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Data Storage Upgrades Hardware

A Late Adopter's Guide To USB 3.0 185

crookedvulture writes "Even with cheap external hard drives, USB 3.0 offers roughly double the real-world transfer rates of old-school USB 2.0. It's no wonder, then, that USB 3.0 ports are available on most new systems. But what if you want to add USB 3.0 to an existing one? This article goes over what's required and explores the sort of performance improvements you can expect to see. Looks like a no-brainer for anyone who does a lot of transfers to external hard drives."
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A Late Adopter's Guide To USB 3.0

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  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @09:13PM (#35618802) Homepage Journal
    I'm more interested in seeing what Thunderbolt does - it sounds like it's faster, but it all depends on what the device manufacturers settle on implementing.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      USB will always be implemented simply because it's the natural follow-up to USB2. Just as USB2 all but replaced USB 1 ports (some machines still have USB1 ports for 1 reason only: the chip used supports X number of USB1 ports, and claiming in your advertising that you offer 12 USB ports sounds better than 8).

      Thunderbolt - the crappy name chosen after LightPeak stopped dealing with light so much - will simply be offered in addition, especially since high speed Mac peripherals will be the first to jump on th

      • I'm not sure why the article mentions external drives so much; eSATA is still a fair bit faster than USB3 for that purpose.

        Because almost anyone using an external drive (as opposed to internal or front-removable) is doing so for portability. So few people use eSATA, but it's an easy bet that the random computer that you use at your cousin's house has at least USB1.0, which, while slow, works better than going out and buying your cousin an eSATA card and convincing him that opening the computer won't void the warranty.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gabebear ( 251933 )
          Conversely, USB3 drives won't get you any extra speed on most laptops since Intel still hasn't included a USB3 chipset in anything and few laptop manufacturers want the extra expense and power drain of a separate USB3 controller. Dell has been putting combined USB2/eSata ports on their laptops for years now so they aren't that hard to find on laptops.
        • by Nutria ( 679911 )

          Because almost anyone using an external drive (as opposed to internal or front-removable) is doing so for portability.

          That's what I thought when I sprung for an eSata 4-drive external enclosure: a faster, higher-capacity backup system than my trusty 2-drive USB2 enclosure.

          Well, it's faster and works with Advanced Format 2TB drives (which choke my old USB2 enclosure) but Bad Things Happen to the kernel (v2.6.35) when I unmount the external file system and pull the eSATA cable and plug it back in.

          • eSATA is in the somewhat uncomfortable position of simultaneously being a fairly good replacement for storage tasks that used to require springing for expensive SCSI gear and being about as mature as USB 1 when it comes to things like "most products on the shelves will, in fact, work properly" and "hotplugging, autodetection, hubs('port expanders' in eSATA parlance), and such will actually not fall over in a screaming heap even if you don't do copious research and find the one true chipset combination of An
      • by 517714 ( 762276 )
        Hubs will need to be replaced every time the speed gets bumped, Your keyboard is useless as a hub for USB 3.0. Also USB requires CPU cycles. With daisy chains, you only need to shift the slow devices to the end of the chain.
      • by v1 ( 525388 )

        Daisy chaining costs performance though. Minimum 10% loss in speed each time you pass through a hub.

        The big nit I have with USB is it wasn't designed from the start to be a large data transfer protocol, so it's not efficient at it, say compared to firewire. If you compare real world use, FW400 gets you about 39-40mb/sec. USB2 (@480) never gets above 38, and in most cases is more like 36. (or much much lower, many cheap bridge chips top out at 18) My averages showed USB2's 480mbps actually works out to a

        • by skids ( 119237 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @10:31PM (#35619330) Homepage

          Pathetically, the point won't be whether fw800 is faster, or carries more watts, or has better realtime/isochronus performance, or chose a better cable that runs longer and is more noise-free, or that fw drivers stacks won't have to be rewritten to deal with whatever new set of kludges has been added this time around.

