USB 3.0- Ready For DJs?

With the onslaught of new controllers, there remains an old friend common to just about all of them, the USB connection.  And just as our DJ equipment keeps evolving and improving, the folks behind the USB protocol are ever pushing to keep up too.  With the now old announcement of USB 3.0 and it’s failure to show up on new equipment, DJTT dug into the background a little to see what gives and when we too can look forward to some new USB zoom-zoom.

THE USB PROTOCOL

Without turning this into a history lesson, lets just suffice to say that the USB protocol is a standard for interface design.  This standard is is controlled by an international committee that tries to ensure we, the consumer, are getting the most out of our modern equipment and that it all talks to each other in the same language. The downside is that it also tries to make everyone happy AND keep backwards compatibility.

USB 1.1 and 2.0 have been around for some time now and while many argue that the benefits of other protocols (i.e. Firewire) are greater, USB is the norm for most DJ gear and seems to be seving most people’s needs.  There are still some power availability and bandwidth issues we have to be aware of though and many had hoped a new high speed USB would mean better performing DJ gear.

SUPER SPEED USB 3.0

To give the new protocol a higher profile, it has been dubbed Super Speed, yet the clever folks behind the USB standard have figured out how to keep the backwards compatibility of the old stuff and align new products to leverage the potential.  The standard A connector looks the same, but inside it now has 5 more pins which give it the incredible bandwidth and power potential. The B connector gets a whole new shape added to it.

From a performance specification point of view, this opens up both the bandwidth and the power supply possibilities.  Send and receive rates can be over 10 times faster than 2.0, up to 5.0 Gbps, and available power is up 80 % from 0.5A to 0.9A.  This means we should be able to transfer more data back and forth over a bus powered connection that still drive all the lights in our controller.  So higher sample rate sound cards and LOTS of LEDs could be in our future dj controllers.

AND IN DJ SPEAK?

For us as DJs the bottom line is that the new technology can offer us some better ways to do the things we want.  With more power and bandwidth available companies can theoretically make fancier controllers with more powerful sound cards integrated within and still run on bus power (no adapter required).  But if there is so much to be gained, we have to question why this has not come out on say the new Traktor S4 controller. The answers are both economical and political.

The economy side is that the hardware required to run USB 3.0 is not readily available but the new chipsets are trickling into the mainstream.  Also if a new controller had USB 3.0 then it would require that you have a computer that supports it,  meaning a complete gear update including cables, computer and controllers.

The next issue is political, well at least corporate politics.  Intel, being the largest chip supplier, is developing it own technology, Light Peak.  This promises double the bandwidth of USB 3.0, but whether it can supply power and how much is the big question.  Add to this that Apple is sitting on the sidelines about what technology it wants to push, and we have an industry stalemate.

One point I could not find much information about was the power side.  With laptop CPUs getting more powerful, we are having more heat problems.  What would having higher powered peripherals do to the sensitive heat balance in our laptops?  At one point we will have to just live with the fact that a powered controller or soundcard is going to make our computers leaner and less prone to heat exhaustion.

TODAY AND TOMORROW

While USB 3.0 offers more power and bandwidth, which each promises bigger controllers and higher quality sound cards it looks like it will be a while before we actually get to use the technolgy in a cost effective way. Much like the HD MIDI debate, just because technology is in the customers best interest does not mean it will ever end up in shelves. In the mean time, you can educate yourself on the best USB hubs, which USB port to use on your mac,  and optimizing your computer to get the most out of what we have today.

  • I’m no Conspiracy Theorist, but Apple & Intel have more to gain from their Intellectual Property, licensing and patent portfolios by trying to get ThunderBolt established _before_ they cave in to the inevitability of USB 3.0. 
    I’ve never seen anything like this before in 3 decades of the Tech Industry: The benefits and backward compatibility of USB 3 is so compelling to the consumer – but Intel and Apple’s collusion has quite effectively stunted and delayed SuperSpeed USB 3.0 – to their advantage. By the end of 2011 holiday shopping season, Apple alone will have gotten millions of ThunderBolt ports out in the marketplace. Perhaps millions more on OEM Intel logic boards too. Then, in 2012, they can belatedly ‘jump’ on the USB3 bandwagon.

