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USB 3.0 has been around for awhile, but its introduction to the world has been slow. It’s only now common among new desktop and laptops, most of which ship with at least two USB 3.0 USB 3.0: Everything You Need to Know USB 3.0: Everything You Need to Know USB 3.0 beats USB 2.0 in so many ways. Here's everything you need to know about why you should always pick USB 3.x when possible. Read More ports. Flash drive manufacturers have responded by producing a wide range of USB 3.0 drives sold under exciting names like SuperSonic XT and Voyager.

You might be staring at your old USB 2.0 drive and wondering if an upgrade is worthwhile. What’s the advantage? How much faster is this fancy-pants USB 3.0? Is the performance improvement noticeable, or is this another case of manufacturer hype? Let’s find out.

USB 3.0 – As It Relates To Thumb Drives

The new USB standard is theoretically a big deal for all devices capable of connecting via USB. It increases maximum data throughput from 480 megabits per second to 5 gigabits per second. That’s like replacing your mini-van with a freightliner because you need to move to a new apartment.

You may be wondering why you’ve never witnessed speeds like this on your own drives. That’s because these maximums don’t take into account the standard’s overhead. With USB 3.0, the speed of the flash memory used in a drive can also become an issue. The speed of the connection can out-strip the speed of flash memory.

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We’re not here to just talk about theory, however. We’re here to put it into practice. To do this, we’ll compare three USB drives.

One is the Kingston Datatraveler G3 8GB, a common USB 2.0 drive you can buy for about five bucks. Second is Corsair’s Flash Voyager Slider USB 3.0 16GB, which is sold for $23. The last is Kingston’s new Datatraveler Elite 3.0 32GB, which is sold for about $40.

HD Tune

HD Tune is a data transfer benchmark commonly used to test the maximum capability of any given piece of storage hardware. Once finished with its transfer benchmark it spits out the average data transfer speed. Let’s see what it says about these drives.

The less expensive Corsair actually comes away with the win by offering an average transfer four times higher than the DataTraveler G3 USB 2.0. But the DataTraveler Elite also beats its older cousin by a large margin.

Real-World Folder Transfer

While HD Tune is useful, it’s not a real-world test. Transfer rates when dealing with real files are often lower. To test this I performed a timed transfer of a folder containing 365 files totaling 2.11 gigabytes. This is a timed test, so lower is better.

Wow. The graph says it all, doesn’t it? The DataTraveler G3 USB 2.0 took 10 miuntes, 23 seconds to transfer the folder. The Corsair Flash Voyager Slider USB 3.0 required one minute and 47 seconds, while the DataTraveler Elite USB 3.0 required just one minute and 16 seconds. That’s a huge gap between USB 2.0 and 3.0.

Real-World Video File Transfer

Our final test is a another timed transfer. This time we’re instead moving four video files approximately 550 megabytes in size, totalling about 2.2 gigabytes. Large files sometimes transfer at different rates than many small files of similar size, so it’s worth seeing how the drives handle this workload.

Once again the Datatraveler G3 USB 2.0 is way behind the competitors. It transferred the files in 10 minutes, 45 seconds. The Corsair Flash Voyager Slider USB 3.0 did the same in one minute, 38 seconds. Fastest of all was the Datatraveler Elite 3.0, which needed only one minute and eight seconds.

Conclusion

The results of these tests are not hard to understand. The older Datatraveler G3 USB 2.0  drive is easily defeated in every test by a large margin. Real-world file transfers are many times slower than they were on the new USB 3.0 drives, resulting in a significant real-world benefit. It’s possible that a USB 2.0 drive with a larger capacity would be a bit quicker, but it’s clear even the quickest USB 2.0 drive will be far behind USB 3.0.

The Corsair Voyager Slider USB 3.0 is several times more expensive as much as the DataTraveler G3, but it offers several times the performance. And it’s still just $25. The DataTraveler Elite USB 3.0 32GB does carry a hefty price tag of $40, but that is due to its large capacity. The 16GB version is sold for about $20, a few bucks less than the Corsair. Keep in mind, however, that the smaller version may not be as quick as the drive tested here.

