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Why Powered USB Is Going to Fail

CowboyNeal posted more than 7 years ago | from the gloom-and-doom dept.

191

An anonymous reader writes "Patrick McFarland, famous Free Software Magazine author, has written a two part article about why Powered USB is not taking off at home. (part 2 is also available) He includes a lengthy history on why USB took off in the first place, and then continues on to explain what we gain by allowing Powered USB to power all our devices."

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I agree (5, Interesting)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555301)

Agreed.I've never been a big fan of USB. The concept is fantastic, a unified connector that links just about any device to any other and can charge them is a great idea. However I am still bitter the Firewire lost out. It has more bandwidth, has sturdier connectors, and can deliver far more power. Being able to just plug one cable to power and link a hard drive would be great, I have one of those external IDE enclosures, and having *another* power brick is just silly.

Being able to charge high draw devices through Firewire would rock. Powering my laptop from my PC would be great, especially if it will be syncing files at the same time, allowing me to leave the power brick in my laptop case and not have to get it out after getting home.

In my eagerness to get this post in first, I didn't read the article before I started typing. He says it all the same way I would. So to all of you who haven't RTFA'd, do it to find out the rest of this comment's points. Now lets see if I can still get this in first...

Re:I agree (3, Interesting)

DeathFromSomewhere (940915) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555349)

Try a 2 1/2" drive instead of a 3 1/2". The smaller drives don't require a separate 12V supply and are easily powered by USB.

Re:I agree (0)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555367)

I bought the thing to turn my used HDDs into useful items. That purpose is defeated by buying new drives.

Re:I agree (1)

Gearrion (1040680) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555461)

Buy one that supports both USB and fire wire then. Thou even with fire wire i believe you will still need to plug it in.

Re:I agree (1)

l0cust (992700) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557291)

Yeah I totally agree. I too have a couple of old 200 gig HDDs which I have converted into USB drives using a couple of dirt cheap USB containers. I can't tell you how much it helps when you have that much mobile storage, be it for your music, critical softwares or movies, or the work related stuff you may want to spend some time on at home, or something you may want to show at an interview.

Re:I agree (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555373)

True, somewhere in the 50 mA range for a 2 Gb model I saw. That's pretty remarkable, when you think about it. Of course, the cost-per-bit is substantially higher that for a 3.5" drive.

Re:I agree (4, Informative)

repvik (96666) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555633)

Bzzzt! Wrong. There's no guarantee that 2.5" drives do not require more than 0.5A @ 5V. I've got four drives in front of me, and three of them require 0.7A.

Not only that, but the 2.5" drives are more expensive, slower, and has way less storage capacity.

2.5" Drives (was Re:I agree) (1)

onedotzero (926558) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557107)

True, but they're more portable. Also, the speed concern isn't really a concern if you're tranferring files over USB.

Re:I agree (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555887)

True. Actually, there were very, very few Firewire enclosures that could power a 3.5" drive. Actually, the only one I've seen was from Weibetech and they discontinued it. Those enclosures were too expensive. The 2.5" drives are too slow and low capacity to justify using just to save a power brick in a desktop situation, for mobile needs, a 2.5" drive is almost necessary, the 3.5" drives were usually too big.

Re:I agree (1)

Agripa (139780) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556439)

American Media Systems (http://www.american-media.com) produces 3.5 inch and 5.25 inch external USB and Firewire enclosures that have internal AC power supplies which at least gets rid of the power brick problem. They recently revamped their web site with Flash unfortunately.

Re:I agree (3, Interesting)

that this is not und (1026860) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556589)

At Frys they now sell a USB to IDE drive adaptor that is a 'molded cable' adaptor for attaching an 'out of the case' 2-1/2" Hard Drive to your machine. Very handy for transferring data from drives that have been pulled from a laptop, also good for 'injecting' stuff onto drives you're going to plug back into a laptop. The adaptor nicely powers a typical 2-1/2" laptop without any difficulty.

It's the same 'guts' as used in those cheap aluminum USB 'laptop drive' external housings, which also get their power from the USB with no difficulty.

Re:I agree (5, Interesting)

diablo-d3 (175104) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555389)

Hi, I'm the guy who wrote the article in question. Yeah, I had laptops-charging-while-syncing in mind as well when I wrote the article, its only a step up from PDAs who charge while syncing (which already is done via normal USB on some PDAs).

I'm a fan of Firewire as well, which is mainly why I wrote this article in the first place. Powered USB handles all the power issues (except for the flaws I noted in my article), and a future USB 3.0 revision will catch USB up to Firewire 800 over 9 pin cables (as opposed to the new over-CAT5 and over-Optical versions that are really for special use applications and completely outside the realm of desktop computing), so I just don't see why they don't clean up Powered USB and either integrate it into USB 3.0, or release it as a more official optional extension.

USB may have killed Firewire, but that doesn't mean USB is ready to replace it quite yet; the fact Firewire 800 was even released, and supported on non-Apple devices pretty much proves that.

Re:I agree (2, Informative)

bigtomrodney (993427) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555505)

If I could pass back one comment on the article, there seems to be a few grammatical errors in there. The article itself is very interesting but poor grammar detracts from its impact.

By 2000, some computers were not shipping with hardly any legacy ports at all
That's not just a double negative, I don't think that even makes sense.

