USB 3.0 will turbocharge throughput speeds for external hard drives, but buyers beware. To get the best out of the new standard will probably take a SATA 3.0 hard drive.
With the news from Freecom (coincidentally recently bought by giant Verbatim) is to start selling the first every USB external hard drive, users will be looking forward to a tenfold theoretical boost in transfer speeds. Except they won't because even with a special add-in PCI or cardbus card, Freecom's drive can probably at best ramp speeds by a factor of around 3.5, well below what should be possible.
The figures I quite come from Freecom itself, so let's assume they're optimistic. They also apply to 3.5 inch drives; 2.5 inch drives of the sort used in portable drives, the maximum extra hop is probably nearer 2-2.5 x at best.
According to Carsten Lenz, the company's R&D head, it is going to take the new controller architecture of SATA 3.0 to get USB 3.0 to perform. SATA 3.0 hardware is also starting to appear - Seagate made a similarly big announcement earlier this week - but it will be a while before it finds its way into regular PCs of the sort bought by consumers and companies.
USB 3.0, meanwhile, is not a final standard in all respects, with the mini USB connector pinning still to be agreed.
The good news is that Lenz did confirm that Freecom's USB 3.0 interface card will deliver the same speed for any vendor's USB 3.0 drives, not just Freecom's. That is to say that the drivers will be universal for storage devices at least.
Lenz agrees with the market consensus that Microsoft will build in universal USB 3.0 drivers from around the time of Windows 7's first service pack. Will that leave Apple in the dust? Probably, it has yet to endorse or exp[lain its stance on USB 3,0 to a market. Freecom does think it can write drivers for the Apple is only Apple will create some kind of OS hooks for it to dos so.
The chaps at 1 Infinite Loop need to wake up and see beyond Firewire 800's supposed greatness. USB 3.0 is what Mac users need, and preferably before it becomes embarrassing.