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Computex: ASMedia showcase USB 3.0 hub and future technologies

One of the often overlooked group of companies these days are the smaller chip makers that we all rely on for our technology to work and ASMedia is one of those behind the scenes companies that have pretty much come from no-where and become a major force in the industry. The company makes a wide range of products from USB 3.0 host and SATA controllers to USB 3.0 and PCI Express bridges among many things.

At Computex the company unveiled its new ASM1074 USB 3.0 hub, although it’s not quite ready for prime time yet, but it should launch sometime later this year. The hub supports the USB charging standard and as you can see from our picture, ASMedia was having a bit of fun by stacking five hubs and daisy chaining them. However, this was the least exciting thing we learnt from our chat with the company, as it’s planning a wide range of new products over the next year or so.

First up is an updated USB 3.0 host controller called the ASM1042A which finally brings ASMedia in line with the xHCI 1.0 specification. You might wonder why this is important, as clearly their products work and they work well. The reason behind this is simple, Microsoft won’t include UASP driver support for USB 3.0 controllers in Windows 8 that doesn’t conform to the xHCI 1.0 standard which means you’d be left with the much slower and less sophisticated Bulk Only Transfer or BOT protocol used since the early days of USB.

UASP really matters for those doing large file transfer and Microsoft’s decision affects all USB 3.0 host controller manufacturers equally, so this means all devices with the first two generations of USB 3.0 controllers from NEC/Renesas won’t be support UASP in Windows 8 either.

ASMedia was also demoing a development platform of its upcoming SATA 6Gbps port multiplier. The initial version will only be a two port solution, but ASMedia is planning three and five port versions for next year. We were told that their major competitor Marvell should already have a solution, but so far there are no SATA 6Gbps port multipliers in the market, so this is a significant development.

One demo we weren’t allowed to take any pictures of was ASMedia’s development platform for PCI Express 3.0 bridge chips, usually something made pretty exclusively by PLX – soon to be bought by IDT – and something that we keep seeing more and more of on modern motherboards due to Intel’s unwillingness to add more PCI Express lanes.

Finally the company was showing off some partner products with Thunderbolt connectivity. Admittedly ASMedia doesn’t make anything directly Thunderbolt related, but its ASM1061 SATA 6Gbps controller is used in these products and the company is getting ready to release a new driver that will improve interoperability with Windows when connected over Thunderbolt.

We should point out that the Thunderbolt related update is not because of an issue with ASMedia’s SATA controller, but rather by the fact that Intel refuses to release a Thunderbolt driver for Windows, as the standard is meant to be driver-less.

As such, companies like ASMedia and Marvell have to solve issues like hot-plugging during data transfer causing issues and similar problems, on behalf of Intel. Considering this works just fine when a card is connected to a PCI Express slot, the same should apply to Thunderbolt, but apparently there’s more to Thunderbolt than just being an external PCI Express plus DisplayPort interface.

Apple has on the other hand made its own Thunderbolt driver and none of these issues applies to Apple’s products, so it’s simply pure laziness by Intel to rely on Microsoft’s drivers for Thunderbolt to work.

Kitguru says: Multiport Thunderbolt, just what the doctor ordered.

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