I will tell you why Powered USB will never be widely excepted
I'm sure you meant accepted there.
I apologise if I come off sounding like a grammar nazi but I find it difficult to read an article and take it seriously when it is presented in this way. That aside I would completely agree with you on the point of powered USB. Splintered standards are no standards at all.

Re:I agree (1, Informative)

blixel (158224) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555617)

I also noticed this:

"Second, I suggest the USB Working Group should releases USB 3.0 already."

Assuming the word "releases" was just a simple typo and that he really intended to say "release", it still wouldn't have sounded right.

Re:I agree (0)

diablo-d3 (175104) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556039)

Both of those were fixed before you posted the comment. Thanks anyways ;)

Re:I agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555623)

If you are a fan of both USB and Firewire, why do you state in the article that implementing some of those suggestions will hopefully kill off Firewire?

I happen to like Firewire, which unlike USB, it doesn't offload the work it is supposed to do to my CPU, among other things. No USB revision is ever going to fix that.

Re:I agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555743)

> USB may have killed Firewire

No, Firewire being more expensive to license or just get the damn specs for killed Firewire. Or at least set it into something of a niche. It still is the standard for consumer video, and every last digital cable box uses it.

Re:I agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555811)

I have some comments on your article/website.

1) Proofread more.
2) Find out the difference between 'plug' and 'socket'
3) It's "Ad Terram Per Aspera". Unless you actually want to say "To the Earths through difficulties".

Re:I disagree (1)

shmlco (594907) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557075)

Actually, I'm with on of the comments to the article on your site: Increase power efficiency.

As an example, I have a USB-powered Canon color scanner (one of the things you mentioned that can't be powered as such) and it works great. We have global energy issues anyway, and I'd rather provide a constrained amount of power than a firehose through which every device can suck as much as they want.

Further, many of those devices connect to notebooks which have limited power budgets. More efficient use of power means more devices that can be used "on the road" with those systems. It also means we use less fossil fuel and produce less CO2. All-in-all, a win-win scenario.

"... the fact Firewire 800 was even released, and supported on non-Apple devices pretty much proves that."

A typo? I have a 17" MacBook Pro that supports FW800 just fine.

Re:I agree (1)

Malc (1751) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555885)

Firewire has two types of connector. One of them isn't sturdy at all.

Re:I agree (1)

@madeus (24818) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556453)

I think there might even be three. The 'typical' one most people will recognize, the new one (FW 800) that was on some G4 Au PowerBooks, and the mini one often found on DV cams (and that Sony in particular put on their laptops).

Apart from being not stable, it's also doesn't carry power I believe (like the small USB interfaces). New power interfaces (like those on the Nokia charger) are incredibly small. I'd like to see an small interface designs in future (for USB or IEE1394) be able to deliver power too.

Re:I agree (1)

gobbo (567674) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557021)

They are 6-pin (larger and powered) and 4-pin (small, unpowered) on FW400. This is because consumer/prosumer cameras have space constraints and run under their own power. Sometimes manufacturers (Avid, e.g., ugh) use 4-pins on non-portable devices, just because they're powered, which sucks, because you're absolutely right, the 4-pin firewire jack is easy to ruin with a little jiggling. FW800, however has a medium-small but pretty stable plug and jack.

To be fair, USB has a range of jack sizes too, including small, very small, and miniscule.

The biggest improvement in this area, for me, would be small powered jacks/plugs that have a positive latch connection and are laterally stabilized.

My 2-bit opinion on the article: Firewire wins over USB 2 any day if you want stable bandwidth and CPU load (e.g. video), and the option of fast networking.

Re:I agree (3, Interesting)

Ruie (30480) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555993)

Agreed.I've never been a big fan of USB. The concept is fantastic, a unified connector that links just about any device to any other and can charge them is a great idea. However I am still bitter the Firewire lost out. It has more bandwidth, has sturdier connectors, and can deliver far more power. Being able to just plug one cable to power and link a hard drive would be great, I have one of those external IDE enclosures, and having *another* power brick is just silly.

One thing the author of the article missed is the original purpose of parallel and joystick ports. They were called "parallel digital input/output port" and "scientific port". The parallel port was meant for general purpose digital I/O (so you control relays or tell whether a contact is closed or not) and the scientific port could be used to connect thermocouples for example.

These were "starter" ports that made the computer useful in the lab or in the factory without purchasing additional components. Nowadays a special expansion card or external device are necessary to get back the same capability. The cheapest are around $100, but this quickly ratchets up to $1000 and more for anything capable.

One thing to keep in mind is that the original IBM PC (which was before XT and before AT) had a fairly slow processor (6 or 8 Mhz ? - can't recall) and the audio-range sampling rates of parallel port and joystick port matched them well. Nowadays we have Ghz cpus, but anything that captures faster than 100 Mhz is expensive - with Ghz cards costing more than the cost of the computer.

Re:I agree (4, Informative)

that this is not und (1026860) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556655)

Nowadays a special expansion card or external device are necessary to get back the same capability. The cheapest are around $100

You're correct, but to be fair in comparision, back when those ports were popular on the IBM-PC, the parallel, serial, and joystick ports were themselves expensive add-on cards.

The PC and PC-XT had NO built in I/O. You had to plug in EVERYTHING as expansion cards, includng floppy controller card, hd controller card, serial card, parallel (which you could get built on with the MDA monochrome text-only video card), game port card, video card. None of these were built in 'on the motherboard.' On the original PC it wasn't hard to tie up all five expansion slots, since you also didn't get 640K on the motherboard, so had to plug extra RAM in _brace_yourself_ an expansion card in other I/O slot.