  • I’m no Conspiracy Theorist, but Apple & Intel have more to gain from their Intellectual Property, licensing and patent portfolios by trying to get ThunderBolt established _before_ they cave in to the inevitability of USB 3.0. 
    I’ve never seen anything like this before in 3 decades of the Tech Industry: The benefits and backward compatibility of USB 3 is so compelling to the consumer – but Intel and Apple’s collusion has quite effectively stunted and delayed SuperSpeed USB 3.0 – to their advantage. By the end of 2011 holiday shopping season, Apple alone will have gotten millions of ThunderBolt ports out in the marketplace. Perhaps millions more on OEM Intel logic boards too. Then, in 2012, they can belatedly ‘jump’ on the USB3 bandwagon.

  • Kenny

    I don’t know why some reports on the internet fraudulently describes USB 3.0 having fibre optic data pathways. The real USB 3.0 system has no such fibre optic links. It is really conventional wire technology.

  • @Tim……wait for graphene chips……lolz

    Really, just lol, with some psml. I ain’t holding my breath for graphene to move out the lab and into mass produced CPUs.

  • midifidler

    Tom dont do your research via google – your link is the second result for the search term “USB 3.0 fibre optic”.

    As others will note your reference article is dated Dec 3rd 08, the USB 3.0 spec was published on 12 Dec 08.

    [quote post=”8592″]that 5th wire is fibre optic you idiot midifidler[/quote]

    Dude did you even bother to read the article you posted? It actually states all 5 extra connections are optical.

    For clarification USB uses a total of 9 conductors, the four currently used for USB2.0, and an extra 5 to acheive the high speed data transfer.

  • sameoldsong

    [quote comment=”39241″]
    The article said it though, going USB 3 would then mean you have to buy cables and a new computer. Not to mention a new external hard drive since many DJs use them.[/quote]
    Yes, it does but the article is wrong. USB 3.0 is backwards-compatible. You can continue to use your old cables. You will be able to connect USB 3.0 devices to USB 2.0 hosts.

  • USB 3 hasn’t come out for the very same reason Apple’s hopes were kai-boshed when the W3C said HTML5 and CSS3 won’t be the “standard” for a few years.

    So let’s say NI, Vestax, and Hercules all jumped on it immediately and made USB 3 controllers and sound cards. Unfortunately, they would probably discontinue USB 2 items because it just costs too much to keep making old tech and new tech at the same time.

    The article said it though, going USB 3 would then mean you have to buy cables and a new computer. Not to mention a new external hard drive since many DJs use them.

    How many DJs have we seen using older computers and then complaining a piece of gear doesn’t work? We can smugly scoff and tell them to get a better computer, but what choices are there? Are the new Macbooks USB 3? How about PCs?

    Going back to web design, I can’t suddenly decide to just make an HTML5 site and smugly tell people to get Safari. No more than these guys can make USB 3 devices and tell people to get a better computer.

    Yeah, it’s great when new tech comes out, but the problem in my eyes isn’t so much the companies trying to get rid of old merchandise as it’s the rate that average people adapt to it. They could roll it all out now as the “standard”, but we still see people using old computers with USB 1.1 ports. Would you tell that person to get a new computer?

    Think beyond DJs. New tech is useless unless upgrading doesn’t become a massive financial investment. Not everyone can just drop a few thousand on a laptop in an instant and then seek out a hard drive and possibly DJ gear to go with it, especially when there’s not a lot of choices.

    And I’m with scenic…I like bringing power supplies to a gig. I’m all about doing as little taxation on my computer as possible.

