has been on the horizon for a couple of years, and now some USB 3-enabled hard drives are finally shipping. CalDigit's AV Drive is one of these rare breeds, but it stands out even more because it's the only drive I know of -- shipping today -- that works on the Mac as well as Windows.
That's a pretty big deal, since the Mac OS has no native support for the USB 3 protocol. But CalDigit got around that by writing its own USB drivers, and shipping the drive with either a PCIe card for Mac Pros, or an ExpressCard/34 adapter for laptops. Together, the AV Drive, its drivers and USB 3 card adapter deliver performance far better than more conventional hard drives -- especially if you're using a desktop machine.
USB3 Performance on a Desktop
The AV Drive includes two FireWire 800 ports, and one USB 3 port. When you use the AV Drive with USB 3, you'll get roughly twice the speed that FireWire can manage. Here are some test results:
- For my first test, I used a fast, five-slot P2 card reader (Panasonic's PCD35) and the popular Shotput Pro software to transfer a full 64GB P2 card to the AV Drive. When I used the AV Drive's FireWire 800 connection, the transfer took 24 minutes, 3 seconds, but when I used the drive's USB 3 connection, it took only 13 minutes, 57 seconds. That's not quite a two-fold difference, but it's definitely appreciable and adds up very quickly over time. Also, for comparison, I copied the same card to a blazing fast 8-drive miniSAS RAID, and that took 10 minutes, 4 seconds. So the 8-drive RAID was faster than the AV Drive, but not change-your-life so.
- Next, I copied a 60GB folder of media from my 8-drive RAID to the AV Drive. Using FireWire 800, the AV Drive needed 14:15 to finish the copy, but with USB 3, it needed only 7 minutes flat. That's pretty much exactly what CalDigit says the drive will achieve--146MB/s.
- Some folks have upgraded their hardware to work with eSATA drives, which are also faster than FireWire 800. I wasn't able to directly compare the AV Drive to an eSATA drive, but some earlier eSATA tests I did a few months ago delivered real-world read and writes of about 100MB/s. According to those numbers, the AV Drive would give you almost a 50% speed boost over eSATA.
- I also used AJA's popular System Test application to measure the AV Drive's speed, getting about 137MB/s for both reads and writes, versus FireWire 800 performance of only about 60MB/s.
Of course, before you get too excited about these USB 3 speeds, remember that they depend on the AV Drive interacting with other fast hardware in your data chain. For instance, the AV Drive was able to copy my 64GB P2 card in about 14 minutes because the card was sitting in Panasonic's fast PCD35 reader, which uses a fast PCIe connection to my Mac Pro. Had I used Panasonic's slower PCD2 card reader (based on a much slower USB2 interface), then the AV Drive would have been held back, waiting for the card data to creep along the reader's USB2 cable.
Likewise, if you try to move files to or from a slower hard drive to the AV Drive, you'll see the AV Drive's performance suffer. An example: when I transferred my 60GB media folder from a fast RAID to the AV Drive, it took only 7:00. But when I copied the same folder from a FireWire 800 hard drive to the AV Drive, things slowed down to 15:53.
In other words, if you'll be using the AV Drive with older, legacy drives, you may be disappointed.
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