USB 3.0 tested: spectacular speed results

When USB 2.0 was announced it sported a then speedy data transfer speed of up to 480 Mbit/s in one direction at a time (60 MB/s). That was almost 10 years ago and the use of USB 2.0 to transfer data to and from today’s large external  hard drives means it takes a long time to fill these drives with data — although only the fastest external hard drives saturate the link speed of USB 2.0.

In early 2010 new USB 3.0 devices such as the Western Digital My Book 3.0 1TB external hard drive are starting to be released and available to buy from retailers promising “Super speed” file transfers up to ten times faster than USB 2.0.

At first look the My Book 3.0 looks dead boring with a bland black case. Unlike other WD external hard drives this one only has a small white indicator light rather than an external gauge to indicate how much storage space is left or an E-Ink label.

USB 3.0 achieves its faster two-way full-duplex speeds (USB 1.1 and 2.0 were half-duplex) partly through the use of a new thicker cable. You can still plug it into a standard USB 2.0 port as the plug is the same size and shape as before but it won’t work at top speed.

The version we tested was a complete solution with 1TB drive and a two-port PCI Express USB 3.0
adaptor. Western Digital also sells the drive standalone for buyers who
already have their own USB3 adaptor card.

Intel is unlikely to include onboard USB 3.0 in  standard motherboard chipsets until next year — though there are already motherboards out with a variety of third-party chipsets that handle USB 3.0.

When it comes to drivers Linux has had USB 3.0 support since late 2009 but all versions of Windows including (surprisingly) the newly released Windows 7 need additional third party drivers. Mac owners will have to stick with Firewire 800 for now as OS X doesn’t have any USB 3.0 support yet. Given Apple’s penchant for dumping old ports for new it can’t be far behind with releasing a USB 3.0-compatible Mac.

[#PAGE-BREAK#Speed test results#]

The speed tests below were conducted on a Gigabyte
GA-EP45-DS3L motherboard Intel P45 Chipset running Windows XP SP3 with
4GB RAM and Pentium Dual Core E5200 @ 2.5Ghz.
Speed Test – File Transfers to My Book 3.0 from Internal HDD

WD My Book 3.0  2.1 GB (3×700 MB Video Files) 980MB (MP3 Music) 1.1GB (JPG Photos)
 USB 3.0  34.6 seconds  13 seconds  15 seconds
 USB 2.0  79 seconds  37.6 seconds  41.2 seconds

Speed Test – File Transfers from My Book 3.0 to Internal HDD

WD My Book 3.0 2.1 GB (3×700 MB Video Files) 980MB (MP3 Music)  1.1GB (JPG Photos)
 USB 3.0  27.8 seconds 16.8 seconds  18.8 seconds
 USB 2.0  70.5 seconds 38.2 seconds  41.4 seconds

These tests were conducted in “real life” conditions on a PC used by the reviewer for office tasks so you should look at the relative speeds of the WD My Book 3.0 rather than the absolute speed. Comparing the results when it was plugged into USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0 ports we can see that the current speed improvement for USB 3.0 is 2-3x.

USB 3.0 promises up to 10x faster than USB 2.0 but that’s
not necessarily going to be achievable in the real world right now. Hard drives are slower than USB 3.0’s maximum rate so the bottleneck is really the hard drive speed. However with the rise of SSDs and RAID-array external hard drives the extra speed of USB 3.0 will really come into its own.

This is just the first of a wave of USB 3.0 storage devices and future drives will be faster. For now though this Western Digital My Book 3.0 1TB external hard drive already cuts the potential time to fill a 1TB external drive by hours which will greatly improve your productivity.

At time of writing the Western Digital My Book 3.0 1TB external hard drive complete solution bundle with USB 3.0 adaptor card cost $225 at online retailers (roughly $40-$50 more than a similar WD USB 2.0 external drive which seems like pretty good value considering it comes with the USB 3.0 PCI-E board).