USB 3.0: Great technology, but hard to find

USB 3.0 offers data transfer speeds that are five times faster than USB 2.0, so why hasn't it caught on?

By , ITworld |  Networking, USB 3.0

Over the last few years, the Universal Serial Bus (USB) has become the universal interface. Starting in 1995, when USB 1.0 could only transfer 12 Mbps (Megabits per second), the standard started up slowly. But when USB 2.0 came along in 2000, with its 480 Mbps, the days were numbered for PS/2, serial, parallel, and even the FireWire interface. So, why hasn't USB 3.0, also known as SuperSpeed USB, with its 5 Gigabits per second (Gbps), become the interface of choice since its introduction in 2008? Well, there are several reasons.

Why you want USB 3.0

This is pretty simple. It's fast. It's even faster than eSATA (External Serial Advanced Technology Attachment). When I tested USB 3.0 against eSATA last year, I found that in practice neither was quite as fast as their specifications suggests -- on reads my USB drive averaged 90 MBps, while the eSATA drive came in at 75 MBps. But, when it came to writing to the disk eSATA still processed data at 75 MBps while the USB drive dropped to 62 Mbps.

USB 3.0, like the other USB standards before it, also has the advantage though of being able to supply power to its devices. An eSATA device requires a separate power supply.

The USB 3.0 standard also uses interrupts instead of “polling” when a device is plugged in. With polling, when a USB device is plugged into the port, the computer keeps checking on it to see if needs anything. This keeps the computer from going into low power states and can quickly drain a battery. That's bad news on a laptop. By using interrupts, USB 3.0 doesn't waste time or energy on an idle device, this in turn saves battery life.

When a device does need power though. USB 3.0 supplies 50% more power draw. That means instead of just thumb drives you can power up external drives.

In addition, even if your PC doesn't have a USB 3.0 port, you can buy a PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) card with two ports for about $25. There are already multiple USB 3.0 compatible external hard drives and case enclosures from vendors such as Buffalo Technologies; Seagate and Western Digital.

So, put it all together and you can see why USB 3.0 should be popular.

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