The good old NEC µD720200 was the original USB 3.0 host controller and it's about to be phased out in favour of the µD720200A which is a lower power version that is otherwise identical. However, as Renesas bought NEC Electronics we'll soon be seeing the newer µD720201 and µD720202 host controller which should be more affordable and even more power efficient. The µD720200 has become something of the de facto standard when it comes to USB 3.0 host controllers due to its massive market penetration thanks to NEC's year and a half lead on the competition. Due to its age this is of course an xHCI 0.96 compliant host controller. This is by far the most common USB 3.0 host controller and can be found on motherboards by just about every motherboard manufacturers as well as in a lot of notebooks and on a wide range of add-in cards.
We managed to get a unique worldwide exclusive opportunity to test Renesas upcoming µD720201 4-port host controller for a couple of days. It's worth keeping in mind that although this is final silicon, the drivers are far from final. Even so we didn't come across any major performance issues, although we did run into a couple of minor issues which should be resolved by the time you can buy products based on Renesas new host controllers. Both the 4-port µD720201 and the 2-port µD720202 are much smaller than the µD720200 and are package in a much more affordable QFN package and both meets the xHCI 1.0 specifiction. The performance has been improved compared to the µD720200 and especially the write performance has been given a pretty decent boost, although this does depend on both the benchmark and the device connected. As for availability, well, we'll have to wait and see until it launches.
VLI or VIA Labs is the final USB 3.0 host controller maker and its VL800 and VL801 4-port and 2-port host controllers passed USB-IF certification as we were doing this test. The VL800 was available in the market quite some time before VLI gain USB-IF certification and its host controllers can be found on some motherboards as well as the Akasa host controller card that we used for this review. The VL800 and VL801 are xHCI 0.96 compliant. One thing to keep in mind with the 4-port host controllers is that all four ports are sharing the same PCI Express bandwidth, so if you're using four really fast devices, you're going to run into a PCI Express bandwidth bottleneck. This might be solved once a PCI Express x2 interface becomes standard, but it would also mean a slight chip re-design would be required to take advantage of the extra bandwidth. Note that beyond the NEC µD720200 based card, this was the only other retail card that was used in this test. The picture of the chip is from a different card, hence the blue colour around the edges. The VL800 can be found on some Zotac and EVGA motherboards, as well on several add-in cards.
ASRock Xfast USB
Although this isn't a USB 3.0 host controller, we've included a few benchmarks to see what software can do to boost the USB 3.0 performance. It's not an exhaustive set of benchmarks, but as you'll see, there are some very clear examples of when the Xfast USB software can help boost the performance by quite a fair margin. Strangely enough, none of the other motherboard makers are offering similar software, although as there's a licensing cost involved, this might be part of the reason behind it.