As ubiquitous as it is today, the flash drive as we know it has been around for about a decade, first introduced in late 2000. Trek Technology developed the first flash disk, and IBM marketed it under the DiskOnKey brand with a whopping 8MB of memory. This was impressive at the time given the form factor, as floppy disks were still widely used to move small amounts of data.
Coincidentally, the first implementation of USB 2.0 was also introduced in 2000. Although the interface has evolved and become mainstream over the past decade, it is gradually showing its age when it comes to performance. The interface's maximum throughput of 60MB / s no longer reduces it, especially considering that communication is half-duplex, which means that data can flow in both directions, but not at the same time.
Even the fastest USB 2.0 flash drives cannot compete with today's traditional hard drives. Given that we often refer to hard drives as the slowest component in a computer, it's time to move on. The storage industry has been preparing to switch to USB 3.0 connectivity for some time. USB 3.0, called SuperSpeed USB, offers bidirectional (full duplex) communication and a tenfold increase in transmission speed as well as improved functions while also being compatible with USB 2.0 devices. (Read our USB 3.0: What You Need To Know For A Complete Guide To The New User Interface.)
In terms of noticeable improvements, USB 3.0 devices are not expected to reach their full potential at startup. However, as the standard matures, the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) thinks it makes sense to achieve a throughput of 3.2 Gbit / s or just enough to make a 27 GB HD movie in just over a minute instead of transferring 15 or more with USB 2.0.
Over the past year we tested a handful of USB 3.0 devices. Today, several storage manufacturers are offering flash drives that claim to take advantage of the added power of the redesigned interface. Today we're looking at three 64GB flash drives: the AData Nobility Series N005, Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0, and Patriot SuperSonic.
In addition, the introduction of USB 3.0 is not going to happen as soon as possible because neither AMD nor Intel shipped chipsets with built-in support for the interface. However, this mainly affects mainstream adoption, while on the desktop PC side, almost all new motherboards have support from third-party controllers.