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Three External (And Fast) USB 3.0 Drives Compared

Three External (And Fast) USB 3.0 Drives Compared
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The first USB 3.0-based external hard drives aim at eliminating the USB 2.0 bottleneck (that hovered around 30 MB/s) with enough bandwidth to outperform the fastest mechanical disks. A-Data, Buffalo, and WD do battle for maximum performance.

USB 3.0 hasn’t yet become the standard interface for external connectivity, but only because there still aren’t any chipsets that come with integrated USB 3.0 controllers. The interface itself is mature, and there are more and more storage products and host adapters coming to market. Today we're looking at three new USB 3.0 devices  (two portable 2.5” drives and one 3.5” external storage product) to get a glimpse of what the future has in store.

We first wrote about the finalized USB 3.0 specification in 2008 and provided a detailed article on USB 3.0 roughly a year ago. Another story on different PCI Express implementations that might bottleneck USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s solutions provides more insight, and we analyzed a few USB 3.0 enclosures for 2.5” hard drives, as well. Finally, you could look at our USB 3.0 thumb drive review from a few weeks ago. Now, it’s time to look at retail storage products.

Less technical users might wonder why USB 3.0 is so important given that USB 2.0 works fine. True though that may be, USB 2.0 bandwidth is effectively capped at just over 30 MB/s. This creates a serious bottleneck that not only impedes enthusiasts, but also mainstream users who find themselves waiting longer for file transfers as they try to move more data.

Consider a few examples. If you mainly handle small files, then you probably don’t need to worry about USB 3.0 just yet. However, high-definition content and large media libraries (photos, videos, music), as well as backups, require larger and larger disk capacities. Sure, you can buy huge hard drives nowadays for relatively little cost, but it's actually the time required to copy your data over an external interface that turns into the real issue. A 20 GB system backup typically requires 12 to 15 minutes to copy onto a USB 2.0 drive. A large 400 GB video archive  can take hours. If you’re in a hurry, that's too bad. Fortunately, USB 3.0-based solutions require only 1/3 or even 1/4 of the time.

Let’s look at what the three new USB 3.0 drives from A-Data, Buffalo, and Western Digital can do for you.

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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    Cwize1 , July 22, 2010 7:09 AM
    Can you do an article comparing USB3 to SATA? It would be nice to know how much extra overhead USB3 has.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    Tamz_msc , July 22, 2010 6:06 AM
    Nice article.I'm more intended now to look into USB 3.0 hardware.
  • 0 Hide
    xyzionz , July 22, 2010 6:12 AM
    I will not buy one until there are casing with USB3 and motherboard that has internal USB3.
    Hehe looking at the HAF X but no motherboard to support yet
  • 14 Hide
    Cwize1 , July 22, 2010 7:09 AM
    Can you do an article comparing USB3 to SATA? It would be nice to know how much extra overhead USB3 has.
  • -7 Hide
    g9udaya , July 22, 2010 7:26 AM
    woof
  • 0 Hide
    trifler , July 22, 2010 8:19 AM
    Don't forget about external hard drive enclosures. You can buy a USB 3.0 hard drive enclosure for about $50 and put whatever hard drive you want in it. The Western Digital MyBook is not a 7200RPM hard drive, so I'm going to get myself an external hard drive enclosure and a 7200RPM hard drive for it.
  • 6 Hide
    mcluzo , July 22, 2010 8:47 AM
    What I'm missing in this review is taking appart the ADATA an Buffalo drives, to see what HDDs are in. It would also help to test what the enclosures maximum performance is by putting in a SSD.
    Oh, and please, could you test that add-on card in a P35 system (with PCIe 1.0 spec), I'd really want to know if there is a performance drop due the old PCIe spec.

    But all in all, nice review.
  • 4 Hide
    JohnMD1022 , July 22, 2010 11:51 AM
    Since neither ADATA nor Buffalo manufacture hard drives, we are left clueless as to what is inside the cases.

    Due to an inordinate number of problems we have encountered with Seagate drives, in our shop, as well as poor experiences with their tech support department, we no longer recommend them to customers, nor will we purchase them for personal use.

    Consequently, we decline to purchase any hard drive product unless we know exactly what is inside the case.
  • 0 Hide
    zoridon , July 22, 2010 1:13 PM
    I'm running a quad intel 9400 on a P35 system myself, so finding out what the PCIe 1.0 spec performance would be great.
  • 1 Hide
    gammaraptor , July 22, 2010 3:40 PM
    Man, that's fast. Really fast. Can't wait for them to get cheaper ^^
  • 0 Hide
    denial_ , July 22, 2010 4:03 PM
    Wow, only one cable? ;)  I'm tired to cary a USB "Y" cable plus the eSATA cable for my external drive. Quick adoption of mainstream motherboard pls :D 
  • -1 Hide
    joex444 , July 22, 2010 4:18 PM
    Though the article is well done, I noticed this "The first USB 3.0-based external hard drives aim at eliminating the USB 2.0 bottleneck (that hovered around 30 MB/s) with enough bandwidth to outperform the fastest mechanical disks." in the RSS feed.

