First USB 3.0 portable drives hit market

USB 3.0 devices are trickling into the market, starting with portable hard drives

A majority of laptops come with USB 2.0 ports, but that will change as its successor, USB 3.0, begins to take hold. HP has said it will bring USB 3.0 to a majority of its high-performance and business laptops later this year.

USB ports connect host devices, such as PCs, to other devices such as printers and storage drives. USB 3.0 increases bandwidth and transfers data close to 10 times faster than USB 2.0, according to the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), an organization defining USB standards.

The USB 3.0 interface can offer a transfer rate of 5G bps (bits per second) compared to 480M bps per second for USB 2.0. For example, 1G byte of data can be transferred to a host device in 3.3 seconds with USB 3.0, compared to 33 seconds with USB 2.0.

Transfer rates of drives will increase as technology surrounding USB 3.0 develops. Over the last few months, storage devices like external hard drives and SSDs (solid-state drives) with varying data transfer rates have appeared on shelves from companies like OCZ, SuperTalent and LaCie.

Super Talent's USB 3.0 thumb drives

Super Talent is offering three USB 3.0 flash drives with capacities up to 256GB under the SuperCrypt, Raiddrive and Express Drive brands. The Express Drive is the entry-level brand, and ships with capacities of 16GB and 32GB. The line achieves data transfer speeds of up to 125M bps. Amazon.com is selling the 32GB drive for US$120, which is relatively expensive compared to USB 2.0 thumb drives. For example, a Patriot Xporter Dash USB 2.0 thumb drive is priced at $60 on Newegg.

The SuperCrypt drive automatically encrypts data and comes in capacities up to 256GB. It achieves transfer speeds of 240M bps. The prices range from $120 for a 16GB drive on Amazon.com to $769 for a 256GB drive on eWiz.

The fastest Raiddrive contains two SSDs in a RAID array, and achieves data transfer speeds up to 300M bps. A Raiddrive with 128GB of storage is priced at $595 on Amazon.com. The 32GB drive is $255, while the 64GB drive is $365.

For all SuperTalent drives, users will have to wait three to four weeks for shipping from Amazon. The drives work with Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, according to the company.

LaCie's rugged USB 3.0 drive

I've been using LaCie's rugged hard drive as an external storage device for many years, and was glad when a USB 3.0 version of the drive was announced last month. The $150 drive has a rubber exterior that allows it to take drops of up to 2.2 meters (86 inches). It achieves data transfer speeds up to 110M bps, which may be a bit slow compared to OCZ's and SuperTalent's drives. Also at $150, the drive is priced at a premium; a Rugged USB 2.0 drive costs $119. But if you have a laptop with a USB 3.0 port already, LaCie's drives are worth the premium to get the faster data transfer speeds.

Transcend is another company that offers a rugged USB 3.0 drive, the StoreJet 25D3. The device offers 500GB of storage for $133 and is available on Transcend's Web site.

OCZ's Enyo SSD drive

External hard drives were some of the earliest USB 3.0 devices to come out last year, but OCZ this week announced Enyo USB 3.0 solid-state drives. The SSDs will be available in capacities of 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB.

The drives offer up to 260M bps read (around 1.5G bps ) and 200M bps write capabilities. The USB 3.0 drive also is backward-compatible with older ports. The drives have started shipping, though pricing information wasn't immediately available.

Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Pro

Technology is progressing fast, and Seagate took that into account with its new line of FreeAgent GoFlex external drives. The drives come with novel technology that eliminates predefined connectivity like USB 2.0 or FireWire. It instead comes with a set of interchangeable adapters and cable kits to support a number of interfaces, ranging from FireWire to USB 3.0.

That flexibility helps keeps drives fresh to support new technologies, or when laptops with USB 3.0 ports become mainstream. The GoFlex ultraportable drives come with storage capacities of up to 1TB and are priced at up to $199.99. The USB 3.0 kit and cables come for an extra $79.99.

Other drives

Reputable storage companies aren't far behind in releasing USB 3.0 storage devices. Samsung announced a Samsung Story Station family of USB 3.0 external hard drives, which are available in capacities ranging from 1TB to 2TB. Western Digital offers the My Book external hard drives, priced at $199.99 for 1TB and $279.99 for 2GB capacity.

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