Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/07/22/review_peripherals_buffalo_usb3_pci_express_card/

Buffalo USB 3.0 PCI Express card

SuperSpeed drives and cards compared

By Shaun Dormon

Posted in Hardware, 22nd July 2010 07:02 GMT

Review In an age where the latest SuperSpeed USB 3.0 interface has yet to be officially supported by Intel, storage vendors in particular, are keen to build the best add-on PCI Express adapter card to take advantage of this fast connectivity.

Buffalo USB 3.0 Card

SuperSpeed upgrade, anyone? Buffalo Tech's IFC-PCIE2U3

Currently, NEC’s USB 3.0 dual controller chip is pretty much the only option for two port cards. Buffalo’s inventively named IFC-PCIE2U3 is one such card and, given the chip choices, offers much the same as found in competing products. For around £40, you get two USB 3.0 ports thanks to the NEC D720200F1 controller which, until the likes of the Fresco FL1009 take hold, remains the dominant USB 3.0 controller.

Buffalo’s card is not the first I have used in my test rig. I have tried cards from Iomega and Western Digital, both NEC D720200F1-based. You might think that sharing a common controller would result in driver compatibility between cards, as was the case with the Iomega and Western Digital cards, as both use the same version of NEC’s driver However, Buffalo’s card is not compatible with the newer driver version.

Admittedly, not many will find themselves in this position, but using the Buffalo IFC-PCIE2U3 required a complete removal of all traces of USB 3.0 from my system before it could be installed successfully. Failure to do so resulted in a crippling of the IFC-PCIE2U3, causing it to operate solely in USB 2.0 mode.

Board design aside, there is only one feature difference among all three cards. This is the additional power input for running those power hungry bus-powered devices. Both Buffalo and Iomega’s offerings feature this input, but only Buffalo actually supplies an adapter to plug into a SATA power cable. Whether this powering option is really going to be necessary no doubt depends on the draw of the external device. Certainly, the ‘unpowered’ cards had no problems running a LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 drive.

Buffalo USB 3.0 Card

Now, theoretically, due to the common controller, the cards should perform identically. Tests were done on each card with Hd Tach to compare the performance of some of the latest USB 3.0 hard disks.

Hd Tach Benchmark Tests

Iomega eGo

Buffalo USB 3.0 Card

Iomega eGo drive test results from three different interface cards
MB/s: longer bars are better, CPU: shorter bars are better

Western Digital My Book

Buffalo USB 3.0 Card

WD MyBook 3.0 drive test results from three different interface cards
MB/s: longer bars are better, CPU: shorter bars are better

LaCie Rugged

Buffalo USB 3.0 Card

LaCie Rugged drive test results from three different interface cards
MB/s: longer bars are better, CPU: shorter bars are better

Overall Average Values

Buffalo USB 3.0 Card

Average results for each USB 3.0 PCI Express card
MB/s: longer bars are better, CPU: shorter bars are better

With such similar performance, the first conclusion is that NEC’s D720200F1 is a very good and consistent controller; repeatedly delivering the performance expected from such devices. Although the benchmark results are almost identical, there are some differences that deserve closer scrutiny.

CPU usage is a hot topic with regards to USB 3.0, and whilst all three cards use very little CPU time, on average, there was a 2 per cent increase seen when using the Western Digital card. And if you want to be picky, the WD card was 1.6MB/s below Buffalo’s IFC-PCIE2U3 in the writing department.

Buffalo USB 3.0 Card

Has the edge in some scenarios, but a tad pricey

Verdict

Until a choice of dual controller chip hits the mass market, it’s evident that USB 3.0 PCI Express adaptor cards are going to exhibit strikingly similar performance. So, apart from some powering options, USB 3.0 card buying decisions will surely be based on the cheapest offering. And while some PCI Express adapters are included with storage products, if you’re shopping for a card, the Buffalo IFC-PCIE2U3 certainly seems up to the task. ®

More High Speed Bus Gear Reviews

Iomega
eGo
USB 3.0
LaCie
Rugged
USB 3.0
WD
MyBook
USB 3.0
Crucial
RealSSD C300
Sata 3