USB 3.0 for Starters: An Analysis

The third generation of USB is faster than ever before, but how noticeable is the difference in practice?

The fast USB 3.0 standard offers a bandwidth of 5 Gb/s instead of 480 Mb/s, it is backwards compatible with USB 2.0, and new USB 3.0 hard drives as well as flash drives are widely available. Nevertheless, the standard has yet to come in full swing. This article shows that technically USB 3.0 should be taking over rather sooner than later.

The prices of portable drives with the USB 3.0 interface are a bit higher compared to USB 2.0 models, and it will probably stay like that for a while. But the price difference is entirely justified, because as soon as more data is written to or read from your storage device, you save a lot of time. The data on a portable USB 3.0 drive is available at virtually the same speed as it would have been on an internal hard drive.

The problem however, is that there currently are no chipsets with native USB 3.0 support. Thus, third party components have to be used instead. Or in other words, motherboards and notebooks have to be designed around, and equipped with additional controller chips.

While that might not sound all that dramatic, it really does have a real effect on products. For notebooks in particular, every millimeter of physical design space counts, which means that integrated components are preferred. Enclosure manufacturers and storage accessory companies must consider whether it makes sense to equip their products with a USB 3.0 interface when suitable controllers are not widely used. Making things even more complicated, the new Intel P67 platform (Sandy Bridge) does not have any native USB 3.0 support either, as the interface standard was not finished during Intel’s chipset design phase.

However, all computers with an available PCI Express slot can be made USB 3.0 compatible, and there doesn’t even have to be a lot of cost or effort involved in order for you to use your fast external drive at its full speed.