  • pilmat

    There are NO fiber optics in USB 3.0. The cable has 3 sets of twisted wires (one pair for 1.1 and 2.0 and two sets of three for 3.0) plus a ground and power wire.
    The REAL spec can be found on usb.org.
    ..
    Phil.

  • tom bruton

    that 5th wire is fibre optic you idiot midifidler

  • Anonymous

    Other than the increased power for USB 3.0, the bandwidth is most likely overkill for any DJ controller. Unless you somehow can manipulate multiple knobs, buttons, control platters all at once.

    The old Serato SL1 runs on USB 1 with 4 ins and outs just fine (@ 16bit, 44.1kHz). So, something like the S4 (which has 4 ins and outs as well) will never need USB 3’s bandwidth.

  • Mark

    wet chips. USB3 is a good.

  • midifidler

    BTW Tom Bruton if your going to a) write a book on the subject and b) not sound like a total douche you may want to more carefully research you assertions, while the original draft spec for USB 3.0 did utilize an optical connection to achieve higher bandwidth, this was dropped in the final spec in favor of the extra 5 wires correctly referred to in this article.

    [quote post=”8592″]zhadow my rant was about people talking rubbish so why say somthing that is blatently not true.[/quote]

    o the irony…

    Im not even going to get started on the rest of your rant, but please go troll some place else…

  • Mike

    The higher power handling is the only improvement that has any real relevance to digital DJs Imo.
    USB3.0 will filter in to laptops over the next year or two, controller manufactures will not jump until the embedded implementation costs fall to levels comparable to USB2.0.
    Various audio interfaces have difference I/O requirements so I would expect to see it in some high end studio interfaces fairly quickly, but DJ interfaces simply do not need it.

  • JesC

    Hi my name is JesC and Im a Apple Fanboy! Boo to USB 3.0. I have no problems with USB 2.0 and I havent seen any bottlenecks with running a hub.

  • zhadow here is a list of some intel chipset motherboards that have usb 3.0
    http://www.ebuyer.com/product/244469
    http://www.ebuyer.com/product/200984

    here is what INTEL SAY ABOUT USB 3.0
    http://www.intel.com/technology/usb/spec.htm

    zhadow my rant was about people talking rubbish so why say somthing that is blatently not true. and yes it will be a couple of years till every new computer has usb 3.0
    did you not read where i put about intel helping to develop USB
    usb will be around for a long time

  • Zhadow

    Actually Intel wont adopt USB3.0 so I think that we’ll have to wait more years to actually see mainstream products

  • Max

    I think there’s no need for USB3 in djing purposes, as there’s USB 2.0 audio interface which are 26i/26o in 96 khz 24bits…

  • I am very disapointed with this post and the comments made. There is alot of bull poo.

    Lets first deal with mostapha. Yes the protocol was finalised in november 2008. How long do you think it takes manufactures to intergrate these into chipsets and boards. Then laptop makers have to build laptops using these boards. So it is a time consuming process. So seeing its slow adoption now is expected. This time next year most high end laptops will have usb 3.0 (I have seen the chipset and Mother boards)

    Next and by far the ignorent comment I have seen Firewire 800 is still faster no its not. usb 3 has the ability of faster single package data transer than firewire due to its fibre optic cable. firewire 800 has the ability to transfer 800mbit per second usb 3 can transfer 4800mbit per second. From your comment you are obv an apple fanboy. fanboys of any company are narrow minded and will never look at the big picture. I personally usb 5 differnt os windows 7,osx 10.5,ubuntu,backtrack and redhat

    A big reason that company’s are not harnessing the power of usb 3 is its not on many laptops at the moment. So what is the point in writing 2 drivers one for usb 3 and one for 2. It would put development costs up which puts retail price up. do you want to pay more for somthing you cant use. Sorry folks we will be waiting two to three years before we see usb3 dj devices comming out.