Thus the rise of the 'AST Six-Pack' and other multifuntion cards, which gave you seral/parallel/memory/realtime-clock/etc. all on one card (a card that cost about what people pay now for a whole system at Wal-Mart.)

Re:I agree (1)

Agram (721220) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557131)

While firewire is spec-wise superior to USB it is also a major CPU hog since majority of its translation is offloaded onto CPU. Case in point, try running external fw soundcard on lower latencies and you can say bye-bye to >=1/4 of your CPU cycles. USB does not have this problem.

Regarding powered USB, I think it is alive and well. Creative Zen players recharge that way. I also had purchased at one point laptop HD enclosure which offers both USB and fw. USB runs just fine off of USB power coming from my laptop.

Finally, powered firewire400 (6-pin) is lacking standards. Most laptops offer 7 Watts while desktop machines offer 15 Watts. This results in some devices still requiring external power when being powered by a laptop.

Re:I agree (4, Informative)

jwdav (1003969) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557339)

I think you have it backwards, unless you have a PC or FireWire Card that doesn't support bus master. It is not uncommon to find marginal FireWire support on PC's, but most consumer & pro electronics, as well as all Apple products offer full Firewire support.

USB requires a host CPU; FireWire does not.

FireWire uses a "Peer-to-Peer" architecture in which the peripherals are intelligent and can negotiate bus conflicts to determine which device can best control a data transfer

USB 2.0 uses a "Master-Slave" architecture in which the computer handles all arbitration functions and dictates data flow to, from and between the attached peripherals (adding additional system overhead and resulting in slower, less-efficient data flow control)

USB 2.0

1.5 Mbit/s 12Mbit/s 480Mbit/s supported.
USB controller is required to control the bus and data transfer.
Cable up to 5 m.
Up to 127 devices supported.
Power supply to external devices is 500 mA/5V (max).
Full compatibility with USB 1.1 devices.

FireWire (IEEE1394)

100 Mbit/s to 800Mbit/s supported.
Works without control, devices communicate peer-to-peer.
Cable up to 4.5 m.
Up to 63 devices supported.
Power supply to external devices is 1.25A/12V (max.).

how to tell a girl you want to eat here out? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555309)

theres this girl I like and I really want to eat her out. I could spend hours pleasuring her. How do I ask her?

Re:how to tell a girl you want to eat here out? (2, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555341)

Tell her you have a really big penis. She'll know you're lying, but that's OK, because she'll know you speak with a forked tongue, and then her imagination will take over.

Re:how to tell a girl you want to eat here out? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555395)

theres this girl I like and I really want to eat her out. I could spend hours pleasuring her. How do I ask her?

From the tone of your message, it's pretty clear that your only experience of "eating out" consists of Applebee's and The Olive Garden.

Give it up; she's just not that into you.

Re:how to tell a girl you want to eat here out? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555431)

Simple, tell that girl you are not woth it and the reason is you are too stupid to exist. The way to please her is to take a razor and slit your fucking wrists right in front of her. Once you have bled to death in front of her she will applaud.

There, you will have pleased her and no one will have to put up with fucktards like you.

Re:how to tell a girl you want to eat here out? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555561)

Don't tell her - just do it while she's sleeping

Re:how to tell a girl you want to eat here out? (5, Funny)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555823)

theres this girl I like and I really want to eat her out. I could spend hours pleasuring her. How do I ask her?

Register for callbacks on device enumeration.

Once she has enumerated, check her device descriptor bDeviceClass for class USB_HUMAN and bDeviceSubClass for HETEROSEXUAL_WOMAN. These steps are very important, do not omit them. If these are zeros in the Device Descriptor, iterate through all the Interface Descriptors. Note, if there is more than one Interface Descriptor, it may be best to skip the device.

Now send a class request, SET_FEATURE ( HUMAN_ORAL_SEX ). If she doesn't stall the request, you are good to go. Some targets have a bug where the request are stalled incorrectly a few times. In this case, you should retry a few times, but not too many, unless BUILD_OPTION_EMO_LOSER is defined in which case you should retry an unlimited number of times until the OS bugchecks. Actually, if that is defined, you can skip the class and subclass post enumeration checks too.

Re:how to tell a girl you want to eat here out? (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556109)

If there is more than one interface descriptor, that's the best time to accept the device. C'mon! And never, ever throw out the return code BISEXUAL_WOMAN, or worse still, an array of them!

Re:how to tell a girl you want to eat here out? (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556341)

True, but I still think for robustness reasons you should skip devices with an array of interfaces with bDeviceSubClass=PANSEXUAL_VEGAN_FURRY and bDeviceSubClass=LOOK_AT_ME.

Re:how to tell a girl you want to eat here out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18556113)

http://www.thatvideosite.com/video/4139 [thatvideosite.com]

That's one way

Re:how to tell a girl you want to eat here out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18556425)

Record a video message for her. Post it on Youtube and then post the link here. Be sure to point out that you'll only do it if she'll have a shower or bath first so she's not too smelly - women LOVE being told that and will always appreciate your sensitivity.

I promise not to laugh at you or call you a pathetic nerd.

Trust me!

USB needs to add more firewire like stuff (5, Insightful)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555481)

like offloading work from the cpu as the older and slow fire wire 400 bus is faster then the usb 2 bus and it can be used to link 2 systems together with out a special cable.