          The point will be that USB3 will be on everything by default, and fw800 will be very hard to find on a laptop, and everything with a fw800 port will be more expensive than the USB variant.

          • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Saturday March 26, 2011 @12:37AM (#35620002) Journal

            And you can thank Steve Jobs for that, thanks Steve! You see while USB was dirt cheap to implement Apple charged something like a buck a port to add Fw. Now if you are a hardware manufacturer, where margins are razor thin, why do you choose? the protocol that costs practically nothing, or the one that costs a buck a port? Firewire is a perfect example where the lesser tech won simply because the greater tech was too damned expensive. Thanks to the Apple greed Fw is practically toast and USB is everywhere. Thanks Steve!

            I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happened to that thunderbolt/lightwave whatever the hell they are calling it VS USB 3. It will be used on Macs, which are still a tiny niche (the big growth at Apple is iOS, not OSX) whereas everybody and their dog will have USB 3 just as you pointed out.

            My question is this: when do we reach the max? What is the max? With Gb Ethernet I'm already slamming some of these drives as fast as they'll go, and SSD simply won't be able to match HDD for price anytime in the foreseeable future so they won't help because eventually you'll have to transfer to HDD anyway. So how fast is the fastest we can go without data corruption? I'm all for faster but not at the cost of increased corruption. So how fast can we pump data through the average desktop before corruption becomes an issue? How close are we to hitting this limit? I mean we've already hit a wall with CPUs (4Ghz) which is why we are adding cores now, so which will come next? Memory or storage?

    • Thunderbolt is extreme overkill for a hard drive. Even though the interface is 10 Gbit/sec in each direction, even a pretty fast SATA hard drive barely cracks 1 Gbit on the outer cylinders. Even the best single SSDs come close to 2.5 Gbit, so to really justify Thunderbolt, you'd have to do RAID.

      For comparison, USB2's data rate is only 480 Mbit... less than half the average speed of a typical 3.5" hard drive. USB3 is 10 times faster, shifting the bottleneck back to the media.

      • by modmans2ndcoming ( 929661 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @09:53PM (#35619080)

        Yes, but can USB 3 drive multiple monitors over a daisy chain too?

        So I hav e my laptop and I want to plug in an external monitor... bam... thunderbolt.... now I want to plug in an external hard drive, bam... thunderbolt...

        Thunderbolt just reduced the number of ports I need on my laptop from two to one. (USB, DVI/VGA to thunderbolt... great for ultra portables)

        • by gandhi_2 ( 1108023 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @10:08PM (#35619204) Homepage

          bam... thunderbolt.

          We've just found that guy.

        • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

          Thunderbolt can't really drive multiple monitors (and anything else) over daisy chain, either...

          Apple actually put 2 separate channels on their external port - one for DisplayPort, and one for the mostly non-existent Thunderbolt devices. A 1920x1200 monitor (apparently considered pedestrian by high end Apple users these days) uses about 5Gbps, so you basically get the same as dual DVI on one port (and less for anything more than that), and 2 USB 3.0 ports on the other. Yay, I can get fewer ports on the ult

        • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

          Thunderbolt can't really drive multiple monitors (and anything else) over daisy chain, either...

          Apple actually put 2 separate channels on their external port - one for DisplayPort, and one for the mostly non-existent Thunderbolt devices. A 1920x1200 monitor (apparently considered pedestrian by high end Apple users these days) uses about 5Gbps, so you basically get the same as dual DVI on one port (and less for anything more than that), and 2 USB 3.0 ports on the other. Yay, I can get fewer ports on the ultr

      • by KonoWatakushi ( 910213 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @10:00PM (#35619150)

        Speed aside, Thunderbolt has the potential to work properly, as it will support native SATA. Most USB 2.0 bridge chips ignore critical commands, and put your data at risk. Will 3.0 be better?