    In the article it talks about light peak. This is a fibre optic technology very similur to what is being used in usb 3. The chances are this is the technology that will be used in the next version of usb. intel where one of the companys that developed usb if you didnt know that. Apple have dropped firewire from alot of there products. They have adopted the usb standard. There is no industry stalemate pilmat is crazy if he thinks that there is. All motherboard producers are intergrating usb3 into there boards end of. USB2 took about 3 years to get full adoption. there used to be a debate about serial vs parell. that ended about ten years ago with the down of syronised serial transmission.

    USB3 has the ability to provide lower latency as its communication protocol has been improved since usb2 (wow people develope technology that is better than what theyt did before). The only piece of kit this will make a major differnce to the dj is the sound card.it Will just mean things will run better lower latencty. Controllers do not really send alot of info and cause any real latency. not sure how much bandwidth high res midi would take up but i couldnt see it being a problem(plz NI add high res midi support to traktor). They have also almost doubled the power to 0.9amps so a few more light/motors. Just incase mostapha comes back and says firewire is better cuz it has 1.5amps of power. Remember you have to daisy chain that if you want more than one deive so as soon as you go to two devices you have less power.

    If any1 would like a more technical expination just ask on this wall and i shall post. I could probably write a short book on this subject

  • pilmat – how much higher resolution controls (or higher bitrate audio) do you need before you max out USB 2.0’s bandwidth? I understand why USB 3 is going to make a noticeable difference in external hard drive copying speeds, but I don’t see how it would make a difference for a MIDI controller. Theoretically the bandwidth allows for much higher resolution, but are we even close to hitting the limits available for USB 2? Or for the limits regarding audio bitrate?

  • mostapha

    1) The USB 3.0 spec was announced in late 2008.

    2) It hasn’t been widely adopted by anyone, so why would you think DJ stuff would be coming?

    3) Firewire 800 is still faster, still provides more power, and can still daisy chain more devices than a DJ needs.

    So, IMHO, USB 3.0 is a joke. It’s just one more try for the USB people to try and baffle consumers into using inferior technology because they’re not willing to admit that Apple was right.

  • A world without DJ TechTools is a world without life. Can’t wait for the day when I turn on the TV and see DJ TechTools TV ! YEE ! Another great post !

  • danger

    jasperjones: avid is testing lightpeak with their new interfaces, so it’s revelant to audio pretty much. i vote for lightpeak.

  • Good point Moonie, but as you say that latency is the biggest current issue and that it is not necessarily a USB issue, I didn’t venture into that water. The point about bandwidth is that improvements here will allow for higher resolution controls and higher bitrate audio on the same connection, provided of course the rest of your system can cope (hardware, software and drivers).
    ..
    Phil.

  • Aside from the typo’s, not a bad summary.

    However, people are still confusing bandwidth with latency. This article itself, heavily considers the extra ‘speed’ given by usb 3.0 as its driving benefit.

    Even today’s midi controllers don’t get anywhere near the bandwidth available on USB 1.1. The issue commonly complained about is actually latency, which is entirely different. This is down to operating systems, driver layer, chipset firmwares etc.

  • ToS

    …poor poor firewire.

    @scenic: Yes, lugging around (quality) powerbrick is a nuisance. http://djtechtools.com/forum/showthread.php?t=18919

    More juice for the devices is a benefit.
    More bandwidth, not so much, as long as you keep using 16bit 44100Hz mp3.
    A2DJ is perfectly fine with USB1.1 and 4 channels downstream; my Firebox is ok with 2 channels upstream and 8 channels down. and A8DJ in DVS mode are constantly working with 4up and 4-8down.
    @jasperjones: Agreed, latency is definitely more of a issue here, the other day I tested GuitarRig with a friend and there was noticeable latency although buffer was set at 2ms (should have tried ASIO4E, and set it to 1ms).

    We’ll probably see more controller+hub setups than waveform resolution increase.

  • jasperjones

    I think you should leave this discussion to sites which are competent about it (e.g., THW, ANT). There is no “industry stalemate” with regard to USB 3.0.

    It’s simply that USB 3.0 is costlier than 2.0, so adoption begins in areas where payoffs are highest.

