USB 3.0 or not
January 19, 2009 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Looking at getting a new computer. Is it worth waiting for USB 3.0?

So the USB 3.0 spec has been released and no doubt manufacturers are working as we type to get it into new devices. I'm looking at getting a desktop machine to replace my current laptop and I'm wondering if it's worth waiting for a 3.0 socket to be available in the interest of future-proofing.

I play around with music and will be interested in adding on trigger pads, audio interfaces, etc. I'll also be using the machine for photo editing.

No one knows exactly where the 3.0 standard will end up being used, of course (fans and cup warmers were probably not expected uses of the earlier standards), but do you think it's worth waiting for?
posted by echo target to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

If you really end up needing it (which you won't), you can buy a USB 3.0 PCI-E card.
posted by Jairus at 11:48 AM on January 19, 2009

You'll be able to just buy a USB 3.0 card. When the time comes, get a PCI Express one when they come out, as USB 3.0 is faster than the old PCI standard.
posted by zsazsa at 11:49 AM on January 19, 2009

No. Even if you need USB 3.0 at some point in the future, expansion PCIe cards will be available for a few bucks. And USB is already quite fast - almost no external mechanical hard drive can saturate a modern USB 2.0 controller (about 60MB/s). What kind of application will need USB 3.0 with 600MB/s? You can't display this amount of information on the screen, you can't save it to the hard disk, and it will almost instantly fill your main memory. It will probably take years until the rest of the hardware catches up with that kind of bandwith.
posted by Nightwind at 11:56 AM on January 19, 2009

No way. USB 2.0 will be plenty fast for you. And the first release of USB 3.0 (and the OS support of it, and the device support of it) is likely to be buggy for at least a year.
posted by intermod at 11:56 AM on January 19, 2009


USB 2.0 480 mbs. = about 60 MByte/s
USB 3.0 5.0 GBs. = about 625 MByte/s

To me that's worth the wait; but then again I have a super beefy computer. But since you're talking desktop and USB 3.0 may be several years before fully functional like USB 2.0, I'd go ahead and get it, and hope for a USB 3.0 PCI card.

The question really is, why do you need USB 3.0? Do you really need to wait for it? Or do you need the processor/hard drive/ram power now?

If it's an issue of I need this much power now, but would like usb 3.0 rather then need it, go for the new computer; most likely they'll be making USB 3.0 expansion cards in the next few years anyways. Also, by the time USB 3.0 is developed out like USB 2.0 I'd fully expect your computer to need an upgrade anyways.
posted by BoldStepDesign at 11:58 AM on January 19, 2009

Read this:

For what you're doing most of your equipment is going to be USB 2.0 or Firewire800 anyways(assuming computer interface). to wait would mean waiting on all that fun stuff.
posted by BoldStepDesign at 12:00 PM on January 19, 2009

Best answer: A USB3 port and a devices to plug into are at least a year away. People were pretty underwhelmed with USB devices they saw at CES2009. I'd expect it would show up in a few models from major OEMs in the forth quarter, but there may few things to plug into it. USB 3 promises a huge speed improvement over USB2 but the early hard drives didn't make it. Like the promise of USB2 before it, it took a while for the speeds to meet the spec.

I would suspect that USB2 will still be king of the hill for quite some time -- like years. I would also suspect if there is a killer USB3 device, that someone would make an ExpressCard adapter for a notebook to take advantage of it before you want to retire your system.

So yeah, if you need a new computer now, you might go out and get one. I personally wouldn't wait for something that may get delayed or be adopted very very slowly by the industry.
posted by birdherder at 12:02 PM on January 19, 2009

This is one of those things people say that I always think are silly. Sure, you could wait for USB 3.0. You could also wait for the SATA III spec to be finalized, for the Nehalem die shrink, for terabyte SSD's to hit the market (estimated 2010!).

Or, you could just buy a computer.

This stuff is commodity technology. I guarantee you, that if or when USB 3.0 devices that require that much bandwidth hit mainstream, you will also be able to buy a $199 Dell that has 12 ports onboard, a $15 PCI-E 1x card that has 6 ports or the same device but with an eSATA port. We live in the future, just buy a computer.
posted by tracert at 12:24 PM on January 19, 2009

Best answer: Heck no. USB3 is something like a year away. Next year you'll be asking "Should I be waiting for ExpressCard 3.0" or whatever is looming over the horizon. Right now, esata does fast transfers for external disk drives. So if you are adding an external disk you should be using esata, not USB. If you absolutely need USB3 in there next year you can just add a PCI card.

adding on trigger pads, audio interfaces, etc.

These are low bandwidth applications that are already served pretty well by USB2.

almost no external mechanical hard drive can saturate a modern USB 2.0 controller (about 60MB/s)

In theory, yes. In practice no. Ive never gotten a USB drive to do more than 20 or 25MB/sec. Scroll down to the HDTune screenshots and you'll see that USB is definately a limitation. Budget drives are being sold advertising 100MB/s. SSDs are going to be much faster. esata is where its at.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:34 PM on January 19, 2009

As everyone says, you'll be able to drop in a card if it really matters - but, honestly, what is USB going to give you that 2 won't?

If you want speed for external hard drives, which is the only thing I can of, just go eSATA now.
posted by rodgerd at 1:35 PM on January 19, 2009

Best answer: OK, I am the exception. I would wait if waiting is an option.

I use an external drive regularly (a lot) and FW800 is (very slowly, I admit) dying. FW400 might as well be dead with it having been dropped from the Macs [and FW of all kinds, _entirely_, from the Macbook].

USB is a complex stack and implementations are unbelivably buggy, across the board, from the Mac's periodic problems and hanging with USB devices [no, this is not just me] to the complete crap that is the Linux USB drivers [which are _very_ poorly written, please do not tell me your USB device X sort of mostly works, go look at the source and think "what does this code do when event XXX happens?"]. Windows has its share of bugs, etc. No, USB-to-FOO adapters are not the solution.

FW is just far, far more pleasant, but as I said, dying.

There is some hope that USB3, just because of its higher bandwidth will require a rework of the existing USB stacks and the resulting tighter timing might also result in shaking out many of the stupidities/bugs that otherwise crop up in unreproducible ways due to timing.

Put another way, sure, waiting for USB3 is a fine thing if you can wait, because if you wait on buying a computer you ALWAYS win. The only time waiting to buy a computer is not a win is when your current computer is costing you money.
posted by rr at 4:04 PM on January 19, 2009

I wouldn't wait for it.

USB3 gear isn't really out yet, and won't be ubiquitous for several years.

And, as others have mentioned, you can just drop in a PCIe card when you need it.
posted by Netzapper at 4:10 PM on January 19, 2009

The wait for USB 3.0 spec audio equipment will probably add another couple of months.
posted by Benjy at 4:10 PM on January 19, 2009

I wouldn't wait for USB 3.0. But I might wait til i7 processors come down in price, or until I can get Windows 7.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 7:54 PM on January 19, 2009

USB4 will be better than USB3 -- if you are into the waiting game :).

Waiting for the next new tech thing usually only makes sense in Apple camps. Everyone knows you dont buy a laptop the month before MacWorld (though; this may change soon) because of Apples' pricing structure.

In the general computing world; tomorrow always brings something better. Buy it when you need it; not before; not after.
posted by SirStan at 9:13 PM on January 19, 2009

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