If you own an older USB 2.0 drive, and you also own a USB 3.0 capable computer, now is a great time to upgrade. USB 3.0 drives are by no means unaffordable and offer excellent performance. I can’t think of any reason to buy a USB 2.0 drive instead.

  1. eugen
    December 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    it is well-written.

  2. Chuck Dairns
    October 9, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    If you have an esata port on your computer, use it with an external drive enclosure (with an esata port). You will never saturate an esata connection, whereas you will with usb 3.0.

    For performance esata wins out usually; for convenience usb 3.0 has the lead as it's backward compatible with usb 2.0/1.0 (i.e. your parents computer). If you can locate an external drive enclosure with both usb 3.0 / esata connections, all the better.

  3. Keith
    October 3, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    Someone missed the point on cost comparison."Less expensive" should be an apples to apples comparison. Why ruin a good article with an apples and oranges comparis like this (unless you own stock in one of the companies?)
    "The less expensive Corsair actually comes away with the win by offering an average transfer four times higher than the DataTraveler G3 USB 2.0."
    The articles had just finished saying the Kingston had 2 times the capacity making it the least expensive option.
    From your article - "Corsair’s Flash Voyager Slider USB 3.0 16GB, which is sold for $23. The last is Kingston’s new Datatraveler Elite 3.0 32GB, which is sold for about $40."

  4. druv vb
    September 10, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Recently bought a USB 3.0 External 500GB Drive. I must say that the transfer speeds were outstanding!!! Copied 25GB of photos and videos in less than 5 mins! That would take almost 30mins if the drive was the old USB 2.0. But at the same time, my PC is still with USB 2.0 ports...
    My next flash drive will surely be on USB 3.0, a 32GB maybe. At last copying freewares and tools would surely take less a couple of minutes.
    Way to go SuperSpeed.....

  5. susendeep dutta
    September 9, 2012 at 6:58 am

    What about Kingston Hyper X 256 GB version? They might be faster than all.

  6. Rich Mc.
    September 8, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    I appreciate the benchmarking after reading so much for the new 3.0 I was curious about the actual loading times and if there really was much of an increase..

  7. Michael Jan Moratalla
    September 8, 2012 at 10:55 am

    I would definitely want to try it

  8. Usman Mubashir
    September 8, 2012 at 7:59 am

    WoW, I knew the 3.0 is fast, but this is freaking fast. Imagine how great ready boost will run on it???

  9. gpvprasad
    September 8, 2012 at 7:11 am

    Is there a possibility to add 3.0 and remove 2.0?

  10. Doc
    September 8, 2012 at 3:25 am

    "The less expensive Corsair actually comes away with the win by offering an average transfer four times higher than the DataTraveler G3 USB 2.0."

    The way I read the graph, the USB 2.0 drive scored 18MB/sec, and the Corsair scored around 72MB/sec, which is *three times higher* or *four times as high* as the DataTraveler.

    "four times higher" does not equal "four times as high" no matter how you spin it. For example, "one time higher" than 18MB/sec = 100% faster, or 36MB/sec, so "four times higher" would be 400% faster, or 90MB/sec, which is not what the chart shows. There is a 1.0 (100%) degree of magnitude between "as high" and "higher."

    • tarzan2001
      September 12, 2012 at 1:05 am

      Umm...I think you're reading into it a bit much. The phrases "higher" and "as high" are talking about the same relationship. Perhaps, I'm wrong and you can clarify a little more for me, but here's the example I was thinking of in my head: if someone jumps 10 ft in the air, then jumping 4x higher than that would be 40 ft. If someone jumps 40 ft, then he has jumped 4x as high as someone that jumps 10 ft. Seems to mean essentially the same thing, just looking from different angles, no? I don't think there is a 1.0 degree of magnitude between the terms. :)

      • Doc
        September 19, 2012 at 10:13 pm

        Nope, and it's a common mistake to believe they are the same.

        Let's do this again:

        I jump 10ft. into the air.
        Then I jump 50% higher, or 15ft.
        Then I jump 100% higher (1x higher, since 100% = 1.0), or 20ft.

        If I jump 100% *as high*, then I'm jumping 10ft, or 1.0x, or 10ft + 0ft.
        If I jump 100% *higher* (higher = more), then I'm jumping 20ft, or 10ft + 100% = 10ft + 10ft.
        If I jump 50% *as high*, then I'm jumping 5ft, or 0.5x

        See the difference now? "as high" and "higher" are 1 order of magnitude (100%) different.