        Thunderbolt can also be daisy chained, and unlike with USB, the actual speed is not a small fraction of the theoretical speed. Therefore, a number of devices can be attached, without introducing a bottleneck or requiring a hub.

        • It will be interesting, possibly morbidly so, to see whether that potential is realized.

          My understanding is that, effectively, thunderbolt allows you to run a 4x PCIe line through external cabling of usable length and hot-swappability. This will, presumably, mean that (unlike USB) thunderbolt peripherals will be packages that include a PCIe version of whatever type of chip is appropriate(SATA controller for external disk arrays, USB/FW controller to support a monitor with a bunch of ports and a cardreade
          • You make a very good point. As announced, Thunderbolt is less flexible than many had originally envisioned it would be, and upon further reflection, perhaps the abstraction is at the wrong level. However, this may have unexpected benefits for Intel.

            For example, when attaching a disk, ideally one would want to virtualize the SATA protocol itself, with one or more virtual SATA controllers on the host. This has the advantages that there would be a common well implemented virtual controller driver, and the d

            • I'd say that there are some very interesting potential applications for an external PCIe run with usable cable characteristics(and something resembling actual adoption: there are at least 5, mutually incompatible, relatively obscure systems in limited use at present). If Intel can deliver, great.

              I'm just going to be interested to see how the peripheral market shakes out. Pretty much all the other external busses in common use are at least one level of abstraction higher, which makes them less flexible; b
        • I just lost a USB flash drive. Tried everything I could to recover it, and it's just dead.

          It did warn me before it died, Japanese characters in file names turning into question marks and such. I think I got all my data off of it and into a tarball, but I'm not sure.

          I think the device was still under warranty, but it's going to cost me enough to send it in and get it fixed (by replacement, I'd guess), and Buffalo is not going to recover my data for me, so why bother?

          I'm always having problems with USB. Not t

      • Data rate isn't everything, remember - you can get better results from an identical drive on a Firewire 400 interface compared to USB2, even though the former is 80Mbps 'slower', thanks to the reduced overhead. I hope the point is moot, since both USB3 and Thunderbolt are modern standards with plenty of headroom - if they're hitting overhead issues at the speed of current hard drives, there's probably a problem - but there's still some possibility that one will outperform the other in real world tests despi

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )

          Benchmarks have shown Thunderbolt getting an *effective* 10gbit of bi-directional speed, so 20gbit. It's not just a theoretical max, it can actually get it quite easily.

          The test was doing several file copies between SSDs while handling several full HD streams.

          Remember, Thunderbolt is going to replace PCIe, so it has to be at least as good.

          • by guruevi ( 827432 )

            Thunderbolt = PCIe, just another way of connecting the bus to the outside world. It really depends on your CPU and any latency, jitter and interference the outside connection introduces. It's also cheaper compared to other same-speed tech (such as 10GbE) as you require less controllers and the controllers these days are baked into the CPU.

        • That is true, but Firewire is less secure than USB2 is because it allows you to access the memory directly. Sure that does have advantages at times, but it means that you have to trust anything you plug into that port because it has the potential for doing weird things. I remember briefly messing around with that and I plugged a device into one computer and it didn't show up there, it showed up on the other computer, even though I didn't see any reason why it should.

          But, if you did trust the device, firewir

      • by 517714 ( 762276 )

        Extreme overkill today is tomorrow's marginal.

        No one will ever need more than 640 KB or 10 Gb/s ... until they have it, figure out how to use it, figure out how to use it up, and how to upgrade to the next thing.

    • usb 3.0 is in more systems / hardware then Thunderbolt

      also what is apple places for systems like the mini and mac pro for Thunderbolt linking it to the video port kills it uses in a desktop will the Thunderbolt / mini DP cable to DVI or VGA have Thunderbolt break out as well?

      or will Thunderbolt be ADC 2?

      • But USB 3 isn't in a ton of systems. Thunderbolt will stop being Apple exclusive next year (IIRC), so why should I bother? At this point a hard drive is the only thing I'm likely to use that would stress USB3, I mean I can already record HD video over USB2.

