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October 25, 2010

Your Options in USB External Hard Drives

When speaking of computer technology, there is one aspect that is almost impossible to overlook. It has become so commonplace that it has been accepted as the norm. This is USB technology, a method designed to allow peripheral devices to connect seamlessly with desktop computers and laptops. In fact, this technology has become so widespread that many people do not remember a time before USB was available. However, in order to understand the changes in this connection technology, as well as new developments on the horizon, it is important to delve into the history of computer connectivity.

Ancient History

Once upon a time, peripheral devices (mice, keyboards, storage devices, printers, etc.) all connected to a computer in different ways. Keyboards connected with a round connector, as did mice. Printers used an LPT (parallel) connector. Each of these had to have a connection spot on the back of a computer. In addition, each had to have its own card seated in a slot on the motherboard.

One of the more immediate problems created by these different types of connectors was the fact that there was really no standard means of connecting different peripherals. This meant pain and frustration for computer users, as well as difficulty in finding the right peripherals for their machines.

Another problem here was a lack of transfer speed for data from a peripheral to the host computer. Consider digital cameras for instance. As these devices became more commonplace, the need to transfer image data from the camera to the computer in a timely manner became more acute. The same can be said for modern printers and other peripheral devices.

The Beginning of A New Era

In 1996, things began to change. This marked the debut of USB 1.0. While the original USB technology wasn’t particularly fast, it did offer some benefits. It allowed numerous types of peripherals to connect to a computer via the same type of connection. This replaced a host of serial and parallel ports on the computer, helping to lead to a more streamlined, functional device.

Of course, USB 1.0 didn’t last very long. In fact, in 1998, USB 1.1 appeared, which offered enhanced data transfer speeds. Over time, this connection type became the standard for a vast variety of peripheral devices. Consider for a moment the number of devices that you connect to your PC or laptop with a USB cord. You might connect your cell phone, your mouse, your keyboard, an external hard drive or a monitor. Almost anything can be connected via this method in the modern world.

However, one of the most important developments that USB enabled was that of modern mass storage. You are not doubt familiar with thumb drives, but external hard drives have made use of this technology for a long time, as well. This is an important evolution in the technology world, as it has provided consumers around the world with a simple, easy means of storing their data securely, in a portable device.

The Advent of USB 2.0

April 2000 marked another milestone in USB technology. This was the release of USB 2.0. Compared to USB 1.0, the new generation offered numerous advantages to consumers. However, one of the most important was an increase in data transfer speeds.

Older 1.0 applications were limited to 1.5 MB/s. However, USB 2.0 was capable of delivering (theoretically) speeds of up to 480 MB/s. Of course, this was not exactly accurate, as much of the speed was lost in overhead communications between the USB controller and the host computer. However, there was a significant amount of speed gained with the new technology.

As USB 2.0 matured, more and more devices began to make use of the technology. While USB 1.0 laid the groundwork for this evolution, the new generation saw it come to fruition. In fact, during the reign of the second generation, it seemed like almost any peripheral a consumer could need was available with this connection type. This was most obvious in the number of external hard drives that became available with it. In fact, 2.0 remains the industry standard to this day, though things are beginning to change once again.

The Future of USB Technology

In 2008, a new USB technology was developed. USB 3.0 was announced by the industry. However, it was not until early 2010 that the first consumer devices were developed that made use of this new technology. What does this mean for consumers? What differences exist between the two types of USB technology?

First, because USB 3.0 is still quite new, there are numerous computers on the market that do not have the capabilities to use it. For instance, a laptop manufactured in late 2009 would still have USB 2.0 connectivity. However, most manufacturers began offering USB 3.0 connections on their devices built during the late first quarter of 2010. Of course, this technology is backward compatible with older computers, but in order to realize all the benefits offered by this new development, the host computer, the cable and the peripheral device must all be USB 3.0 compliant. What benefits can be found here?

The first benefit is a dramatic increase in data transfer speed. Where USB 2.0 offered 480 MB/s, the new generation offers a raw throughput rate of 4 GB/s. This is an incredible increase in transfer speed, and was designed to help with high-definition multimedia files, as well as better backup speeds for external hard drives and other mass media storage devices.

Another benefit found with USB 3.0 is the fact that it allows two-way communication. In older applications, all communication had to be initiated by the host computer. However, with 3.0 technology, the peripheral can initiate communication with the host computer.

An important note about the newest version of USB technology is the fact that it challenges eSATA connection types. For some users and manufacturers, eSATA has become the best option, but new USB technology promises to challenge this with comparable data transfer speeds, as well as wider applicability. In short, more devices can use USB 3.0 than eSATA connections, including external hard drives, TVs, Blu-Ray players and numerous other options.

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Ed Molino is a staff member of specializing in the support of their network hard drives. Fancy an external hard drive? Find quality drives at