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USB 3.0 Speed Tests: 7-Way Host Controllers Roundup

We're currently at a stage where the USB 3.0 standard is still building momentum in the market and we're having something of a chicken and egg effect. Currently there are plenty of USB 3.0 to SATA 3Gbps bridge controllers, but to our knowledge there's only a single USB 3.0 to SATA 6Gbps bridge, the ASMedia ASM1051E. ASMedia kindly borrowed us a bridge for testing, although we also wanted to try some more readily available solutions. VLI lent us one of their VL701 bus powered bridges and we also sourced a two disk RAID solution from Akitio, the NT2 U3.

One issue with USB 3.0 and RAID is that even though this should provide better performance, it might not always do so. The problem is that most external USB 3.0 RAID enclosures today rely on two chip solutions and in the case of the NT2U3 from Akitio we're looking at a JMicron SATA RAID controller connected to an ASMedia SATA 3Gbps to USB 3.0 bridge. As such we end up with a bottleneck between the RAID controller and the USB 3.0 bridge. As we mentioned earlier, Fujitsu has a solution that integrates the RAID and USB 3.0 bridge into a single chip solution, but sadly we were unable to source a unit for testing.

Test setup

Motherboard  Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H
Processor  Intel Core i5-2500K
Memory 4x2GB Corsair Dominator GT 2133MHz (at 1600MHz)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 3000
Storage Intel X25-M SSD
Operating System  Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit

Intel Chipset Drivers

Intel Rapid Storage Technology

As for the AMD A75 chipset we used a Gigabyte GA-A75-UD4H motherboard with the following components

Processor AMD A8-3850 APU
Memory 4x2GB Corsair Dominator GT 2133MHz (at 1600MHz)
Graphics Integrated AMD Radeon HD 6550D
Storage Intel X25-M SSD
Operating System  Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit

AMD chipset drivers 8.871

AMD AHCI storage driver


We used a couple of different setups for the test, with the ASM1051E bridge being connected to a Patriot Wildfire 120GB SSD, the Akitio NT2 U3 being paired up with two Corsair Force GT 60GB SSDs and we used one Corsair Force GT 60GB SSD with the VLI VL701.

All the cards were tested in the x16 PCI Express slot on the motherboard to remove any potential bottlenecks. The exception were the Etron, Fresco Logic and NEC host controllers. The Etron controller we used was the onboard host controller and we tested both in Turbo and non-Turbo mode. What that means is that in Turbo mode it connects directly to the CPU and in non-Turbo mode it goes via the chipset. The Fresco Logic card wouldn't work properly in the x16 slot and as such we put in the secondary x8 slot, although for whatever reason it didn't work well there with the VL701 bridge so we had to resort to the x1 slot for this specific test. Finally the NEC card also had problems with the x16 slot, but worked just fine in the x8 slot. We've included numbers for the NEC controller in both the x1 and x8 slot when connected to the ASM1051E for reference and we ran the Etron EJ168A in both Turbo and non-Turbo mode which effectively is like putting it in a x16 or x1 slot.

One thing that caused some issues with this review was drivers. In as much as possible we used the latest available drivers and firmwares, but in the case of Etron we had to rely on a beta driver which should end up being very close to their next WHQL driver. Once again we want to iterate how important it is to use the latest drivers and firmware for your USB 3.0 host controller as there are still plenty of compatibility issues of which most can be solved by simply upgrading drivers and/or firmware.


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