After 8 years of success the USB 2.0 standard has begun its long journey into obsolescence. Dutch storage company Freecom has announced the first mainstream storage product based on ‘SuperSpeed' USB 3.0.
Buyers will be interested to hear that the new external Hard Drive XS 3.0 doesn't cost the earth at £99 (approx $160) for a 1TB drive, even though that excludes the £22.99 for a desktop PCI-bus controller necessary to make it work at its intended throughput. Laptop users can pair it with a £25.99 plug-in PC Card to achieve the same effect.
The company is also supplying drivers to make USB 3.0 work with Vista and XP. Windows 7 should have 'native' drivers from not long after launch, or users will hope so. Apple is not yet supported by the XS 3.0.
As upgrades to 3.5 inch external drives go, this one looks like a good deal. USB 3.0 boosts the theoretical data throughput of USB storage devices to 4.8Gbit/s from USB 2.0's now rather tardy-sounding 480Mbit/s. Even taking in account protocol overhead, that should still dramatically reduce data transfer times at a moment when larger files sizes are starting to become commonplace.
"We now can transfer a 5GB movie in just 38 seconds - it's unbelievably fast," said Freecom's managing director, Axel Lucassen. Assuming that USB 3.0 scales proportionately, USB 2.0 would have transferred the same file in six and a half minutes.
Lucassen also put his finger on another application that should be boosted by the arrival of USB 3.0, namely transparent encryption. "The Hard Drive XS 3.0 also outperforms the competition in terms of security. Our USB 3.0 solution will have high-speed hardware encryption with AES 256 bit - this is not only the fastest but also the safest storage solution on the market," he said.
Built-in encryption is a well-kept secret of many of Freecom's portable external hard drives, but the technology has struggled to fulfil its promise due to worries over throughput. External hard drives using integrated encryption have a deserved reputation for being slow, and the interface is one factor in that.
USB 3.0 is designed to have other advantages such as the ability to power more powerful devices straight off the SuperSpeed bus, getting round the need for a power adaptor for certain classes of device. Power draw is one of the reasons why external SATA hard drives have never taken off. USB 3.0 can also cut power drain when those devices are not in use.
More generally, to permeate every type of computing device, USB 3.0 will need native support at OS level. That is the point of USB of whatever generation. Users can plug in a range of devices and they will just work without extra software being a necessity. Having to load a driver for every USB interface or device is clearly no more than a stop-gap solution.
As far as storage goes, it's been the ‘3.0 week' all round, Seagate having announced the first SATA 3.0 hard drive designed to raise internal hard drive bus performance.