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A Brief History of I2C

I2C was originally developed in 1982 by Philips for various Philips chips. The original spec allowed for only 100kHz communications, and provided only for 7-bit addresses, limiting the number of devices on the bus to 112 (there are several reserved addresses, which will never be used for valid I2C addresses). In 1992, the first public specification was published, adding a 400kHz fast-mode as well as an expanded 10-bit address space. Much of the time (for instance, in the ATMega328 device on many Arduino-compatible boards), device support for I2C ends at this point. There are three additional modes specified:

  • fast-mode plus, at 1MHz
  • high-speed mode, at 3.4MHz
  • ultra-fast mode, at 5MHz

In addition to "vanilla" I2C, Intel introduced a variant in 1995 call "System Management Bus" (SMBus). SMBus is a more tightly controlled format, intended to maximize predictability of communications between support ICs on PC motherboards. The most significant difference between SMBus is that it limits speeds from 10kHz to 100kHz, while I2C can support devices from 0kHz to 5MHz. SMBus includes a clock timeout mode which makes low-speed operations illegal, although many SMBus devices will support it anyway to maximize interoperability with embedded I2C systems.