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Conclusion And Recommendations

USB 3.0, SATA 6Gb/s, Motherboards, And Overcoming Bottlenecks
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Today, the bandwidth issue isn't particularly pressing. After all, there still aren't any SATA-based drives able to move more than 300 MB/s. But it's important to take note of your motherboard's concessions, if there are any. For those who've purchased (or are looking to purchase) boards that divide PCI Express connectivity between graphics cards and storage controllers, you could be hurting performance in a very tangible way, even today. Moreover, as you start attaching next-gen devices to those controllers, you don't want to be dismayed by performance below what you were expecting.

Issues

Existing mainstream chipsets from do not provide sufficient PCI Express bandwidth for USB 3.0 or SATA 6Gb/s controllers because, while PCH-based PCI Express lanes supposedly offer a second-gen interface, they run at first-gen transfer rates (250 MB/s instead of 500 MB/s). Motherboard manufacturers can work around this by routing add-on components through PCIe switching logic or by physically wiring these controllers to PCI Express 2.0 lanes, which typically drive your graphics cards. AMD chipsets (starting with the 700-series) are fully PCI Express 2.0-compliant and consequently don’t exhibit such a limitation.

Motherboard solutions that reroute USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s logic through the chipset’s PCI Express 1.1 links will lead to bottlenecked bandwidth. This also applies if you decide to install a x1 PCI Express USB 3.0 or third-gen SATA add-on card into any Intel platform or an older AMD-based machine. The 250 MB/s of PCIe 1.1 is the most you’ll get. Our benchmark results show that effective bandwidth may even be much lower.

Solutions

Let’s focus on AMD for a moment. The company beat Intel to the inclusion of SATA 6Gb/s support in its latest southbridge revision, which complements the 890GX platform. The chipset serves up six SATA 6Gb/s ports natively, requiring no add-on controller at all. USB 3.0 is not yet supported by any chipset, but hooking up a discrete USB 3.0 controller to a single 500 MB/s PCI Express 2.0 link is a common and definitely workable approach.

For Intel systems, we have to recommend that you pay much closer attention when it comes to motherboard selection. Since 16 PCI Express 2.0 lanes are more than enough for a single graphics card, PCIe switches like the PLX device used on Gigabyte’s P55A-UD7 and MSI's P55-GD85 can accommodate the bandwidth requirements of additional USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 controllers by dynamically allocating bandwidth from the P55 PCH when a pair of graphics cards is already monopolizing the processor's available second-gen PCI Express. These two boards show that this flexible bandwidth allocation remains a good solution, even if two graphics cards on x8 PCI Express 2.0 connects tax the PCIe bandwidth in CrossFire mode. Any motherboard that comes with added USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 hardware should be running a PCI Express switch to administer the available bandwidth efficiently.

Recommendations

Bandwidth limitations on Intel's side will require a chipset refresh. It's possible to manage existing bandwidth more efficiently through PCI Express switching, though, which leads us to our main recommendation. If you're truly concerned with buying a board now that includes USB 3.0 and and SATA 6Gb/s support, it makes sense to purchase a higher-end platform in order to make sure you get a configuration with switching capabilities, at least (assuming, of course, that you're in the market for an H55-, H57-, or P55-based setup). Should you instead opt for an X58-based machine, these potential bottlenecks won't be an issue. Of course, that's a viable option as well and, frankly, more attractive to performance enthusiasts.

Though the promise of SATA 6Gb/s is exciting for enthusiasts eager to adopt early, the performance benefits are still limited, and we think it'd be best to wait. The market simply lacks drives faster than 300 MB/s.

With USB 3.0, though, the situation is different. Even if you plug a USB 2.0 x1 PCIe add-on card into a PCIe 1.1 slot, you'll still receive up to 250 MB/s of bandwidth, or a minimum of about 160 MB/s, as you can see in our benchmark results. Compared to USB 2.0 performance (at an effective 30-35 MB/s), this is already well worth the upgrade.

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Top Comments
  • 21 Hide
    niknikktm , March 24, 2010 2:07 PM
    I am not an AMD fanboy and have never used an AMD processor, but I too have to agree with SpadeM and others that there should have been an AMD board thrown in the mix for comparison. Yes the article is "USB 3.0, SATA 6Gb/s, Motherboards, And Overcoming Bottlenecks", and that is EXACTLY why it should have compared these various "solutions" with a bottleneck free AMD set-up. Just how do the suggested solutions compare with a bottleneck free MB??? Are they adequate and cost effective solutions in comparison?

