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Rumor: Apple investigating USB 3.0 for Macs ahead of Intel

A new report claims Apple has continued to investigate implementing USB 3.0 in its Mac computers independent of Intel's plans to eventually support USB 3.0 at the chipset level.

VR-Zone cites an anonymous source who claims Apple is "still looking" at USB 3.0 for future products and may beat Intel in supporting the standard. Though Apple has for some time been rumored to be planning on bringing USB 3.0 to the Mac, the company's recent commitment to the high-speed Thunderbolt interconnect has dampened talk of USB 3.0.

The third-generation of USB offers speeds of up to 5Gbps, 10 times that of USB 2.0. The standard is backward compatible with the previous generation, but has yet to see widespread adoption.

According to the report, USB 3.0 host controllers have finally reached an "affordable level" for Apple, roughly $2-3 each in large quantities, compared to $10-15 for Intel's Thunderbolt chip. The move is said to help Apple cater to consumers who may not need or be interested in high-end Thunderbolt products.

The report also noted that Apple is working with partners to help bring to market more affordable Thunderbolt storage solutions for small businesses and demanding consumers.

For its part, Intel has affirmed its commitment to both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt. In April, the chipmaker said it will release chips supporting both standards next year. Thunderbolt made its debut on Apple's new MacBook Pros this February. Co-developed by Apple and Intel, Thunderbolt offers bi-directional channels with transfer speeds of 10Gbps each, twice as fast as USB 3.0.

The world's largest PC marker, Hewlett-Packard, has thrown its weight behind USB 3.0, noting in May that it had yet to find a "value proposition" for Thunderbolt. Of course, HP's support may not count for as much, now that the company is looking to either spin off or sell its PC business.

A recently granted patent shows Apple has looked into USB 3.0 support for its dock connector. The invention details a smaller 30-pin dock connector that could provide support for "one or more new high-speed communication standards," such as USB 3.0 and DisplayPort.