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Two new high speed buses have recently become available to consumers, USB 3.0 and SATA 3.  But are they worth considering now, or should you wait until they’ve been around for a while?  Let’s first examine the differences between these interfaces and their predecessors, then take a look at the devices that are available and their associated costs and finally determine whether or not we should consider investing in them so soon.

What is USB 3.0?

USB 3.0 is the latest generation of the Universal Serial Bus standard, and was released in November 2008.  USB has been in existence since 1994 and has been popular since 1998 with the release of the 1.1 revision, thanks to the true plug and play nature of the interface.

USB 2.0, the most common revision of the standard in use today, was released in April 2000, and supports a theoretical maximum data transfer rate of 480 Mbits/s, or 60MB/s.  By contrast, USB 3.0, which was fully specified in November 2008, supports a theoretical raw maximum of 5 Gbits/s, or ~600MB/s, and is believed by the developers of the standard to be reasonably capable of sustaining 3.2Gbits/s, or ~400MB/s.  Thus, USB 3.0 is roughly 10 times as fast as its predecessor.

Devices supporting USB 3.0 have been available to consumers since January 2010.

What is SATA 3?

Similarly, SATA 3 is the successor to the highly successful SATA 2 standard.  Short for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment, SATA has been around since 2003.  Both SATA 1 and SATA 2 were widely adopted and quickly grew popular, superceding the archaic IDE interface.

The final revision of the SATA 3 standard, released in May 2009, supports a theoretical maximum raw throughput of 6Gbits/s (in practice, peak throughput reaches ~600MB/s), twice the bandwidth of SATA 2 at 3Gbits/s, which itself is twice the bandwidth of SATA 1 at 1.5Gbits/s.

Devices supporting SATA 3 have been available to consumers since June 2010.

Is It Worth It?

First, let’s consider USB 3.0.  Currently, there are a few USB thumb drives and external hard drives available that take advantage of the new standard.  Unlike USB 2.0, which only supports a maximum of 60MB/s, USB 3.0 is capable of sustaining the highest data transfer rates hard drives can offer and more.  USB 3.0 thumb drives are significantly more expensive than their USB 2.0 counterparts, but the external hard drives aren’t that much more expensive (the price difference between a USB 2.0 and a USB 3.0 external 1TB hard drive is only $10-$20), and given that two USB 3.0 ports will only cost you somewhere around $50, it might be worth upgrading if you have a need to access external storage quickly.

Now, what about SATA 3?  Right now, you can purchase a Western Digital 1TB SATA2 drive for about $70.00.  Conversely, a Western Digital SATA 3 disk of equal capacity will cost you about $95.00.  The price difference between these two is only $25.00, so it’s not that much more expensive if you decide you’d like to double your bandwidth.

Keep in mind that if you’re using a 1x PCI-E SATA 3 controller, you won’t get the full 6Gb/s, but only ~4Gb/s.  This is a limitation of the 1x PCI-E slot.  With this in mind, if you’re not going to use an onboard SATA 3 controller, you’ll want to get a 4x card.

What eRacks Can Do for You

eRacks prides itself in staying up to date with the latest technologies.  We currently offer on our high end models, upon request, support for both USB 3.0 and SATA 3, and can also build custom systems.  Visit the eRacks website and place an order or request a quote today!

September 7th, 2010

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