3D graphics on even
AGP port specification, currently in 2X mode, has a data transfer
bandwidth of 512 MB/second, compared to 128 MB/sec. for today's PCI bus.
AGP is designed to be scalable, and Intel has already announced
development of a high-speed extension, called AGP 4X mode, that doubles
the bandwidth to 1 GB/sec. AGP addresses features like texture-mapping, Z-buffering, and
alpha-blending, all of which means that your games will look better,
digital video will run faster, and animations will be even more
to Intel, AGP is one step in its broad-based Visual Computing
Initiative, an industry blueprint to "deliver platforms that
provide interactive, lifelike experiences to users."
The initiative couples the increased performance of Intel's MMX
processors, the high-bandwidth memory access of AGP, and advanced
graphical solutions offered by software vendors, to bring a 1000-percent
increase over today's 3D graphics performance by the year 2000.
when you thought you had the ultimate computer system, too.
We'll keep looking over the shoulders of these new technologies
in future issues of The High-Tech Times.
contact me at 521-2259 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions, or if you would
like to see a specific topic covered.
See you next month.