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USB 3.0 and SATA 6G Performance Preview - ASUS brings the goods

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Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: General
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ASUS brings the goods

Earlier in the week we took a look at our first bit of hardware for the upcoming SATA 6G standard: the Seagate Barracuda XT hard drive and the ASUS P7P55D Premium motherboard with the integrated Marvell 9123 SATA 6G controller. 
It is obvious upon reading that article that while we were more than a bit let down by the performance changes from standard SATA 3.0 Gb/s the fact that ASUS has a solution available today that will provide an upgrade path for SATA 6G hardware down the road is good. 

Probably more exciting than SATA 6G is the upcoming adoption of the new USB 3.0 specification that will greatly reduce a bottleneck in external storage that exists today on almost all PCs.  USB 2.0 is limited to 480 Mbps (or 60 MB/s) and in reality very few components were ever able to go much faster than 40 MB/s on a good day.  The new USB 3.0 standard runs at 4.8 Gbps (or 600 MB/s) - this is obviously a HUGE jump in performance and has the potential to make external storage a more reasonable high speed solution.  Backing up a 2TB hard drive over current USB 2.0 would take about 10 hours or so; with USB 3.0 that could move to as little as an hour. 



The ASUS P7P55D-E Premium - USB 3.0 and SATA 6G in one package

This week we heard our first rumblings of the new ASUS P7P55D-E Premium motherboard that would offer both of these new storage technologies on-board. 

This motherboard uses the P55 chipset obviously to support the current generation Intel Lynnfield processors and the LGA1156 processor socket.  It also continues to utilize the PEX PLX8613 PCI Express bridge chip to pair both SATA 6G and USB 3.0 with the somewhat feature-limited P55 chipset.  Remember that the Marvell 9123 chip that powers the SATA 6G connectivity needs to use the PLX chip for 500 MB/s of bandwidth (optimally); the NEC 720200 USB 3.0 controller uses a single PCIe 2.0 x1 lane as well to run at as high as 500 MB/s.  The PLX chip then connects to the P55 chipset through a PCIe 1.0 x4 connection that supports 10 Gb/s so there should be more than enough bandwidth to go around. 

On the ASUS P7P55D-E Premium there are only two USB 3.0 ports on the back panel noted in blue.  Unfortunately those of you that have the currently available P7P55D motherboards with blue USB ports are out of luck.
Unless you have this NEC 720200 chip resting behind those blue USB ports, they are going to be running at USB 2.0 speeds only.

The ASUS U3S6 Add-in card - USB 3.0 and SATA 6G for everyone else

Along with this new motherboard ASUS also sent us an add-in card that will offer both USB 3.0 and SATA 6G connectivity to all other users that didn't have the good fortune to have them integrated on their current motherboard.  The ASUS U3S6 (get it, USB 3.0 and SATA 6G?) card will be sold individually with a modest MSRP of $29.

The USB 3.0 and SATA 6G implementation on this card is basically identical to the one seen on the ASUS P7P55D-E Premium motherboard: a PLX8613 chip is the bridge between the computer's PCIe bus and the NEC 720200 and Marvell 9123 controllers.

Blue appears to be all the rage for indicating a USB 3.0 connection - too bad ASUS and other vendors ruined it with non-3.0-ready USB connections on some current P55 offerings. 

USB 3.0 Hardware Arrives

While we have already gone over our first SATA 6G hardware, we obviously needed some USB 3.0 accessories in order to put this new technology to the test as well.  Along comes an engineering sample of an ASUS USB 3.0 hard drive docking station. 

This is a VERY early model of the hardware that ASUS and its partner (likely Vantec) are going to be selling by the end of the year, but it gets the job done. 

The only connections on the back of the unit are an AC power plug and the new USB 3.0 B connection.

Nothing much different about these connections here though the USB 3.0 B connector could not be made in a backwards compatible fashion, thus the new shape to the cable.

Inside the drive cage we found an older Seagate Barracuda 500GB hard drive docked into a very basic PCB with SATA 6G and USB 3.0 controller.  We did some testing with this configuration but couldn't help pulling out this drive and throwing in an Intel X25-M G2 160GB SSD to see what else we could get out of it.
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