        I already have FireWire 800, and have for a few years, and it's very fast, and extremely low overhead. Since I don't go around copying multiple gigs of files between drives, the speed benefit of USB3 isn't really going to matter much to me. Given the average level drive attached, if FW is a bottleneck, I'm probably close to 80-90% of the drive speed. I have FW since I'm on a Mac, but many people on Windows boxes have eSATA ports. They're faster than USB3 (since it's the HD's native interface) and lower overhead (again, the native interface of the drive). I know they were supposed to make the CPU overhead of USB3 better than 2, but my guess is it's still noticeably higher than FireWire or eSATA.

        Basically, I think USB3 took too long. It's out, but it's third party chips on motherboards. That means the situation where some of your ports are v2 and some are v3. When space is at a premium (like laptops), it's more likely you'll only get v2 ports until Intel embeds a controller. But FW800 is available in add in cards and has a higher adoption rate (right now). eSATA cards are common and available in add in cards. USB2 is fast enough for many people.

        By the time USB3 becomes more common, Thunderbolt will already have a decent market. Apple putting it in their high-end computers (at least the MBPs) means that drive enclosures and such will be released in the next few months.

        For the average consumer, I don't think they need USB3 or will for a while. By the time they do, there is a good chance Thunderbolt will start looking really attractive (one cable and your monitor, scanner, hard drive and whatever else are plugged in). And since Thunderbolt easily has the bandwidth to have adapters to plug SATA or USB2/3 devices into Thunderbolt ports... it's a safe choice.

        I'm sure USB3 will be everywhere in a year or two, but only because it's a backwards compatible drop in replacement. I don't think it will be out of any real necessity. Only people copying large amounts of data (video editing, large media libraries, etc) would get the benefit, and at that point you might as well go eSATA.

        • I really don't see why it's apparently one or the other. They aim at doing pretty different things, and you'd really want both ports.

          As soon as Intel bothers to include it in their chipsets, USB3 will get ubiquitous as USB2. It's now fast enough for pretty much anything general-purpose. More importantly, devices using USB controllers are significantly cheaper - USB is a much simpler protocol (since the host does most of the work), and is cheap as chips to implement. Add in the backwards compatibility and US

      • Um...ADC was strictly Apple's own connector. Thunderbolt is backed by Intel. There's a pretty big difference here. In addition, Thunderbolt is a helluva lot more versatile. You can adapt it to just about anything, so while there may be Thunderbolt peripherals, it's not going to be necessary for a bunch of them for Thunderbolt to succeed. In addition, outside of some very high-end stuff, even if a peripheral does have a Thunderbolt port, I doubt that would be its only connectivity.

        I think that if TB catch
        • by inpher ( 1788434 )
          Not only that, Thunderbolt is owned and controlled by Intel, Apple was and is a partner since the beginning but Apple has no control over how Intel will use/license Thunderbolt.
        • by guruevi ( 827432 )

          ADC was DVI + USB + power, nothing really special. A simple (3rd party) converter was all that was needed to get a DVI signal. It was darn convenient though to have a single connector to your computer.

          • Sure, but now there are a bunch of otherwise good and working ADC monitors floating around that aren't worth a damned thing unless you bundle a converter with them.
        • laptop manufacturers are going to LOVE it

          I agree, but PC makers are very reluctant to drop legacy ports. I suspect it is because they can claim more features on the marketing blurb.

    • You want Intel to own your pipes, don't you?

  • The article pretty much says: "Insert PCI card. Turn on computer."

    Really? I never would have guessed. I'm so glad to have this valuable nugget of information. I was about to go and buy all new computers!
    • You read the article?

      How many pages long was it, and what was the banner ad count?

    • by LilGuy ( 150110 )

      That and the fact that everyone and everything is USB3 now. Apparently I've been asleep for a while because everything I use and own is still usb2.

