We’ve been hearing about USB 3.0, aka SuperSpeed USB, for well over a year now. Though Intel has delayed building USB 3.0 support into its mobile chipsets until 2011, a few intrepid notebook vendors, including Lenovo on its ThinkPad W series, have been going out of their way to include USB 3.0 ports on their new high-end systems. In addition, external hard drive makers like Seagate have been bundling USB 3.0 ExpressCard 34 adapters with their new USB 3.0 drives so, as long as you have an ExpressCard 34 slot, you can take advantage of USB 3.0.
The new version of everyone’s favorite port promises a ten fold improvement in theoretical bandwidth, but begs the question: what can I actually do with this shiny new plug? To find out, we took a Seagate BlackArmor PS 100, one of the first USB 3.0 hard drives, and connected it to the built-in USB 3.0 ports on a Lenovo ThinkPad W510. For comparison purposes, we also tested with Seagate’s USB 3.0 ExpressCard plugged into the W510, with the PS 100 plugged in to a USB 2.0 port, and with a old USB 2.0 Buffalo MiniStation hard drive. On each drive/connection, we read and then wrote a 4.97GB folder of mixed media files and a 1.66GB MP4 movie.
|Drive / Connection||4.97GB Read||1.66GB Read||4.97GB Write||1.66GB Write|
|Buffalo MiniStation (USB 2.0)||28.6 MBps||29.3 MBps||21.9 MBps||24.6 MBps|
|BlackArmor PS 110 connected to USB 3.0 Port||56.6 MBps||80.9 MBps||29.2 MBps||44.7 MBps|
|BlackArmor PS 110 connected to USB 3.0 ExpressCard||60.6 MBps||65.3 MBps||28.6 MBps||41.4 MBps|
|BlackArmor PS 110 connected to USB 2.0 Port||28.9 MBps||29.8 MBps||16.4 MBps||16.7 MBps|
As you can see, reading from the USB 3.0 BlackArmor PS 110 drive is clearly a lot faster than from a USB 2.0 drive or from itself when connected to a USB 2.0 port. When reading the 4.97GB folder of files off the of the external drive, speeds were about double what they were under USB 2.0, reaching a high of 60.6 MBps. Copying one large file is always faster than copying many small ones and that was clearly borne out in the 1.66GB file read, which reached a high of 80.9 MBps.
One conclusion we can draw from this data is that the difference between the Lenovo ThinkPad W510’s built-in USB 3.0 ports were really no faster or slower than the ExpressCard 34 adapter. Yes the built-in USB port did better on the single file copy, but it did a little worse on the multiple file copy so we’re going to consider that a wash.
When writing files to the hard drive, speeds were a lot slower, though that’s to be expected as any hard drive write operation is slower than a read. Even so, we saw significant gains in read speed, though on the multiple file copy, there were maybe 40 to 50 percent faster.
We’re very impressed with the BlackArmor and with our first taste of USB 3.0. That said, we’re left to wonder how much of our USB 3.0 bandwidth went unused, because of the speed of the hard drive itself. While Seagate didn’t tell us how fast the BlackArmor drive rotates, we figure it has to be about 7,200 rpm to reach those transfer rates. The added bandwidth of USB 3.0 means that maybe an external SSD or USB 3.0 flash drive could produce even higher transfer rates. We look forward to seeing how other USB 3.0 drives, both flash and hard drive, compare to the PS 110’s very promising scores.