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Three External (And Fast) USB 3.0 Drives Compared

Three External (And Fast) USB 3.0 Drives Compared

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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    tamati , 29 July 2010 19:20
    Be warned - I got the WD usb 3 a couple of months ago and was warned that if anything goes wrong your data is pretty much gone as the HD and housing are a bespoke design. Looking at the usb connector (also a WD only design)on the housing I felt it looked a little flimsy... guess what happened last week? When moving the HD the female USB socket connection inside the housing broke and came out when I took out the USB cable. Had to have the entire thing shipped back to WD to be repaired - they said they couldn't reattach it and that I had mishandled it. End of story lost all my data and now out of pocket for one very expensive HD :-( If you get one be very careful moving it when the cables are plugged in, its size, weight, need for separate power and flimsy connectors mean that it probably not the best 'portable' HD. Performance wise when transferring large continuous files (ISOs etc) it was bloody fast, but for folders with lots of smaller files the speed dropped dramatically as can been seen in the test results. So now looking for a replacement, will have to go back to the article to pick the best alternative.