  • OMG... I haven't adopted a standard that almost nobody else has adopted either. I'm... I'm... NORMAL!

    *breaks down in tears*

  • Haven't really felt the need for USB 3 for hard drives, as I bought an enclosure with USB 2, Firewire 800 and eSATA a while back. Really a shame Firewire didn't take off, since it brought most of the benefits of USB 3 to machines ages ago. Lower CPU usage, device to device transfers, and the spec was prepared to jump to 1600mbit then 3200mbit using the same 800 connector. 1600 (200MB/s) would have been plenty of headroom for hard drives. USB 3 speeds that outpace FW3200 are only useful once you have a n

    • I've got clients that use Hyper-V to host their MS Server VMs. We have it so scheduled backups will backup the VMs and data nightly using the built in Windows Backup. While Backup Exec would be the prefered solution, it's really expensive (but so is data loss, but some people never listen)! Being that 350+GB worth of data gets transfered nightly, I'm hoping that dropping in a USB3 card along with complementary external drives will cut down on transfer time significantly.

    • by Tridus ( 79566 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @09:52PM (#35619078) Homepage

      Cost killed the idea of using USB for low speed peripherals and Firewire for higher speed ones. It's too expensive on a cheap PC to include both ports, so they only included the cheaper one (USB). Because USB was on everything, more devices wound up having USB support.

      Once you have basically everyone with USB 2 and only a subset of those with Firewire, implementing the more expensive Firewire stops making sense on retail systems.

      I can't help but wonder if the same thing will happen with Thunderbolt.

      • probably not since thunderbold can be used for both data transfers and video via mini display port.

        • The trouble is, it isn't the cost of connectors that doomed ubiquitous firewire(FW connectors are a little bit more complex than USB ones, FW800 a bit more complex again, but the price difference isn't too drastic); but the fact that including firewire always meant including an additional chip and supporting circuitry. Essentially every chipset, and a wide variety of SoCs and whatnot, ended up supporting at least 1 USB port, often substantially more. Firewire always meant an extra chip.

          If thunderbolt end
      • Reason is that it is just a PCIe bus extension, not an entierly new protocol (of course there is hardware involved in getting it to the new format). Also Intel doesn't have any licensing fees on it I can see. Part of FW's problem is it has fees. While that doesn't sound like a lot, it adds up. When you are designing cheap consumer electronics, pennies count.

        Also Intel may well integrate it in to their chipsets. If so, implementation on the computer is very cheap. You just hook up the ports more or less. Tha

    • Except that you can now buy a $200 120GB portable drive that handles 500MBs.

      The only thing really keeping up with SSDs is eSATA and then only just barely for a single drive.

  • ISA? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @09:32PM (#35618928)
    I'd love to upgrade. Is anyone making a 16-bit ISA version?
  • For now: With external drives, you can use e-sata. If you want it networked, use a nas that has sata and gigabit ethernet. More usb2 ports are added by adding yet another usb-switch

    But at some time in the future you won't be able to avoid buying a new usb-card. You will go with usb3, because cards without usb3 will be much more expensive and most peripherals with usb3 will be cheaper than the ones with usb2. - That's a late adopter.

  • Too early (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @10:13PM (#35619226)

    It's entirely impossible to be a "late adopter" at this stage.

    • by Trogre ( 513942 )

      Not sure what you mean by that - I've been using USB3 external drives since last year, and I didn't grab the first USB3 supported motherboard by any means.

      • Not sure what you mean by that - I've been using USB3 external drives since last year,

        And "last year" was like, what, 3 months ago? I have a USB3 port in my latest laptop, but I've yet to find anything to plug into it.

        • by splatter ( 39844 )

          Hard drive enclosures have been 3.0 for a few months now. I'm thinking of upgrading my old workhorse 1.1. Like the poster above I splurged on a new machine this new year and it has both 2 & 3.0 USB.