    That is the real question that needs to be answered because when I go to buy my next set-up, I would like to know if it's worth sticking with Intel P55, or upgrading to Intel X58, or switching to AMD. A true comparison covering this is in order.
  • 19 Hide
    SpadeM , March 24, 2010 10:05 AM
    Even though there is no bottleneck on the AMD platform it would have been ok to post result when it comes to the actual speed difference between these 3 boards and one AMD equipped on .. to see how large is this bottleneck in numbers.

    Just my 2 cents on the matter
  • 19 Hide
    Onus , March 24, 2010 9:05 AM
    Why no AMD boards? It's right there; because current AMD chipsets don't have bandwidth problems:

    Quote:
    AMD chipsets (starting with the 700-series) are fully PCI Express 2.0-compliant and consequently don’t exhibit such a limitation.

    and:
    Quote:
    Let’s focus on AMD for a moment. The company beat Intel to the inclusion of SATA 6Gb/s support in its latest southbridge revision, which complements the 890GX platform. The chipset serves up six SATA 6Gb/s ports natively, requiring no add-on controller at all. USB 3.0 is not yet supported by any chipset, but hooking up a discrete USB 3.0 controller to a single 500 MB/s PCI Express 2.0 link is a common and definitely workable approach.


    AMD's best CPUs aren't as fast as Intel's, but if you're just gaming, you probably won't see a difference. The AMD platform, however, is superior unless you're willing to pay for X58.
Other Comments
  • 19 Hide
    Anonymous , March 24, 2010 6:41 AM
    Unfortunately, Intel is a pain-in-the-a$$ for not picking USB3.0 into their mainstream chip until today.

    AMD sure know what they can give consumers first hand on technology that doesn't need to cost as much as Intel motherboard.
  • 0 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , March 24, 2010 7:04 AM
    Bah... enough of 1156...Its been how many months and still too few X58 USB3.0 boards out there.... what more boards that actually utilize the full 6gb/s.

    Its hard to be as patient waiting for the right technology and at the right time to upgrade...
  • 7 Hide
    wiak , March 24, 2010 7:07 AM
    why no AMD based motherboards?
    why? many of intel motherbaords are limited to pcie 1.1 speed
  • 11 Hide
    rdawise , March 24, 2010 7:19 AM
    wiakwhy no AMD based motherboards?why? many of intel motherbaords are limited to pcie 1.1 speed

    It seems that many of Mr. Schmid and Mr. Roos articles are Intel articles. Not a complaint but just an observation.
  • 19 Hide
    Onus , March 24, 2010 9:05 AM
    Why no AMD boards? It's right there; because current AMD chipsets don't have bandwidth problems:

    Quote:
    AMD chipsets (starting with the 700-series) are fully PCI Express 2.0-compliant and consequently don’t exhibit such a limitation.

    and:
    Quote:
    Let’s focus on AMD for a moment. The company beat Intel to the inclusion of SATA 6Gb/s support in its latest southbridge revision, which complements the 890GX platform. The chipset serves up six SATA 6Gb/s ports natively, requiring no add-on controller at all. USB 3.0 is not yet supported by any chipset, but hooking up a discrete USB 3.0 controller to a single 500 MB/s PCI Express 2.0 link is a common and definitely workable approach.


    AMD's best CPUs aren't as fast as Intel's, but if you're just gaming, you probably won't see a difference. The AMD platform, however, is superior unless you're willing to pay for X58.
  • 19 Hide
    SpadeM , March 24, 2010 10:05 AM
    Even though there is no bottleneck on the AMD platform it would have been ok to post result when it comes to the actual speed difference between these 3 boards and one AMD equipped on .. to see how large is this bottleneck in numbers.

    Just my 2 cents on the matter
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , March 24, 2010 10:12 AM
    It puzzles me why no one noticed that when utilizing a single AMD 5850 GPU, the Gigabyte UD6 board actually has the fastest throughput!

    I'm actually pretty satisfied with a single 5850 GPU card, which is darn fast and good enough for all the latest games), so buying a Gigabyte UD6 board seems the best choice among the 3 reviewed in this article.