Re:USB needs to add more firewire like stuff (3, Informative)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555661)

like offloading work from the cpu as the older and slower fire wire 400 bus is faster then the usb 2 bus and it can be used to link 2 systems together with out a special cable

I don't think USB will ever support peer to peer. USB 1.0 was designed to have a smart host and dumb devices, to make sure that low end Asian manufacturers could make mice and keyboards with a couple of man-weeks of labour, probably only a few man hours once they get up to speed. Later on people started to use it for storage, and USB 2.0 was needed to up the speed. But it was never designed to do firewire type things like peer to peer networking, because Intel thought that Firewire would always do those. Theoretically, you could have two USB OTG hosts linked together, one as "device" and one as "host", but support for OTG is non existant on desktops.

But remember that USB is popular because every PC has it, and there are loads of sub $30 USB peripherals. If it had started off like Firewire, that wouldn't have happened.

Re:USB needs to add more firewire like stuff (2, Informative)

sjames (1099) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556521)

You can sort of fake peer to peer with USB. For example, a device that is 2 USB devices that look like network or serial devices back to back in a device. It's not REAL peer to peer since the host can't use that to mediate direct data transfer betwen (for example) a storage device and a printer, but it's close enough for most people.

I fully agree that it was a decent tradeoff for the bazillions of sub $30 devices that resulted from an easy to implement standard.

I just wish there was a standard for scanners rather than letting them weasel out with the vendor specific interfaces. If any mouse, keyboard, storage device, serial, parallel, etc device can work with any OS that supports USB without having to think about it or load proprietary software, scanners can do that too. The least they can do is support a fully standardized basic mode to do a full resolution color scan and let the software reduce it as needed. Ideally they should have no problem selecting a resolution, gray or color and a region using a standard interface.

Re:USB needs to add more firewire like stuff (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557277)

I thought the same thing about printers - the USB printer class should be something like "I'm a 300dpi inkjet. I need a CMYK bitmap at 300dpi, I support zlib and G3 encoding. I have an interrupt end point for status reports, see the standard for details". Actually, USB printers look like a Centronics port, and use a proprietary page description language. Combi printer/scanners are even worse and need a custom driver.

Powered USB has a short shelf life (4, Funny)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555707)

Powered WiFI is going to take over!

Re:Powered USB has a short shelf life (1)

windsurfer619 (958212) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555935)

Well, actually [slashdot.org] ...

Re:Powered USB has a short shelf life (1)

muftak (636261) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556359)

Duh, just plug a power over ethernet unit into a wifi to ethernet bridge.

ATTN: SWITCHEURS! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555733)

If you don't know what Cmd-Shift-1 and Cmd-Shift-2 are for, GTFO.
If you think Firefox is a decent Mac application, GTFO.
If you're still looking for the "maximize" button, GTFO.
If the name "Clarus" means nothing to you, GTFO.

Bandwagon jumpers are not welcome among real Mac users [atspace.com] . Keep your filthy PC fingers to yourself.

Excrable spelling (1)

Nimey (114278) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555517)

I might take this guy more seriously if his post wasn't full of spelling and grammar errors.

Re:Excrable spelling (1)

Copley (726927) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555625)

Err... That'll be 'Execrable spelling' I believe! Oh dear...

Re:Excrable spelling (1)

Nimey (114278) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555681)

Damnation. That Usenet law about speling flames holds on fora as well.

In my defense, I've never seen the correct spelling used. Thanks for the fix.

Re:Excrable spelling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555725)

You should have merely excused it as irony. Never succumb to the flames!

Re:Excrable spelling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555655)

I can swallow a big lie if it's all written in correct english, but disagree completely with something obvious if it has some grammar or spelling errors on it.
Yes, I am the average slashdotter.

Re:Excrable spelling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555663)

You mean "Execrable"?

You were saying... :) j/k ... I'm sure it was an honest typo.

Re:Excrable spelling (1)

AaxelB (1034884) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555715)

You mean "... if his post weren't full of spelling and grammar errors."

Re:Excrable spelling (0, Redundant)

arcite (661011) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555749)

This is slashdot, brotherhood of tech poets, code warriors, immortals of nerdome. We don't need no grammar.

This is slashdot (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555765)

This is slashdot; brotherhood of tech poets, code warriors, immortals of nerdome. We don't need no grammar.

oops double posted (1)

arcite (661011) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555883)

No worries, this is Slashdot, all is forgiven. It's just my way.

Re:Excrable spelling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18556325)

I wish it was only spelling. The first few paragraphs of the article are so full of factual errors that I have serious doubts about the rest (which I didn't read, for that very reason).

His one inch keyboard plug made me frown (could have been a slight touch of sarcasm though).
Calling it an AT style plug mad me frown more (that plug was PC standard before the first AT was ever made, you could as well - and equally incorrectly - call it an XT plug).

But I threw the article out the window when he credited Creative Labs with the invention of the game port.

Creative Labs didn't even invent the sound card - they started out by cloning an existing one, the Ad Lib, adding an also-pre-existing game port to it, making it double as a MIDI port (purely through software), and selling it cheaper than the original. Bingo. Now doesn't that thing about cloning 'sound' familiar for the PC world of that era?
To their credit: the SB did come with more complete software than the Ad Lib, which was rather poor in that regard.

