USB 3.0 is particularly welcome for external hard drives, with promises of treble the data transfer rate compared to USB 2.0.

Given the way that affordable storage of incredible capacities has appeared in the last few years, USB 2.0 has proven to be a real bottleneck. It advertises 480 megabits per second (Mb/s) speeds - equivalent to 60 megabytes per second (MB/s) - but in reality USB 2.0 devices rarely even see half that speed.

Most USB drives we test in the lab average around 25MB/s or closer to 20MB/s for writing.

Try and fill a 2TB hard disk, for instance, over a USB 2.0 link, and you're looking at around a 26 hour wait. Call us impatient, but we don't enjoy sitting around for over a day while we back up a full disk.

The Buffalo DriveStation External USB 3.0 Hard Drive HD-UX3 is the not-so-snappy name for our first sample of an external USB 3.0 drive. Thankfully, it proved much snappier at data transfer. In fact, unlike USB 2.0, it's practically as quick as the marketing promises.

The Buffalo DriveStation HD-UX3 is available in 1TB, 1.5TB and 2TB capacities. Like previous DriveStations, the Buffalo DriveStation HD-UX3 takes a 7200rpm 3.5in hard disk in a black plastic case, and includes a tiny rear-vented fan for cooling. It remained reasonably quiet in use. Outboard power is required from a supplied wall wart-style DC plug.

After encountering a conflict between the necessary USB 3.0 Windows drivers and HD Tach 3, we focused on HD Tuner Pro 4.01 for benchmarking.

Our first PC test system used an add-on USB 3.0 PCI Express card, and ran Vista Home Premium 32-bit on an Intel Q6600 quad-core CPU. Here we recorded a read speed peak of 110MB/s, with a 104.9MB/s average. Writing speed tailed only slightly, at an average of 87.4MB/s.

Moving to a more up-to-date machine, we pressganged the Chillblast Fusion Goliath, which has an Asus motherboard with built-in USB 3.0 support, and Windows 7 64-bit.

Here we recorded even higher speeds - up a maximum 142MB/s read, and a 117MB/s average. Writing speeds weren't far behind, averaging 106MB/s. In all cases intrinsic average seek time was 13.9ms.

OUR VERDICT

Our first test of a USB 3.0 drive shows the wait was worth it. These are terrific transfer speeds, challenging the inherent maximum speed of the hard disk as much as an internal SATA bus. Based on these figures, you needn’t wait a whole day to fill that huge 2TB drive. How does less than three hours sound?