VIA unveils first 4-port USB 3 controller

The minimalist pair of blue USB 3 ports seen on current motherboards could soon expand to a block of four ports, thanks to VIA's new VL800 controller chip.

The tiny square of silicon is the first USB 3 host controller to support four downstream ports, which gives it an immediate advantage over other popular controllers that only support two ports, such as NEC's uPD720200.

VIA says the chip can be used in a variety of implementations, including on-board integration onto motherboards for laptops, desktops and servers. However, the Taiwanese chip specialist says the chip is also equally at home on a separate PCI-E controller card, or an ExpressCard adaptor for laptops.

The company plans to demonstrate the VL800 on a desktop PCI-E controller card at Computex next week, showing how four ports can be supported by a single-lane PCI-E slot.

VIA says the chip is fully compliant with Universal Serial Bus 3.0 specification, revision 1.0 for data transfer speeds of up to 5Gb/sec. and notes that the ports will also be backwardly-compatible with Legacy USB devices. The chip also features upgradeable firmware, which can be integrated into a motherboard's BIOS if need be.

VIA Labs' associate vice president, David Hsu, claimed the VL 800, "is an easy and cost-effective way for motherboard manufacturers to bring additional USB 3.0 performance to their product lines. It means increased design opportunities for system integrators, and of course it means consumers can use more of their USB 3.0 devices at the same time,” he said.

There's no word on Mac-compatibility yet, but VIA says its initial drivers for the chip already support Windows 7, Vista and XP, as well as various Linux kernels.