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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.