This guy is probably so young he hasn't even seen one of those early PC's he's painting the history of, let alone used them. Does that make him a computer paleontologist?

Re:Excrable spelling (1)

sambira (169347) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556365)

It is not only the grammer and spelling but the "facts" are not real facts. I have read some of his responses to comments on the site and have found that unless this guy has actually "seen" something, it doesn't exist. This tells me that the "facts" he presents are not reallly facts at all but pure conjecture. I also cannot believe this article. One other thing, who really cares what this guy says anyway. The buying public ultimately makes the decisions and they are buying USB. It solves the problem that "most" users of technology have, "why is this so hard to use?".

Cable Spaghetti (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18555651)

You know what we really need?
 
Wireless power supplies.

Re:Cable Spaghetti (1)

Pikoro (844299) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555975)

They're called batteries.

Re:Cable Spaghetti (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18556911)

Yes, I know. That was supposed to be tongue in cheek. Guess it ended up foot in mouth.

I sincerely hope powered USB fails (5, Insightful)

Thagg (9904) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555687)

I don't feel that computer designers should really have to think about some peripheral device sucking 50 watts out of a connection on the motherboard. If you want power, get a cord. If you want portable power, bring a battery. Just having one fewer cable on a desk is not a problem worth solving this way.

Laptops, for instance, are designed around very limited power budgets. If you plug a 1000 watt USB hair dryer into it, how long are the batteries going to last?

A solution I would be in favor of is building lower power peripherals. Building 500 GB flash hard-drive replacements than run on half-a-watt should be possible in a couple of years. Building very low power OLED displays should be possible. Building low-power devices is something that is a win in every possible way, and should be encouraged -- the USB power limitation is a great way to stimulate this!

That said, I'm really sorry I passed up the USB-powered heated typing gloves I saw in Shinjuku last fall...

Thad Beier

Re:I sincerely hope powered USB fails (5, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556079)

I don't feel that computer designers should really have to think about some peripheral device sucking 50 watts out of a connection on the motherboard.

Why not? Sure it's another factor in motherboard design, but as long as the USB peripheral and the controller can negotiate the power demands, then it's easy enough to make sure it's not going to burn anything out. If a device would draw more power than the mobo would supply, the controller simply wouldn't power it. That would make USB-deliverable power another feature by which to compare mobos.

Just having one fewer cable on a desk is not a problem worth solving this way.

I disagree. Perhaps I would agree if it were only one cable, but it's not. It's often four or five cables. My desktop, for example, has two printers, a scanner, speakers and a monitor, plus the CPU, so that's six power cables and six data cables (including the network). Worse, the six power cables require two power strips (because the wall warts cover more than one outlet on a typical power strip), so there are an additional two cables, for a total of 14 cables under my desk, for that one computer. Powered USB, if done right, could conceivably eliminate both power strips and all but one of the power cables, so instead of 14 cables, I'd have seven. Even better, the routing of the seven would be cleaner, since all of the peripheral cables connect to the computer and the compute is the only one that connects to the wall. That's well worth doing.

Laptops, for instance, are designed around very limited power budgets. If you plug a 1000 watt USB hair dryer into it, how long are the batteries going to last?

Not long, of course, but if I want to do that, and if the laptop can deliver the juice (unlikely in your example, but we could construct another that was more feasible), why shouldn't I be able to? They're my batteries and the power in them is mine to spend as I please.

A solution I would be in favor of is building lower power peripherals. Building 500 GB flash hard-drive replacements than run on half-a-watt should be possible in a couple of years. Building very low power OLED displays should be possible. Building low-power devices is something that is a win in every possible way, and should be encouraged -- the USB power limitation is a great way to stimulate this!

Given the increasing move to portables and the apparently-insurmountable limitations of batteries, I think that problem takes care of itself. Low-power USB-powered devices would have an inherent mobility advantage that would drive their sales over hungrier devices. They'd also be cooler and quieter, which also tends to please buyers. There's no reason to impose an artificial barrier which makes classes of devices that can't quite reach the 0.5A mark completely infeasible.

Re:I sincerely hope powered USB fails (1)

sambira (169347) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556381)

Very well stated and I agree 100%.

Re:I sincerely hope powered USB fails (1)

wytcld (179112) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556567)

Why not? Sure it's another factor in motherboard design, but as long as the USB peripheral and the controller can negotiate the power demands...

Because the power demands aren't just on the motherboard, but on the power supply. The motherboard typically doesn't know the capacity of the power supply. Even allowing that it did, an over-large power supply is less efficient than one sized right for the most typical use of the system (assuming they are otherwise power supplies of equal quality).

Re:I sincerely hope powered USB fails (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18557093)

The motherboard typically doesn't know the capacity of the power supply

You know, you are a genius, yes you are!

So obvious a design fault, leading to hard to detect intermittent errors, leading to lot of technical superstition, yet none undertook the task to make it a standard requirement to ensure that all system components let the system know their power requirements and that power supply let the system know its power capacity and that system can power-down each component separately as needed... I mean, it was in depicted in Sci-Fi for decades ("power from shields to cannons" and v-v)! Besides, it is even more critical parameter then temperature (and elevated temperature is only a consequence of power expenditure) which is religiously monitored everywhere.

Re:I sincerely hope powered USB fails (1)

LadyLucky (546115) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557247)

To add to that one of the big benefits for travelers is the need to take only one adapter. Since my cell can charge over USB, I don't need to take my cell charger and adapter to make it go. Much much much less space!

