The New Kid in Town: USB 3.0


Unless you are on the bleeding edge of technology, chances are you haven’t used a USB 3.0 device yet. And unless you’re constantly reading up on the latest and greatest technology, you might not even know what USB 3.0 is all about.As the name implies, USB 3.0 is the successor to the ubiquitous UBS 2.0 interface. It provides faster transfer rates -- up to 5.0Gbps using a technology dubbed SuperSpeed. This is more than ten times the speed of USB 2.0 and, while you won’t get speeds like that in real-life use, you will see significant improvements over USB 2.0. It is also significantly faster than eSATA, FireWire-800, and FireWire-400.

Obviously, USB 3.0 is aimed more towards use with external storage than devices like mice and keyboards. The new standard is backwards compatible with old devices -- you’ll be able to plug any of your current USB devices into the new ports. It also provides more power to devices than USB 2.0, allowing you to charge portable devices -- including iPods and Blackberries -- more quickly. Sound’s great. Why wait? Step right up to USB 3.0! If only life were that simple. Intel has recently stated that they don’t plan on adding USB 3.0 to their chipsets until late in 2011. This means that you won’t see USB 3.0 built in to a large number of computer systems until 2012. This is not to say you won’t be able to get a PC with USB 3.0 before then -- there are already a handful on the market, including the ASUS N61Jq-A1 and ASUS N71Jq-A1. There are also a number of options to add USB 3.0 to your current computers. Desktop users with an available PCI Express slot can add USB 3.0 at a very reasonable cost. Buffalo makes a PCI Express x1 expansion card that adds two ports to your computer. ASUS has a similar card, which adds 6Gbps internal SATA in addition to two USB 3.0 ports -- it requires a PCI Express x4 slot for installation. Both cards are compatible with Windows XP, Vista, and 7. Notebook users can use Buffalo’s ExpressCard/34 adapter to add two USB 3.0 ports to their system. Also compatible with Windows XP, Vista, and 7, the card fits in both ExpressCard/34 and ExpressCard/54 slots. The card is plug-and-play, allowing you to swap it in and out of your notebook as needed. Once you’ve outfitted your system with a controller card, it’s time to add a USB 3.0 storage device. Western Digital’s My Book 3.0 is available with or without a controller card, in a 1TB configuration. The drive is intended for desktop use, since it requires an AC power source to operate.

 The USB 3.0 cable is included, which is helpful as you aren’t likely to have one lying about idle. Buffalo also has a USB 3.0 desktop drive available, the DriveStation 3.0 HD-HXU3, in 1TB, 1.5TB, and 2TB capacities. It features Buffalo’s TurboUSB feature, which delivers even faster data throughput than standard USB 3.0 devices. It is bundled with Memeo Instant Backup software for Windows and also includes the data cable. And Buffalo makes a portable USB 3.0 drive, which is powered by the system bus. This makes it ideal for use with notebook systems. The MiniStation Cobalt USB 3.0 HD-PEU3 is available in 500GB and 640GB capacities. It features Buffalo’s TurboPC technology for enhanced transfer rates, and includes their backup software for Windows. So, if you are looking for the latest and greatest in external storage technology, USB 3.0 is right up your alley. Even though it won’t be standard on PCs this year or next, adding it to an existing system via expansion card is a matter of ease. It is currently not supported by Mac OS X, so you’ll have to have a Windows-based PC to take advantage of this technology. More and more USB 3.0 devices are coming to market every day, so your options for expansion and external storage will only increase as time goes by.

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Usb shall rise again!

 This is almost worthless, just a marketing post.  

How about giving us some real world comparisons of the external drive with existing usb2, esata, firewire800, and firewire400 drives?

What about USB3 flash card readers for camera buffs? 

and what drive / array of drives is going to read/write 5gbs?

This was intended more as an educational piece than as an in-depth test of the new drives. Not all of our customers are aware of the latest technologies, so the goal was to explain the benefits of USB 3.0 to those who may be scratching their heads and wondering why someone mistyped ‘USB 2.0’ on the box of the latest and greatest hard drive. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to perform benchmarks on products – the article was written on a Mac, after all, and as stated, there’s no USB 3.0 support in OS X.