    Come on guys. You know a USB3.0 drive isn't going to outperform a "mechanical drive" -- that's what's friggen inside. In no way would going from SATA to USB3.0 and then USB3.0 to PCIe be faster than going directly from SATA to PCIe. You can't add layers of overhead and improve performance, so why the retarded tagline?
  • 0 Hide
    dertechie , July 22, 2010 5:32 PM
    That max interface bandwidth concerns me. 185 MB/s will probably improve as they work on the tech, but that's only about 30% of USB3's 5Gb/s data rate. USB2 hit about 60% there, so it'll likely improve as drive makers optimize enclosures, but high end SSDs can saturate that easily.

    Does the USB interface use significant CPU, or just a few % of one core?

    All USB3 brings to the table that eSATA doesn't is a connector that will be commonly available after Intel/AMD add it to their entry level chipsets. I suspect most Tom's readers who care about external transfer rates got themselves an eSATA drive already. Mine actually beats my old internal drive's transfer rates.
  • 0 Hide
    tharkis842 , July 22, 2010 11:24 PM
    xyzionzI will not buy one until there are casing with USB3 and motherboard that has internal USB3.Hehe looking at the HAF X but no motherboard to support yet


    I am inclined to agree. As much as these are fantastic speeds, i'd like the convenience of just attaching the cable to my pc case like we do with usb 2.0. Hopefully it won't take too long for manufacturers to work something up!
  • 0 Hide
    rykerabel , July 23, 2010 4:10 AM

    Super Talent is claiming a faster than 300 MBps Thumb drive since December 2009 and this is what gets reviewed?

    Info here: http://www.supertalent.com/products/stt_usb_detail.php?type=RAIDDrive USB 3.0

    But it here: http://www.supermediastore.com/product/search?search=raiddrive

    and here: http://www.ewiz.com/query.php?dp=1&categry=0&s=raiddrive&dt=2&ob=d&nl=30&anchor=#displaytop
  • 0 Hide
    Chewie , July 23, 2010 4:28 AM
    I'm more interested in whether a usb3 connection for a card reader would make a noticeable difference to the performance of ReadyBoost on win7.
  • 0 Hide
    ordcestus , July 23, 2010 5:17 AM
    ChewieI'm more interested in whether a usb3 connection for a card reader would make a noticeable difference to the performance of ReadyBoost on win7.

    it would but belive me you're much better off spending your money on more RAM
  • -1 Hide
    Chewie , July 23, 2010 5:21 AM
    Nah, my desktop PC already has 8 GB of ram.
  • 1 Hide
    joejjohnsonii , July 23, 2010 2:01 PM
    joex444Though the article is well done, I noticed this "The first USB 3.0-based external hard drives aim at eliminating the USB 2.0 bottleneck (that hovered around 30 MB/s) with enough bandwidth to outperform the fastest mechanical disks." in the RSS feed.Come on guys. You know a USB3.0 drive isn't going to outperform a "mechanical drive" -- that's what's friggen inside. In no way would going from SATA to USB3.0 and then USB3.0 to PCIe be faster than going directly from SATA to PCIe. You can't add layers of overhead and improve performance, so why the retarded tagline?



    They arent saying the drives inside are faster than previous drives, they are saying that the bandwidth that USB 3.0 provides is faster than any mechanical drive can use. AKA, the mechanical drives cant keep up with USB 3.0. The fastest mechanical drive I can think of right now would be the velociraptor 600GB drive, and it wont come even close to maxing out a USB 3.0 connection.
  • 0 Hide
    fyasko , July 24, 2010 9:15 PM
    ChewieNah, my desktop PC already has 8 GB of ram.


    ------------

    ummm...
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 27, 2010 12:02 AM
    One word of caution on the external WD hard drives. WD provides a software package called "WD Smartware". While some may like or welcome this, many others don't. This is on a hidden UDF partition and it can't be removed with any tools.

    On a 1TB drive, I believe you get only about 960GB of useable storage because of the unremovable hidden bloatware and it automatically installs a virtual CD drive that also can't be removed. WD has posted a fix to hide the virtual CD but no tools to remove the bloatware or the Virtual CD.
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