Wireless (4, Interesting)

shmlco (594907) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557347)

"Perhaps I would agree if it were only one cable, but it's not. It's often four or five cables. My desktop, for example, has two printers, a scanner, speakers and a monitor, plus the CPU, so that's six power cables and six data cables (including the network)"

So? Work smarter. I have a 17" Apple MacBook Pro on my desk and it has exactly ONE cable connected to it: the MagSafe power connector.

The mouse I use (when I use one) is Bluetooth. My printer and speakers are plugged into an AirPort Express across the room. A 500GB hard drive and the big HP color laser are plugged into an Extreme in the next room, which is where the DSL line comes in and besides, it's quieter that way. Backups to the HD, while slower, are scheduled and occur in the background, so who cares how fast they happen? The network is obviously wireless, and 802.11n due to the Extreme.

I have a USB-powered Canon scanner, and I plug it in when I need to scan something (rare).

The Apple AirPort Extreme and Express are great options, and work on Macs and PCs. I think Belkin also has a wireless USB hub for PCs.

In short, if you have too many wires, then get rid of them.

Re:I sincerely hope powered USB fails (1)

tcgroat (666085) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556423)

Ability to use the same USB device with either a low power notebook computer or a desktop system is what USB is all about, and a strong case against powered USB. The deliberately low power limit is what makes USB universal: the peripherals work on any system, big or small, battery powered or cord connected.

There are also cable design issues with increased current levels. The wires must not over-heat or lose too much voltage from the conductor resistance. The USB cable connected to the system at my right has 28AWG and 30AWG conductors in it: 500mA is about all it's good for. Higher current means fatter wires, higher prices, and less flexibility (in more than one sense). That works against a big advantage of USB: the cables are much more manageable and more portable than the fat RS-232 and parallel printer cables they replaced. Shorting out a USB cable is not a significant fire hazard because the circuit protector will trip before much heat can be generated. 50W protection for "limited energy" circuits, though legal in most countries, is high enough that fire safety cannot be taken for granted. All of these problems are solvable, but all the solutions hurt the low cost, simplicity, and convenience that made USB so popular.

In other words, use the right tool for the job. Low power portable? USB. Medium power desktop? Firewire. Remote power for a network? Power over Ethernet. One size does not fit all.

Re:I sincerely hope powered USB fails (4, Funny)

kabz (770151) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556623)

I can turn my laptop into a portable wireless hairdryer by running warcraft.

What about the environmental impact? (0)

Supercooldude (1018122) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555695)

Powered USB will encourage manufacturers to design peripherals which consume more power, which will negatively impact the earth. They should think of ways for PCs to consume less power, not more.

Re:What about the environmental impact? (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555865)

Powered USB will encourage manufacturers to design peripherals which consume more power, which will negatively impact the earth.

Those peripherals are plugged directly into mains power today. Do you really think that USB powered devices would draw more than the ones sucking from cheap, inefficient wall warts?

Re:What about the environmental impact? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18556023)

You bet they will! As it is now, if someone's developing a cheap USB device, they have to observe the power requirements. If they exceed what USB can deliver, they have to provide an external supply with it, which adds significantly to the cost. So instead, they'll sit down and think a bit about how to reduce the power requirements and sneak it in under the spec.

If that's not a concern, nobody's going to care when they design something and the device will be more power hungry.

Re:What about the environmental impact? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556135)

Why think good when you can feeeeal good.

Re:What about the environmental impact? (1)

porpnorber (851345) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556173)

Forgive me, but one of the biggest problems I have with casual and trendy environmentalism is the pandemic attitude that if it doesn't happen here then it's not a problem. Indeed, this is exactly the attitude on the part of businesses and governments that environmentalists are supposedly fighting against. A device gets power from somewhere, right? So I ask: which wastes less energy, and which has less impact on the environment in terms of manufacturing and disposal, (a) a host power supply and eight rechargeable batteries, (b) a host power supply and eight wall warts, or (c) a lone host power supply that had 10% more capacity?

Now, of course lower power devices are by and large a good thing, but a look at the current market will rapidly show you that reliance on a wall wart, or a pathetically, even uselessly, short battery life, while a huge inconvenience to the consumer, is not enough to change a manufacturer's mind about a design. This is not something device manufacturers exhibit any flexibility about; I don't know why, but it's true. Power on the data cable will let designs like current ones work more conveniently and—summing across the whole system—more efficiently. This is not the moment to don your hair shirt and live with the lower-tech approach: it's a genuine improvement.

Or, it would be, if the design were competent.

Re:What about the environmental impact? (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556239)

Powered USB will encourage manufacturers to design peripherals which consume more power, which will negatively impact the earth.

The energy used in data centers and all the computers in the world is minuscule to the energy required to produce meat for human consumption.

This is kind of like complaining that having too many wind or solar farms are going to change the earth's climate when we have hundreds of millions of cars doing a whole lot more to do so already.

(Note: I eat meat and I don't disprove of the consumption of it, but I'm just pointing out that computers are still a fraction of our energy consumption compared to light bulbs, food production, and transportation needs.)

Re:What about the environmental impact? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18556263)

Powered USB will encourage manufacturers to design peripherals which consume more power, which will negatively impact the earth.

Earth is zero volts (ground). It's not negative at all!

