USB 3.0 is the latest iteration of the venerable USB standard. First introduced to the market in 2000, the USB flash drive fundamentally changed the way data was stored, moved, and shared and introduced the concept of “plug and play” to the mass market. The 3.0 update introduces a number of fundamental improvements to data throughput and power efficiency, but are these improvements significant enough to warrant replacing your existing USB 2.0 drive?
The improvements made to the USB standard are numerous. Most significantly, USB 3.0 is up to 10 times faster than its predecessor, with maximum data transfer rates of 4.8 Gbps. The standard also features a full duplex data transfer protocol, which means that a USB 3.0 device can send and receive data simultaneously. This is a fundamental improvement over USB 2.0 half-duplex scheme, in which the device could only send or receive data.
USB 3.0 also allows for better power management and uses less power in an idle state. Good news indeed for laptop users not tethered by a power cord! The 3.0 standard also allows more devices to be powered through a single hub, which has the potential to cut down on both desktop clutter and the number of power hubs needed by travelers on the go. As with previous iterations of the standard, USB 3.0 devices are fully compatible with USB 2.0 ports and devices.
The downside to the new standard, as with any new technology, is cost. While you won’t see much price difference with the cables, the fastest USB 3.0 flash drive is significantly more expensive than it’s USB 2.0 forbearer. In order to see a significant speed boost, expect to pay $40 or more for a high-quality USB 3.0 drive.
Also, you need to do some research to make sure that the new drive you’re buying takes full advantage of the new speed potential of the standard. As with the 2.0 standard, the 10x speed improvement is a theoretical maximum and it is up to the drive manufacturer to fully implement the efficiencies of the new standard. Compared to the bargain-basement prices that you can find most USB 2.0 drives for these days, it would be beneficial to think about what your usage expectations really are for your new USB drive.
Not every user will see significant gains from a new flash drive. If you’re moving around large files on a regular basis, USB 3.0 will probably give you the best return on your investment. However, if you are working primarily with text-based or basic presentation files, there’s no real reason to spend the money to upgrade right now, especially as prices on the new drives will likely be dropping over the next few months.