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Intel Helping 'Plug-and-Play' Royalty-Free

USB, part of the universal 'plug-and-play' technology has been around since 1996, but not all PCs are built alike and the technology that recognizes the drivers can sometimes run into problems.

Intel said Wednesday it is addressing this issue by releasing its USB 2.0 Enhanced Host Controller Interface (EHCI) 1.0 specification on a royalty-free basis.

"During the development of USB 1.0, the existence of two versions of host controller interface specifications (UHCI and OHCI) made it more difficult for OS vendors to develop software support for multiple implementations of host controllers in the industry," said Intel technology initiatives manager. "For USB 2.0, Intel's goal was to develop one specification that the entire industry would use, increasing compatibility of the various implementations and making it easier to develop software support for all."

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant, which is in Tokyo for a developer's conference, said the first public Alpha release intended for a self-test program is expected in the second half of 2002.

Intel Labs, which will continue to provide the service until test software is released and a self-testing process is established, will conduct the EHCI compliance testing at no charge.

The specification defines an architecture that is fully compatible with USB 1.1 and 2.0 devices and hubs. It can even run USB 1.1 devices with existing USB 1.1 software drivers. The architecture is also highly optimized and therefore consumes minimum CPU overhead -- less than the amount that a USB 1.1 UHCI host controller. In addition, the company said existing USB 1.1 devices can connect to USB 1.1 "companion" controllers, and therefore leave all of the high-speed bandwidth for USB 2.0 high-speed devices.

The No. 1 chipmaker said licensing of the specification has been widespread, with more than 30 companies signed up to date. Licensees include major vendors of software and discrete and integrated host controllers.

Intel developed the EHCI specification with contributions from Agere Systems, Compaq Computer Corp. , Microsoft Corp. , NEC Corp. and Philips Semiconductors .

The first public version of the EHCI spec, designated revision 0.95, was released earlier, enabling NEC and other manufacturers to begin shipping discrete USB 2.0 host controllers.

"As one of the first implementers of Intel's EHCI specification, NEC has realized the tremendous benefit if offers to both the industry and consumers," said NEC Network System LSI Development Division general manager Hidetoshi Kosaka. "The spec should help accelerate the adoption of USB 2.0, and lead to a better, more consistent consumer experience."