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Innovation

USB 3.0: freakishly fast - maybe

You'll be hearing a lot about USB 3.0 this year. And well you should, because its potential is vast. But will system vendors step up to the plate to deliver all of USB 3's goodness?
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor on

You'll be hearing a lot about USB 3.0 this year. And well you should, because its potential is vast. But will system vendors step up to the plate to deliver all of USB 3's goodness?

Speeds und feeds USB 2.0 has never delivered the advertised 480 mbits/sec because that number technically correct and operationally bogus. If you have data transferring in both directions at the same time it could happen - but for USB disks it never does.

That drops the theoretical transfer rate to 240 mbits/sec, but because of protocol overhead - for example, some signal redundancy to increase data integrity - the payload bandwidth is still lower.

Net net: you're lucky to get a 20 MB/sec data rate off a disk - when the advertised rate suggests 60. But unless you use FireWire or eSATA that is the best you can get - until now.

Enter the 3 USB 3.0 is a different protocol - USB is a brand, not a technology - and while I haven't done a deep dive it is a big improvement, while retaining backward compatibility with USB 1 & 2.

The biggest improvement is performance: it can move over 440 MBytes/sec. Here's the 30 second intro video:

The fine print As noted in the video your mileage will vary. We're dependent on the system vendors and their driver writers to develop robust support. That could take years.

Mac users face a bigger problem: it appears that Cupertino is doing nothing - zip, nada - with USB 3.0. With their smaller market share and tighter control, little is likely to happen unless Apple actively supports it.

The Storage Bits take USB 3.0 is a Good Thing. Drives, even flash drives, are getting large enough USB 2 is like sipping the ocean through a straw. The rapid growth of file-based workflows needs more bandwidth - and USB 3.0 looks like a good answer.

Apple is risking their creative professional base if they ignore a fast new I/O bus. Light Peak, an optical interconnect Intel has been working on at Apple's behest, may be their answer.

But as I noted in Light Peak: black hole

Light Peak is a great idea and doomed. Between obnoxious DRM, costly optical hubs and switches, Blu-ray style licensing fees, Intel over-engineering and Apple’s penchant for twee little I/O ports, Light Peak is almost certain to fail.

With Windows 7 momentum and a major I/O fail, Microsoft may be able to take back much of the creative professional market that gives Apple such a hip image.

Let the games begin!

Comments welcome, of course. I don't have any commercial dealings with USB 3 vendors. Saw the demo at the Storage Visions 2010 conference. Update: Sorry about the video - but now it is fixed! End update. Update ][: 3 paragraphs were inadvertently cut and are now restored. Sorry ][!

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