    • Well, that all depends.
  • Old School? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Sponge Bath ( 413667 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @10:16PM (#35619242)
    First William Shatner turns 80, now USB 2 is old school. I'm sure that makes some people feel old. Hold on, there's someone at my door who says he's here about the "reaping"...
  • It's more about the chipset interface... the driver complexity is greatly reduced with a USB-3 chipset. Intel really screwed up the HCI for USB-2 and USB-1, and they barely worked even when properly implemented. The USB-3 HCI is a much cleaner design. There is this Intel commercial sporting the creater of USB being fawned at by all the woman in the office... every time I see it I feel like socking him one for doing such a bad job.

    With most devices sporting wifi (let alone ethernet), fewer and fewer peopl

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      only someone who really really wants to lose their data uses USB as a serious hard drive interface.

      Eh? It's slow, but very stable. In Linux, it's the FW drivers that are crappy and reset the bus after a few GB.

    • by skids ( 119237 )

      Intel really screwed up the HCI for USB-2 and USB-1, and they barely worked even when properly implemented. The USB-3 HCI is a much cleaner design. There is this Intel commercial sporting the creater of USB being fawned at by all the woman in the office... every time I see it I feel like socking him one for doing such a bad job.

      I've read the HCI codestack too, and basically yeah. This.

      I've always maintained life would have been better if they had just adapted ethernet chips to run a realtime layer2 protoco

  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Friday March 25, 2011 @10:38PM (#35619376)

    Is this what Slashdot has come to? A how-to guide on how to add a new card to your computer!?

    • We used to use pliers to move the interrupt selection jumpers, because that was the style at the time.
      • Oh! How we wished we had pliars! You had it great, we had to use our teeth to scrape off the traces for the interrupts and redraw them using whale oil lamps to melt the solder.

    • Is this what Slashdot has come to? A how-to guide on how to add a new card to your computer!?

      But this is a difficult card to install: it requires a molex connector and therefore it's not your run of the mill easy install! Many things could go wrong during this complicated process.

  • Right away you know this guy lives in his own little world. I can guarantee if you walk into a retail store today and checked each desktop and notebook, less than 1 in 10 will have USB 3.0.
    • Right away you know this guy lives in his own little world. I can guarantee if you walk into a retail store today and checked each desktop and notebook, less than 1 in 10 will have USB 3.0.

      I actually think he is quite well connected and in-tune with the modern world. For example, he knows about mini CDs and how to use them (although he didn't give instructions in the howto on how to use them or where they go... which is unfortunate because I'll probably get stuck at that point in the process).

  • Chances are I'll stick with USB2/eSATA for the time being. I use USB for peripherals, which don't benefit from USB3 at all, and for thumbdrives (all USB2) which don't really need all that speed anyways. If I want to plug my external HDD, both my desktop and my laptop have eSATA ports.

    In short, USB3 feels somewhat redundant. It will only take off as USB2 gets phased out, mostly because USB2 is still considered "good enough". Obviously, we might not even see USB3 gain dominance if Thunderbolt is more popular

  • So USB 3.0 is on its way in, and I'll expect to see it on (mid-range) motherboards in the near future...
    But how about USB 3.0 devices? I'm sure we all have whole piles of USB devices (Flash drives, etc.). Will these do anything different when plugged into a USB 3.0 port, or will we have to wait for new Flash drives to see more performance?
  • I'll wait for Light Peak (or whatever the hell they call it.) It has a lot better features for situations where you actually need high throughput, and not just filling up a hard drive really quick.

  • My findings after using USB3 devices for five months:

    Not surprisingly, USB3 gives much better transfer rates than USB2. Slightly more than double the transfer rate than its predecessor.

    Fedora in their wisdom have decided, since it causes some problems with suspend mode, to disable the xhci_hcd module in Fedora 14. To get USB3 you need to pass xhci_hcd.enable=1 to the kernel start parameters.


    USB3 drives still drop off randomly, require physical removal and re-insertion. This fact alone is a show-st

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