USB Power Strips as notebook power supplies (4, Interesting)

cnaumann (466328) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555705)

I love the idea of those USB power strips. Imagine being able to power your notebook off of one! That could end the different power brick for every notebook mess.

On USB 2.0 vs. FireWire400/800: I know that this subject as been beat to death, but anyway... Higher speed are always nice, but I am not often limited by the bus speed. What I LOVE about USB is that the specification is open. Anyone can download it. You can build your own USB gizmos in your basement; no large investment is required. There are plenty of chips that support USB available in small quantities (like 1 or 2). You can even make USB look just like a serial port, making said gizmos compatable with LABView with no driver fuss. Try that with FireWire! Now if I could make all my little lab gizmos powered off the USB bus as well, heck, I might never go home.

I know FireWire is popular for video transfer, but isn't that what DVI is for? For data transfer, you don't have to run DVI in real time, and you can run 3.9 Gbits/sec over DVI today.

Re:USB Power Strips as notebook power supplies (2, Informative)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555929)

Hooking up a DVI cable to a video camera wouldn't be very size efficient. And there'd be no audio transfer, so while HDMI would be better, the Firewire camera protocol isn't just sending video like a monitor does, it's actually sending the raw video (kind of like how HDTV sends MPEG2 over the air) as well as support for bidirectional communication other than video, like playback commands and tape position, for example.

yes, but no (2, Insightful)

nanosquid (1074949) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555717)

Powered USB sounds like a mess. But I wouldn't count those people out. Keep in mind that USB 1.0 looked like it was never going to make it compared to FireWire.

Furthermore, with wireless USB, the whole thing is up in the air: wireless data with wired power may well be a better way to go overall, and Powered USB may simply not be aimed at the consumer at all.

Incidentally, the set of FireWire-powered devices seems similar to the set of USB-powered devices, meaning that the higher power available from FireWire doesn't seem to be sufficient to enable a whole lot of new applications.

Re:yes, but no (1)

dlim (928138) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557227)

Furthermore, with wireless USB, the whole thing is up in the air: wireless data with wired power may well be a better way to go overall, and Powered USB may simply not be aimed at the consumer at all.
I have to disagree with you on the wireless USB point.

What does it give you that Bluetooth or Wi-fi doesn't? There have been a number of devices with some form of wireless data transfer (pdas, cell phones, etc) for years now, but they've not really taken off. Bluetooth has been most effective when used in wireless headsets, and maybe wireless keyboards and mice. For anything else (such as wireless synchronization), running the radio just drains the already short battery life of the device, meaning you're probably going to have to carry around a power adapter to keep the battery charged. Many of the power adapters are the brick kind, meaning they take up more space than a USB cable would. And if you have more than one device, you might need a charger for each.

Ultimately, you're trading one problem (having to carry a cable) for many (having to carry one or more power supplies, shorter battery life, encryption, wireless interference). How is that a good idea?

Not what I thought (1)

newandyh-r (724533) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555741)

When I saw the subject, I thought this might be about another problem that I have been considering: wall power sockets for small gadgets. It seems somewhat inefficient to take the 12v output of a solar array or mini wind turbine then invert this to mains voltage (230v over here / 110v in North America) then send this out to (large) wall sockets and plug in a wall-wart to bring it back to 12v or lower.
I had assumed that there were basically two options available: high current, but ugly, car "cigarette-lighter"- type 12v sockets and small, convenient, but low current (as the article points-out) USB. Most gadgets come with cables that will work with at least one - and often both - of these.
Firewire only seems to be used seriously in the video field where, perhaps, its strong support for DRM is considered vital by the manufacturers (even if not the consumers).
Any other thoughts?

Re:Not what I thought (1)

fenderized (976906) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556213)

Firewire is also popular for the pro audio work where the bandwidth allows for the likes of 56 channels. Yes, you can get USB or PCI interfaces, but those with USB tend to be at the lower end of the market and the PCI based ones obviously won't work with a laptop.

wrong reason for firewire's popularity for video (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18557273)

Firewire is popular for audio/video applications not because of DRM, but because FireWire supports high-bandwidth, isochronous usage (in other words -- real audio/video).

It was some time before USB could handle high-bandwidth or isochronous transfers and even today it's "pick one" http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=252 43/ [apple.com]

Back to the days of not enough ports (1)

AmIAnAi (975049) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555753)

What I fear will happen here is that PC manufacturers will restrict the number of powered ports to keep down the cost of the PSU, so you will get only one or two high power ports. At the same time, powered USB peripheral manufacturers will stop shipping power bricks to keep their costs down.


As a result we will be back to the situation of having more devices than we have sockets. Maybe the solution will be powered USB hubs with their own monster power brick.

Re:Back to the days of not enough ports (1)

bahwi (43111) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555821)

Powered USB hubs. That's what runs my keyboard, webcam, and scanner. In fact nothing that really requires power is hooked into the comp directly(because all that is connected directly has external power supply). The power brick is really tiny too for it. I was surprised as hell that my scanner was USB only powered.

Why Bother? (1)

Pensacola Tiger (538962) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555807)

There already is a specification that meets the requirements that Powered USB attempts to satisfy - it's called Firewire.

All that needs to happen is for the peripheral manufacturers to start producing Firewire devices and for the PC manufacturers to include Firewire ports on motherboards and laptops. The last thing that is needed is yet another half-baked 'standard', especially one that can be implemented in any number of ways.

Powered USB? Gah.

