The new-standard USB 2.0 - offering FireWire-level transfer speeds of up to 480 Mbps – has been unveiled at the Intel Developers Forum.

USB 2.0 was demonstrated by Pat Gelsinger, vice president and general manager of Intel's desktop products group - just one year after the formation of the USB 2.0 Promoter Group.

Gelsinger told the Forum: “When the group formed, it decided on two simple objectives. The first was compatibility with the old standard. The second was to achieve transfer speeds 10 to 20 times faster than the current 12Mbps speed.

“The group met the first goal, as current USB-ready PCs, peripherals, and cables work seamlessly with the new standard. And the second goal, well, they blew that away.”

The final specifications for the standard will be published by April 2000, says Jason Ziller, Intel's technology initiatives manager and head of the USB Promoter Group. Products supporting the new standard should begin shipping before the end of the year. By 2002 most PCs will be shipping with the standard, he says.

A faster USB standard eliminates the need for the troublesome add-in cards some peripherals require, Ziller added. Many high-speed scanners today require a SCSI card to achieve maximum performance. USB will offer similar performance without the hassle, he says.

Ziller added that other peripherals to benefit from USB 2.0 include video-conference cameras, printers, external storage devices, and cable and digital subscriber line modems.

A much faster USB is considered a potential alternative to IEEE 1394 for use with high-speed video, industry-watchers claim.

Consumers will access USB 2.0 technology with little to no effort, as it becomes more widely used on new PCs. Because USB 2.0 is backwards-compatible, older systems that support USB 1.0 can accommodate it. USB is currently available through add-in cards; it's likely the updated standard will also be available on cards, for owners of older systems.