Standards body delays new bus specification

More work is needed on the PCIe 3.0 spec, group says

A standards group says it has delayed the release of a new bus specification that could help PCs run faster by speeding up data transfer rates.

The PCI-Special Interest Group had said the PCIe 3.0 specifications would be released in 2009, with products based on the specification appearing in 2010. However, the base specification will now be released in the second quarter of 2010, with products expected to appear one year after that, says the president and chairman of PCI-SIG, Al Yanes

All the groundwork to develop the specification has been done, but the SIG is taking time to verify and guarantee some granular specification details, including backward compatibility and electrical requirements, he says.

"We underestimated the sheer amount of work needed, but it is more work than invention at this point," Yanes says.

PCI Express is a high-speed bus used on a motherboard to link high-speed peripherals or the chipset. The new PCIe 3.0 specification is expected to provide up to double the data transfer rates between chipsets in PCs and use less power compared to its predecessor, the PCIe 2.0 protocol. It will transfer data at speeds of up to 32GB per second.

Many disk controllers or high-speed network controllers tend to be based on PCI Express, says the principal analyst at Insight 64, Nathan Brookwood. With the exception of enthusiast PCs like gaming systems, PCIe 3.0 for now may not be needed on mainstream computers.

However, networks are getting faster and disks are transferring data at faster rates. The bus has to get faster to support that bandwidth, which is where PCIe 3.0 becomes relevant, Brookwood says.

"We don't need it yet, but we will need it soon," Brookwood says. "Otherwise the bus becomes the bottleneck."

Graphics applications like games will benefit as they are one of the biggest users of computer bandwidth, Yanes says. PCIe 3.0 may also be valuable in servers, as they continue to run bandwidth-hungry applications and networking technologies advance, Yanes says.

The products may go into servers and desktops, but graphics products for laptops could also be released, he says.

Some functional enhancements in the specification include smarter data transfers. The thread-level parallelism processing feature can judge possible data transfers ahead of time, which could allow for faster data transfers. "It's a hint to allow better system performance," Yanes says.

The specification is also backward-compatible, he says. For example, a PCIe 3.0 card can be plugged into a PCIe 2.0 system, or vice versa.

Some of the biggest IT companies have thrown their support behind older and new PCIe specifications. At present, the SIG has more than 840 companies on board, including Intel, AMD, Nvidia, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, IBM and Sun.

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