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USB 3.0 touts near-Gbit/s Ethernet downloads

25 Aug 2015  | Bernard Cole

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There are two objectives for the specifications set by the USB Implementers Forum for its 2.4mm-high connector plug USB 3.0 Type C connector. One is to offer a smaller alternative to its present 4.5mm USB 3.0 Type-A standard connector used on mobile phones and many consumer devices. The other is for PC and tablet manufacturers to move to a next generation of super thin systems by eliminating the need for the tradition, much larger, legacy connectors to hard drives, external displays or other peripherals.

So far, Type C has been successful in replacing the connectors for such peripheral devices as HDMI for displays and PCI Express for storage. The one physical connector that remains to be replaced before the ultimate in thinness and low power is possible is the 1Gbit/s Ethernet connection to the network. While there have been efforts by a variety of dongle and USB hub makers and a few laptop/PC manufacturers, few have met with success. Those that allow Ethernet connections via USB 3.0 Type C have operated at a much lower speed, usually only 40 to 60 per cent of the full 1Gbit/s data rate.

A new offering from Cypress Semiconductor, the ARM Cortex-M0 based EZ-USB GX3 controller, may change all that. It offers an Ethernet to USB 3.0 download conversion rate of about 910Mbit/s, close to the theoretical bandwidth of GigE and even closer to the real-world 950Mbit/s throughput of most native GigE solutions. So rather than five or six separate cables and dongles and hubs, a user needs only one type.

Mark Fu, Senior Director of USB 3.0 products at Cypress, said the GX3 addresses the desire of providers of ultrathin next-gen laptops to eliminate Ethernet ports, by either incorporating the GX3 directly into their USB 3.0 USB Type C designs or through an external Ethernet to USB dongle, hub or docking station. The latter will also be particularly useful in a wide range of Ethernet-enabled consumer electronics devices such as IP set-top boxes, smart TVs and a wide range of embedded systems, which need no-hassle, plug-and-play GigE connectivity.

GX3 controller

The Cypress EZ-USB GX3 controller under ARM Cortex-M0 control converts 1Mbit/s Ethernet signals into USB 3.0 format.

To achieve near-Gbit/s Ethernet downloads over USB, Cypress engineers have developed a proprietary burst transfer mechanism as well as an algorithm for carefully mapping Ethernet signals into the appropriate USB 3.0 signal frameworks. It works by first merging the incoming Ethernet packets into one supersized Ethernet data packet and then converting each supersise packet into USB data packets. Finally, the USB data packets are organised and transmitted in separate USB microframes.

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