    Someone correct me if I'm wrong.
  • 11 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , March 24, 2010 11:38 AM
    Very informative article. It cleared up some misunderstandings about USB and SATA.
  • 1 Hide
    jdp245 , March 24, 2010 12:03 PM
    I must be missing something. Even with the switching and PLX device, isn't the bandwidth through the PCIe interface more bottlenecked than the SATA 2.0 interface that is natively supported by the 1156 platform? It would be interesting to see a comparison between the tests done here and the performance of the same drive connected through natively supported SATA 2.0 on the same system.
  • 2 Hide
    cknobman , March 24, 2010 12:57 PM
    Can we quit with the AMD fanboy whining already? We dont need to see AMD comparisons in this article but it was very clearly stated MULTIPLE TIMES by the author that there is no bottleneck/performance limitation with AMD platorms. I believe the title of the article is "USB 3.0, SATA 6Gb/s, Motherboards, And Overcoming Bottlenecks" which would indicate that it is covering platforms that have a "Bottleneck" and how to overcome it. So if there is no bottleneck for AMD we dont need to have a review of their parts!!!!

    BTW thank you very much for posting this article I am currently building a Media Server/NAS and was tinkering with both AMD and Intel builds. This just pretty much slammed the door on any intel build.
  • 1 Hide
    HavoCnMe , March 24, 2010 1:13 PM
    First, we need the interface to be twice as fast as PCI-e 2.0 for RAID purposes.
    Second, we need to have HDDs and SSDs that perform above the SATA 2.0 mark (375 MB/s Max Throughput).
  • 2 Hide
    Hupiscratch , March 24, 2010 1:19 PM
    I can wait for the next generation of chipsets (which will possibily have the PCI-E 3.0).
  • 1 Hide
    loydc1 , March 24, 2010 1:24 PM
    I am a AMD fanboy and have used only AMD cpu's for 10 years and when i built computers for friends i only use AMD! So it seams that infell is not as good as they say.
  • 1 Hide
    jay236 , March 24, 2010 1:34 PM
    This is why I bought 1366 over 1156!
  • 3 Hide
    HavoCnMe , March 24, 2010 2:03 PM
    The LGA1156 technology was dead when it arrived. The only thing it has is the removal of the northbridge. I won't and would never buy the 1156-series. It was retarded that they just didn't make them all LGA1366. But that is marketing for ya.
  • 21 Hide
    niknikktm , March 24, 2010 2:07 PM
    I am not an AMD fanboy and have never used an AMD processor, but I too have to agree with SpadeM and others that there should have been an AMD board thrown in the mix for comparison. Yes the article is "USB 3.0, SATA 6Gb/s, Motherboards, And Overcoming Bottlenecks", and that is EXACTLY why it should have compared these various "solutions" with a bottleneck free AMD set-up. Just how do the suggested solutions compare with a bottleneck free MB??? Are they adequate and cost effective solutions in comparison?

    That is the real question that needs to be answered because when I go to buy my next set-up, I would like to know if it's worth sticking with Intel P55, or upgrading to Intel X58, or switching to AMD. A true comparison covering this is in order.
  • 8 Hide
    milki654 , March 24, 2010 2:19 PM
    Totally agree with niknikktm +1
  • 0 Hide
    BigStack , March 24, 2010 2:32 PM
    This makes for an interesting tradeoff if someone doing a build now. There not a lot of USB/SATA 3.0 peripherals out there yet. The Intel CPUs are plainly better, but they have this IO bottleneck that will be a future issue.

    Are the next gen AMD CPU's (Bulldozer, Et Al) going to be backwardly compatible with the current gen Mobos (meaning with the use AM3.) I could see buying a current gen AMD CPU/Mobo, if I can just swap out the CPU later when they catch up to Intel. But if I have to swap out the mobo also, what am I gaining now, when I can't really buy anything to plug into the higher speed ports?
  • 1 Hide
    Ogdin , March 24, 2010 2:32 PM
    Unless they use raid 0 ssd's a amd vs intel comparison isn't in order.Because a single drive would show no difference,it only shows up on some of the intel boards when you run 2 video cards.......as they have clearly shown in the article.
  • 4 Hide
    dgingeri , March 24, 2010 2:33 PM
    Those of you who have used Intel's ICH9R and ICH10R for a large RAID 0 array, you might have noticed that adaptor is extremely bandwidth restricted as well.

    I have a 4X 750GB Caviar Black drives on my ICH10R right now, and the entire array only gives 200MB/s transfer rate. each drive alone gives 110, and a 3 drive array gives the same 200MB/s rate. So, I have concluded that it must also be restricted to a single PCIe 1,1 x1 lane.

    Intel really has fallen short on the performance of their chipsets. they've focused on the processor so much, they've forgotten that the other parts of the computer count too.

    Again, more marketing, less engineering and support. Intel needs to refocus on what really matters, providing their customers what they need, and not on just making more money. Provide for the customer and the money will follow. Follow the money and it will lead to ruin.
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