Is USB 3.0 worth it?
As WHS users we are always looking for different ways to upgrade our storage capabilities fairly cheaply and without giving up too much performance. Since the introduction of USB 3.0 with advertised “theoretical” speeds of 625 Megs/sec, I have been eager to see what the real world performance would be and if that would translate to any gains in the Windows Home Server or PC over the current USB 2.0 devices we now use. More specifically, I wanted to see if USB 3.0 would allow the use of external drives at full drive speed without the hassle, limitations, or quirkiness of eSata.
My intention of this test is not to come with best case numbers or to exploit the limits of the interface, but rather see realistic numbers that would translate in what we users care about, data throughput. Although USB 3.0 has been released for awhile now (November 2008), it was not till recently that we were able to buy hardware from the retail chains. I purchased the PCI-E 2 port USB 3.0 card about three weeks ago however I could not find any reasonably priced external USB 3.0 Enclosure till recently. For testing, I used a WD 1T green drive since that is almost WHS standard equipment at least for me. I know that it is not the fastest drive around but I mainly wanted to see if the USB interface would bottleneck the drive interface and limit throughput as it did with USB 2.0.
Installation of the card was pretty straight forward except that it required the use of installation disk even in Windows 7 despite the instructions stating to the contrary. Once the drivers were installed, the card was recognized and worked without issues. The box installation was straight forward except that the overall quality of the box was pretty bad and I would recommend waiting for something better to come along.
Testing was performed using a small Blue Ray file that weighed in at 11.6 Gigabytes as well as using HD Tach to validate the results. I also used the same enclosure, drive, as well as the same system to perform the testing and did a fresh format each time. As you can see from the data below, there is a huge difference in performance using USB 3.0.
Besides the obvious difference in the benchmarks, I found the USB 3.0 to feel more responsive and was much “snappier” when moving data around. Considering the moderate prices of boards and the increasing popularity of enclosures that are becoming available, it is a painless and worthwhile upgrade for your WHS or PC. There is no doubt that the drives themselves are now limiting the performance and that with faster drives in the enclosure you would get even better results than what I posted. So next time you are considering additional storage for your WHS and are forced to go external, go with USB 3.0 you won’t be disappointed.