    E.g., in the market for external USB storage, the switch to USB 3.0 is already in full swing. Why? Because the benefits from USB 3.0 to consumers are high (net transfer speed over USB 2.0 is bottlenecking storage performance big time). So USB 3.0 is a big selling point in that area. In fact, we’re already seeing the first firms retiring USB 2.0 storage products (because USB 3.0 is backwards-compatible and by retiring 2.0, they can avoid having to run double the product lines).

    But, in many audio applications, latency is more important than net transfer speed. And there are no big latency issues associated with USB 2.0. So, since there are little benefits to users from USB 3.0, and the cost of producing USB 3.0 devices are higher, it’s no surprise we see little movement when it comes to audio devices.

    You mention Light Peak: imo, it’s likely it will be irrelevant for audio devices for quite some time. And as for Apple not adopting USB 3.0 yet: it’s out of space considerations. My guess is they want to wait until Intel integrates it into the chipset. But Apple might have to change plans. USB 3.0 is becoming more-and-more prevalent in competitor’s models. And Apple refuses to adopt eSATA. Aorn, all they have is Firewire which is in its decline.

  • scenic

    Is an AC adaptor really that hard to fit in your setup? I’d personally be much more interested in double the bandwidth while having controllers continue to run off independent power supplies.
    Very interesting post, thanks DJTT.

  • Dio

    With the advent of new technology, there is always a learning curve in the beginning, if you check the Serato forums, you will find that there have been issues relating to the Core i* USB controller chips.

    They do not recognize Rane’s SL1, and TTM57, this is a widespread issue across the Windows platform, but in frequent across the Apple/Mac platform.

    Being that USB is a standard, I believe that Intel needs to adopt a broader approach to backwards compatibility, looking at it from a DJ’s perspective, you buy Hardware/software to use at gigs… you decide to get the next powerful laptop, to ease your workload, only to possibly end up stuck knee deep in some serious S***, and financially hurt, if you bought said laptop at a retailer, you only have a few days to return/exchange it…..

    Ok, kinda went on a tangent, but its point has some validity…. The higher connection speed, the broader data rate, and more DC voltage is all appealing, and will notheless become a great commodity in our field as DJ’s, be it with controllers, or with DVS systems.

    My spologies, didn’t wanna turn this into a rant, credit must be given to pilmat… Great article!!!! <- Rep+

  • Is there any evidence that we are maxing out USB 2.0? I don’t really know enough to say, but even using 5-7 controllers at once I don’t see latency of buttons and lights; is there really any way to take advantage of the extra bandwidth with MIDI and HID controllers? It just doesn’t seem like you’d ever push enough information through a controller where the bus speed would be a limiting factor. On the other hand, I suppose more powerful soundcards is a possibility but I’m just not sure — if the USB bus can already suck up full wav/aiff tracks as you lay them down without breaking a sweat, what will the extra bandwidth do for you?

    Mind you, I’m completely talking out my ass here, so please feel free to tell me I have no idea what I’m talking about 😉

  • I completely agree that we should have USB 3.0 by now… and I too wish companies could stop being solely driven by their own financial interests and look at what may be best for the consumer. Intel just wants to own the rights to the protocol and therefore make the money (which isn’t a bad motive), but when that motive gets in the way of progress then I have an issue… hopefully this gets resolved quickly…

  • Tim

    You mentioned about CPUs getting more powerful and thus producing more heat. As soon as Graphene chips come out we are going to have 10 times the power of silicon with hardly any heat. That is the technology I am really looking forward to. Hell, we already have the technology to mass produce (SELF POWERED) bendable,see through,touchscreens. I think technology is about to hit big in the next 5 years more than we even realize. USB 3.0 is the least of my worries. Something will come out and be released all at once. Sort of like the HDMI ports that everyone has on their new laptops.Hardly anyone uses them and most people don’t even know what they are.

    Just my technological 2 won (I live in Korea)