Desktop External Hard Drives: USB 3.0 vs. USB 2.0

By Anna Rose Johnson
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Speed. It’s the word that describes our world. Sculpted by advancements in technology, everything in day to day life has jumped into hyper speed. We want our phones, computers, iPods, internet, etc., to be faster. Transfer speeds of 480MB per second now seem slow to a generation who used to think a 3.5-inch floppy disk with a storage capacity of 200MB was huge. Today there are desktop external hard drives boasting storage capacities of 1TB to 3TB, and yet we still need more space. Luckily for us, progress in USB technology has just created new opportunities in our quest for more storage space and faster transfer speeds.

When Universal Serial Bus specification (USB) was released to the public in the '90s it changed the way users interacted with computers, making “plug and play” a reality. Knowing the world’s need for speed, the USB Implementers Forum, Inc., created by the same group responsible for developing USB, came together and devised the new generation of USB: SuperSpeed USB 3.0. While interaction between the user and computer shouldn’t change much with USB 3.0, data transfer speeds have skyrocketed from 480MB per second to 4.8GB per second (sometimes marketed as 5GB). Just imagine filling your newly purchased desktop external hard drive with thousands of files in mere minutes or even seconds. SuperSpeed USB 3.0 has redefined speed to a whole new level. Additionally, there are several other differences between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0: 

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As you can see, besides a jump in transfer speed, power capability has increased as well, from 100 to 900 milliamps. This means that you can now charge four devices in the time it took to charge one. Now you may be thinking that this increase of power must mean a decrease in power efficiency, but you would be wrong. Instead of draining power from a non-active device like USB 2.0 did, USB 3.0 will be able to recognize when a device is inactive and will stop seeking data. For example, if your desktop external hard drive is plugged into your computer and the computer falls into sleep mode, the USB 3.0 will detect this change and will cease its connection until the computer powers up again.

The increased number of connector lines is another important tidbit. USB 2.0 cables transferred data via four lines: two for in and out data transfer, one for power and one for grounding. SuperSpeed USB 3.0 now has nine lines, adding five additional lines, four of which aid in speed; two will be dedicated data transmitters, while another two will handle receiving information. These additional lines make bi-directional data transfer possible, allowing the drive to read and write content to your desktop external hard drive simultaneously. The USB 3.0’s cable is obviously thicker with all of the added lines, and just by looking at the ends you can see the difference between USB 2.0 and USB 3.0.

SuperSpeed USB 3.0 may have been announced in November 2008, but it wasn't until January 2010 that consumer products became available to the public in the form of laptops, desktop external hard drives and USB drives. It is rumored that Intel will begin supporting USB 3.0 in 2011, and their backing will no doubt result in a surge of products equipped with USB 3.0.

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Electronics » Computers » Desktop External Hard Drive Review » Desktop External Hard Drives: USB 3.0 vs. USB 2.0