The opening paragraph does mention that you won’t see 5Gbps speeds in actual use, just as you don’t see single-drive USB 2.0 devices getting 480Mbps or FireWire-800 drives getting 800Mbps. The numbers I’ve seen others posting online show about a 3x real-world speed increase, but it wouldn't be right to take credit for someone else’s research and testing in an article. However, if the standard sees any sort of significant adoption, I wouldn’t be surprised to see SSD arrays that benefit from the extra bandwidth provided by the bus – G-Tech already makes ones that they benchmark at 67MB/sec (536Mbps) over FireWire-800. USB 2.0 has been around for a decade or so –- who’s to say that the 5Gbps maximum throughput won’t come in handy in 2020?

The graph that shows USB 2.0 as being faster than Firewire 400 tells you what kind of review this is. Raw bit rate is only a rough guide to real life transfer speed.

I'll wait for proper comparative reviews with hard drive performance measured for several kinds of files before I consider using this new technology. 

 You can't please everyone. I've hears about USB 3.0, but this is the first product I have been made aware of. I am also not familiar with the Buffalo brand.

When Maxtor, Seagate and the rest start marketing, then 3.0 will have arrived.

Meanwhile, the sharp drop in storage prices has been explained.

Apple will no doubt install 3.0 on the new iMacs. With no external fix. So we will have to buy a new one, or live with a feeling of inferiority.

If 15-25% overhead of a USB2.0 transport is any indication, maximum real-world transfer rates of the USB3.0 bus will be in the range of 400MB/s.  A 4-drive array will easily achieve that, and so will a 2-drive array of SSD drives.  That doesn't even touch photographers and videographers demands of fast transfers from flash storage where USB2.0 long became the bottleneck.

There is virtually no point in testing a single external drive's transfer rates as no single spinning drive transfers faster than 150MB/s.  Arrays are a whole different bowl of soup, and USB3 makes a lot of sense for 4-bay boxes and toys like Drobo.

The article is useful, guys - I, for one, didn't know Intel wasn't planning on putting USB3 in their chipsets until 2011.  Quit knocking the author down - he did a good job! :)

One note maybe: eSata doesn't come in one flavor, and the chart should mention that eSATA 3Gbs is being used.  One might want to add that eSATA 6G is already out.

Thanks for the article. Lots in it I was not aware of. Not everyone know everything like some critics.

I am using the Western Digital USB 3.0 product.  It is great.  Real life Quick Bench test speeds of 120-130 MB/s versus 24 MB/s on USB 2.0.

This is almost twice as fast as actual FW 800 speeds.  The WD drive also comes with an easily installed PCIe card.  Took less than 5 minutes to install.

 Folks, USB 3 is here now.  Just had to rebuild my machine due to an Antec power supply burning out my motherboard and processor.  Sticking with AMD parts because of Intel's insanely elevated prices, I used a GIGABYTE GA-790FXTA-UD5 R motherboard featuring both USB 3 and SATA3.  And this was not some exotic ultra-high priced part.  Knowing that SATA3 is out and available, it would make little sense to spend significant money on any machine that lacked it.  I frankly find it hard to believe that Intel won't have USB 3 support on its boards before a 2011 delivery date for 2012 builds.  Especially for video, with its huge file sizes, USB 3 will be in high demand very quickly.

Some of you idiots are just full of yourselves! Get a life!

Based on this $30 USB3 + SATA 6G Asus PCIe card (it is mentioned in the article but the link points to a different product) and on a bunch of motherboards with USB 3.0 built in, USB 3.0 isn't that expensive to implement.

Why is Intel delaying it so much?

 By what I've read elsewhere, while USB 3.0 is theoretically faster than Firewire 800, realistically it falls a little short of FW800 in real-world operation. What I've read is that you still get data 'collisions' which slows, and sometimes breaks, data transfer such as feeding video output from your camcorder into your computer for editing. I have more than once run into this issue in USB 2, forcing me to transfer the files directly and let the editor convert them to video before I could work with the files. This is an issue I never experienced with Firewire.

Expecting USB 3 to be any better is really a pipe-dream, in my opinion.