Etron enters USB 3.0 host controller market

Own controller to enter mass production in August

YOU MIGHT VERY well own, or at least have owned, a graphics card with memory from Etron Technology, or even some low cost DDR2 memory modules. However, the company has now started to move away from making DRAM and decided to start making USB 3.0 host controllers. By now you might start to say “not another one” but bear with us and you’ll see that these guys mean serious business.

The Renesas (formerly NEC) USB 3.0 host controller is so far the de facto standard in the USB 3.0 host controller business, but recently both Frisco Logic and VLI have announced products. However, if we at all can trust Etron, the company claims that it will have mass production solutions in the market ahead of both Frisco Logic and VLI. ASMedia and supposedly even JMicron should also enter the USB 3.0 host controller market shortly and we’re still waiting for word from Texas Instruments about its involvement.

Making noise is one thing, having actual chips in mass production is an entirely different thing. Etron said its first products would arrive in August and the company had test samples on display at its booth at Computex. With the production issue solved, the next step for a new company in a market space that’s quickly getting crowded is design wins. We were quite surprised to see two motherboards on display at Etron’s booth from two major players in the business, Gigabyte and ECS.

Etron’s USB 3.0 host controller should be more affordable than Renesas option and we’d expect to at least see the Etron solution on a lot of more affordable USB 3.0 enabled motherboards. However, it also looks like it’s a real performer, especially when it comes to the write performance. We didn’t see any actual benchmarks being performed, but we’re going to try to pay a visit to Etron after Computex and see if we can’t get some testing done.

The company did display some in-house benchmarks and although we don’t know what the exact drive was, in CrystalDiskMark 3.0, the Etron host controller manages to outperform the NEC controller in the sequential write speed test by a not insignificant 52MB/s and a massive 68MB/s in the 512K test and 10MB/s in the 4k test. In the write performance tests it only managed slightly better speeds, but there’s still an improvement compared to Renesas.

Etron also said its controller will be cheaper than the Renesas controller, although this seems to be a common denominator between all of the “new” USB 3.0 host controller manufacturers. We were also told that Etron is still deciding on whether or not it’s going to make a four port controller or not, although if there’s enough demand, this is likely to happen in the near future. One this is certain, USB 3.0 is here to stay and it will only get cheaper.S|A

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