        "I'm 100% as tall as you. I'm the same height."
        "I'm 100% taller than you. I'm twice your height."
        "I'm 50% taller than you. I'm half again your height."
        "I'm 50% as tall as you. I'm half your height (shorter)."

        Now let's look at the article's claims:

        "The less expensive Corsair actually comes away with the win by offering an average transfer four times higher than the DataTraveler G3 USB 2.0..."

        The DataTraveler shows 18MB/s. Four times higher would be 1.0x + 4.0x (remember "higher" = "more than") would be 5x * 18MB/s, or 90MB/s, not the 75MB/s that the bar graph approximates. It's actually slightly more than 4x as fast (4x * 18MB/s = 72MB/s), not 4x faster.

  11. Michael Carpino
    September 7, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    A thumb drive is worth the expense nor the time fumbling to find it any more. With all the free cloud storage from Google, Microsoft, etc it is so much easier to use their service.

    • tarzan2001
      September 7, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      The problem with cloud storage is that it's heavily dependent on one's internet connection speed. While most broadband connections can download at very high speeds, usually the upload speed is very far behind, and it can take a long time to upload a large amount of data. USB flash drives are much faster if you need to move around files quickly. However, if you know that you won't need to move the files around very often, and you have the time to wait, then cloud storage would be a better option. Also, cloud storage is probably fine for smaller files such as documents, etc. But for large file sizes, IMO flash drives are still the way to go. :)

    • Matt Smith
      September 7, 2012 at 11:25 pm

      Depends on the situation. Cloud storage can be a pain or flat out in-secure if only public WiFi is available, for example. It's also much more expensive if you exceed the free storage limits.

  12. Gary Tan
    September 7, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    I believe the other considerations are like if your current system supports USB 3.0 also has to put into the picture to have a more accurate comparison.

  13. Ahmed Khalil
    September 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    USB 3 flash memory is still not much avaliable in the market, and we use our old devises in the new slot losing the its advantages

    • Vipul Jain
      September 7, 2012 at 7:44 pm

      actually it is available almost everywhere. Even online stores like flipkart have them. its just that they are almost twice as expensive than 2.0

      • tarzan2001
        September 7, 2012 at 9:16 pm

        They may be twice as expensive, but according to the charts in this article, they are 3-4x faster than USB 2.0, which seems like a good return to me! I personally think it's worth the investment, especially if one's pc already has USB 3.0 ports. :)

        • Vipul Jain
          September 8, 2012 at 3:16 am

          yes, i completely agree. Even i'm planning to get a 3.0 drive since i purchased my laptop, and am seeing the 3.0 port being put to no use :P

        • Ahmed Khalil
          September 9, 2012 at 5:06 am

          i can not say no but, i think it takes long time, and i feel that new technology will show up before we can make use of USB3 tech

        • tarzan2001
          September 12, 2012 at 12:54 am

          Me too! I want to get a USB 3.0 pocket/traveller's external hard drive, but I think I will wait for the prices to come down a bit more. I really don't need it right away, so I can afford to wait for better prices. I look forward to the increased data transfer speed though! USB 2.0 is much too slow for such large data transferring as occurs nowadays. :)

    • Achraf52
      September 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm

      Hi, sorry we didn't understand exactly what you want to say, as you see major manufacturers are offering USB 3.0 devices and most computers are coming with it so what's the problem .

    • Matt Smith
      September 7, 2012 at 11:27 pm

      I imagine it depends a lot on the market you live in. But where I live (North America) virtually all new laptops and desktops have at least two USB 3.0 ports. There's also a lot of 3.0-capable drives, though the selection in retail stores is limited. You have to go online to find the best ones.

  14. Nonna
    September 7, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    How does one determine if your pc is 3.0 capable?

    • Vipul Jain
      September 7, 2012 at 7:42 pm

      the simplest way is to look at the port. If it's blue inside, it's 3.0 else not.

    • Achraf52
      September 7, 2012 at 7:53 pm

      It may be written on the label or so, give us your PC model and we will check for you, most new Apple computers and 2011 computers are having them .

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