ASRock Delivers Front USB 3.0

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Introduction:

It has been a while since USB received a major speed and performance upgrade.  It was back in April of 2000 when USB 2.0 specifications were released and the computing world got really excited about the 60MB/sec capability of this upgraded interface.  It sure was a lot faster and better than the USB 1.1 specification of 1.5MB/sec.  In reality, the USB 2.0 interface can't sustain transfer speeds much greater that 35MB/sec - even from a fast USB flash drive.  As external storage becomes more popular and consumers demand external speeds that rival internal drive speeds, a new interface has been sorely needed.

eSATA was introduced and has gained a measure of popularity, but hasn't been adopted by manufacturers of storage products as much as the USB interface.  USB 3.0 was actually introduced in late 2008, but it wasn't until January 5, 2010 that certified USB 3.0 devices were made available to consumers.  This upgraded interface allows speeds of up to 600MB/sec - making it 10x as fast (theoretically) as USB 2.0.

Many new motherboards today come with a couple of rear USB 3.0 ports.  This is a great start as it allows you to plug in your super-fast flash drive - such as the SuperTalent Express Drive USB 3.0 into your motherboard and take full advantage of the bandwidth increase of the USB 3.0 specification.  The problem with this idea is that it's not convenient to reach behind your tower to plug in and unplug your flash drive, external storage device or other USB 3.0 capable hardware.  This is where ASRock steps in and shows that they aren't content to be just another name in motherboard manufacturers.

 

 

Currently, ASRock is offering a front USB 3.0 Panel with four of their new motherboards.  This allows you to quickly and easily install front USB 3.0 ports on your PC and bring the convenience and speed of the interface around to the front of your PC.

 

ASRock's current list of motherboards that support front USB 3.0 and come with a front USB 3.0 bracket are pictured in the image below.

 ASRock USB 3.0 Lineup

 

On the next page, we'll take a quick look at the bracket and show the performance that is now available on an external drive - by simply plugging in a USB cable.


 

Installed:

The ASRock USB 3.0 Panel installs in your favorite 3.5" external bay.  We used the Zalman MS-1000 case and had to use a 5.25" to 3.5" bay cover in order to install the panel on our machine.  Still, it was a matter of screwing in a couple of screws, slipping the device in the bay and plugging the cable into the ASRock 890GX Extreme 4 motherboard (review pending).  

 USB 3.0 Panel
USB 3.0 Panel

 

Front USB 3.0 Performance:

In terms of performance, we've reviewed a SuperTalent ExpressDrive USB 3.0 on a USB 3.0 interface before and the results were very impressive.  I no longer have this flash drive, but used a set of 640GB Seagate drives to do a bit of a comparison.  The drives have been used in a RAID array and now have been separated for this review.  We plugged one drive into the internal SATA connector and dropped the other one into a Vantec NexStar USB 3.0 Dock for comparison.  The drive performance is very close - and this shows the speed and flexibility of the USB 3.0 interface - brought handily to the front of your PC compliments of ASRock.

SATA Performance
SATA Performance
USB 3.0 Performance
USB 3.0 Performance

  

The results are very close and don't really show a clear winner - and this is the point.  While the USB 3.0 driver doesn't write quite as fast at 512K random writes, it does slightly better at 4K and 4K QD32 writes.  Still, it is so close that there is almost no reason to put another drive inside your computer.



Final Thoughts:

ASRock is not often considered a leader in the PC motherboard market, but they have stepped things up a notch and provided a front panel that allows your favorite ASRock board (limited versions) to enable front USB 3.0.  This is a great move as there are a few affordable and very fast flash drives that are much easier to plug into the front rather than the rear of your computer.  The performance is almost identical to internal SATA speeds and this makes addition additional storage, or using an external drive for imaging your system to be fast and easy.


As this isn't a full review, we don't have a score or a full breakdown, but if you want to grab some front-USB 3.0 action, make sure you consider one of the ASRock Motherboards below.  We will be posting full reviews on several of these boards in the near future if you are a little gun-shy about an ASRock motherboard.  I assure you, they are solid.  Stay tuned and we'll have all the details.

890GX Extreme 4
890GX Extreme 4 Details

890FX Deluxe 4

 

890FX Deluxe 4 Details

   
P55 Extreme 4
P55 Extreme 4 Details
 X58 Extreme 6
X58 Extreme 6 Details

 

It's cool to see a "budget" company like ASRock pull ahead of the pack by offering a free panel that bring USB 3.0 speed conveniently to the front of your PC.  If you have any questions or comments regarding front USB 3.0, please post them in the forum by clicking on the "Comments" link below.