VLI shows off some new USB 3.0 solutions at Computex
VLI was demoing this at CES as well and we're fairly sure that you're wonder what it is, as on the picture above it just looks like a rather long USB connector with a white cable plugged into a small green PCB. Well, inside the slightly larger than usual USB connector hides a tiny chip which is a digital to optical transceiver. This allows for the USB 3.0 signal to be sent down an optical wire which means that the length of a USB 3.0 cable can be extended to up to 100m, something not possible with copper wires.
So here is where the previous chip comes into the picture, the optical transceiver only supports USB 3.0 signalling and as such, if you were to plug in a USB 2.0 device in a port connected via an optical cable, the device wouldn't work. VLI solved this by coming up with a solution that makes older USB devices appear as USB 3.0 devices to the host system and that allows them to work with the optical extender.
Ok, it's not quite true that the optical transceiver only works with USB 3.0 signalling, as VLI is expecting it to work with Thunderbolt as well and has as such allowed for 10Gbps worth of bandwidth, rather than just 5Gbps which would've been enough for USB 3.0. However, this is still not confirmed, so we're going to have to wait and see if it'll work with Thunderbolt or not.
Going back to the other solution briefly, we were shown a small demo where a USB 2.0 flash drive was benchmarked while plugged into the USB 3.0 "faking" chip and for what it's worth, the performance was improved as VLI's chip uses xHCI rather than EHCI signalling and this allows for a small-ish performance boost in the region of 10-15 percent for USB flash drives. However, this is not the intended purpose of it and VLI doesn't intend to sell it on its own.
Finally VLI told us that their VL750 NAND Flash controller project was scrapped for an improved version called the VL751 as the original project ended up being something of a disaster. We're not going to go into any details as to why this happened, but let's just call it human error and leave it at that.
Although VLI hasn't had a lot of motherboard design wins for its host controllers beyond Zotac, we'd expect this to change once the company gets certified by the USB-IF. As for what we'll be seeing in the future from VLI beyond what was demoed at Computex, well, we'll just have to wait and see, but the company is looking into other high-speed interfaces and we might very well end up seeing something Thunderbolt related, depending on how close to its chest Intel is going to keep the standard.