Re:Why Bother? (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556297)

There already is a specification that meets the requirements that Powered USB attempts to satisfy - it's called Firewire.

True, but if you are selling your product at Best Buy, you can be safe to say that most people have USB, but the majority won't have firewire.

Of course, if you want to get complicated you could provide both USB and Firewire ports and include an wall wart in the box and say "If you have USB, use the wall wart, but if you have firewire you don't need it!", but I think that would lead to a support head ache.

I think I missed something (1)

watomb (920150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555863)

Everyone should understand the concept called GE (Good Enough). USB works and is simple to implement. Just like RS232. I don't think its ethical to design a USB device that can only receive its power from the USB cord. Many cheap low end cords don't even have the power option. The power requirement was and after thought during the requirements phase. Plus if you have a cat or rabbit tell me how many cords they chew through. Think about it would you want to replace your mother board every time you get a short circuit? Plus remember engineers have to deal with idiots that have MBAs they will make the engineer justify every cap and every layer of that pcb board.

Why Device Industry doesn't want Powered USB... (4, Interesting)

Glasswire (302197) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555881)

... to succeed: For the same reason there is are NO standards for external power bricks for laptops/printers/scanners/hubs etc. Because there is a high margin add-on market from manufacturers to replace proprietary power devices (when lost) with expensive branded units which are probably about 5x to 10x the cost of what generic units would if there was a some common defined types (V/ma/connector-types) which would be universal. A move to efficent USB power would undercut this business in the same way, so the only standard that will be agreed upon will be an unworkable one. Firewire never replaced USB because it had licence encumberences (cost more to use), alas.

What's the problem? (1)

DogDude (805747) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555913)

This guy talks about incompatibility. I don't know USB from Firewire, but I don't see the problem. My Sansa works perfectly with powered USB (it charges and syncs off of a single regular USB cable). What kind of compatibility problems exist today? What devices don't work with "Regular" USB at this point? I'm not a gadget guy, but everything I've seen and used has worked flawlessly.

Re:What's the problem? (1)

skiflyer (716312) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556189)

Mostly amount of power. DVD drives, some harddrives, laptops could be driven off the USB power, but they're not, they require a separate add on plug. It's not a bad idea, though I picture it a bit like christmas lights, someone plugging in a chain of 100 different items and wondering why their PSU is smoking. (Yes I realize that's an easy thing to avoid, but it's still how I picture it)

Re:What's the problem? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18556265)

If you'd have bothered to read the article carefully, you'd see that "Powered USB" is a different standard then USB 2.0 (which is what your Sansa uses), with different cables and higher power output. "Regular USB" is fine for powering small devices, like your Sansa. Powered USB is meant to power big devices, like printers, scanners, external hard drive enclosures and optical drives. (Sure, the minority of external hard drive enclosures are powered by USB 2.0, but it isn't recommended, which is why most enclosures have external power supplies).

This guy is proposing that ALL peripherals, big and small, should be powered by Powered USB, thus eliminating the multitude of power cords and bricks that go with all your computer peripherals.

Where do compatibility problems come into play? The Powered USB spec has three kinds of plugs, depending on the voltage supplied (5, 12 or 24).

Re:What's the problem? (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 7 years ago | (#18556315)

I'm not a gadget guy, but everything I've seen and used has worked flawlessly.

Some mother boards do not have good support for powering USB devices. Usually laptops and no name brand will give issues on occasion.

If your mother board supports it and isn't a POS bargain bin then usually you won't have a problem. For the rest of us... Well... There is the RMA form.

Fact checking needed (2)

Alioth (221270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18555997)

I'm not entirely sure that I can take an article seriously that asserts the IBM PC was the "first home computer that took off". Firstly, it too expensive to even be considered a home computer. I think the first home computer that took off in the US was probably the Commodore 64. In Britain and most of Europe, the first home computer that took off was probably the Sinclair Spectrum. The PC didn't take off until much, much later as a home computer - really, not until the early 1990s (by which time, we were already on the second generation of home computers to take off, the Amiga and ST, and to a lesser extent, updated versions of the Spectrum and BBC Micro)

firewire (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18556207)

my only problem with firewire is that it's for faggots.

Re:firewire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18557189)

But I thought Apple used Firewire extensively. There for the iPod and other Apple produced all used Firewi..... oh.... OH!!!

Who cares what we think? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18556755)

USB. Easy for n00bs. Under-spec'ed for pro use because of bus contention and polling and power and........

OK so obviously it makes no difference what the geeks think. Nothing to see here, move along.

Why powered USB will fail (1)

mkiwi (585287) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557047)

USB has a standard voltage of: 5VDC
The standard current associated with that voltage is: 500mA

By ohm's law:
P = IV
5 V * .500 A = 2.5 Watts

Even if the specification is increased to 1 A or 2 A, you still have a problem with many things like hard drives requiring 12V and 5V inputs. You can make 5V into 12V, it just costs a lot of space and money.

Another thing that bugs me about USB: KVM! (0)

antdude (79039) | more than 7 years ago | (#18557181)

I have Dell Optiplex office machines that don't have a VGA and PS/2 connections. It only has DVI and USB ports! What the heck? I wanted to hook another machine with an old KVM (without adapters), but it didn't work. I was going to ask my manager to buy one, but they're so expensive for the good brands. Ugh!

I wonder if I can still charge power via these USB-capable KVMs?
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