Kamis, 26 Mei 2011

Review ; USB 3.0 vs. eSATA

eSATA cable

There are only so many ways to connect external storage devices to your computer. The three main contenders are USB, FireWire, and eSATA. Even though USB 2.0 was crippled by 33MB/s transfer speeds, it’s easily the most popular interface. That trend seems bound to continue as USB 3.0 adoption ramps up, off ering much improved bandwidth. FireWire, for its part, is practically dead (even Apple computers don’t ship with FireWire ports anymore). Most enthusiast motherboards feature eSATA, but when’s the last time you saw an eSATA hard drive enclosure? Given USB 3.0’s theoretical throughput of 5Gb/s, is it time to throw out eSATA for good, or is there still some life left in the spec? We pit USB 3.0 against the aging 3Gb/s eSATA spec to fi nd out.

FEATURES Sure, both USB 3.0 and eSATA can be used to connect external storage devices
to your PC. But the beauty of USB is that it’s universal: A USB 3.0 port can also accommodate a printer, input device, fan, MP3 player, smartphone, camcorder, novelty mug-warmer, or light-up globe—and it’s backward-compatible with USB 2.0 and USB 1.1. With eSATA, you’re limited to hard drives and (some) fl ash drives. However, eSATA passes along native SATA commands—from a device standpoint, there shouldn’t be any difference between an eSATA drive and a native SATA drive. USB 3.0 hard drives have to use a SATA-to-USB controller. But that still can’t negate USB’s multifunctionality. WINNER: USB 3.0

AVAILABILITY Most non-budget motherboards released in the last few years have at least one eSATA port, and plenty of computer chassis have front panel eSATA connectors that plug right into one of your mobo’s SATA ports. It’s only in the past four or five months that USB 3.0 has appeared on laptops and computer chassis, and for desktops there’s no internal motherboard header yet. That means that the USB pass-through cables have to go right out the back of the case and plug into the USB 3.0 headers on the back of your motherboard. On the other hand, USB 3.0 drives and enclosures are already quite common, while eSATA drives are not. WINNER: TIE

EASE OF USE It doesn’t get much easier to use than USB: just plug in and go. Every operating system has incredibly robust USB drivers, and will automatically recognize and mount storage volumes on USB. USB 3.0 devices can also function just fine plugged into USB 2.0 ports—though, of course, they won’t be as fast. eSATA is flakier. Though you can hotplug eSATA devices, there’s no guarantee that they’ll show up until after a restart. And performance can be very chipset-dependant. WINNER: USB 3.0
PERFORMANCE The theoretical throughput of USB 3.0 is 5Gb/s, which is nearly twice the current eSATA spec of 3Gb/s, so we expected USB 3.0 to trounce eSATA in the benchmarks. But we were wrong. Really wrong. We tested both interfaces with the same SSD and test rig, using eSATA and USB 3.0 docking stations from the same product line, and 3Gb/s eSATA trounced USB 3.0. Not by a little bit, either: eSATA read speeds were half again of the USB 3.0 equivalent, and write speeds doubled on eSATA versus USB 3.0. As the USB 3.0 spec matures, expect that gap to narrow, but by then 6Gb/s eSATA will be out. WINNER: ESATA

And the Winner Is...

We gotta give it to USB 3.0. Even though eSATA has the clear edge in performance—and the added benefi t of faithfully passing through native SATA commands—nearly all mass storage devices still use mechanical hard drives, and both USB 3.0 and eSATA are more than capable of throughput that exceeds the fastest mechanical drives on the market. USB 3.0 has the edge in versatility and ease of use, too—you can plug thousands of diff erent devices into a USB 3.0 port. While eSATA off ers great performance and SATA fi delity, it just can’t do as much. And its driver set is not
as robust. Furthermore, eSATA ports aren’t becoming any more prevalent: In this month’s case roundup, 60 percent of the cases had front-panel eSATA ports and 80 percent had USB 3.0—even without an internal motherboard header spec for USB 3.0. With a fi nalized internal header spec just around the corner and native USB 3.0 integration in the next generation of motherboard chipsets, we think the winner is clear.

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