Upgrading To USB 3

If you have purchased a new Mac recently, it comes with USB 3 ports. These look just like USB 2, but are much faster. If you are still using USB 2 external drives you will want to consider upgrading as the speed difference is worth the price. Thunderbolt may seem like an even better option, but unless you are paying a lot for an SSD, the speed of standard drives will give you the same results between USB 3 and Thunderbolt, so you may as well go for the much cheaper option.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Upgrading To USB 3.

Hi, this is Gary with MacMost.com.

On today's episode let me show you what I have discovered when I replaced my USB 2 external drives with USB 3.

If you bought a Mac in the last year or so chances are you not only have USB on your Mac but you have something called USB 3.

There have been three versions of USB. The first version was a very slow connection that was really good for attaching keyboards and mice and things like that. USB 2 really brought about the idea that you can transfer data across. A lot of devices, a lot of Macs, came with USB 2.

But anything pretty recent, and if you look at the tech specs, you will see that you've got USB 3. So what is the real difference between USB 3 and USB 2.

So I recently discovered the drastic difference between USB 3 and USB 2 when I upgraded my MacPro. My old one had only USB 2 on it and I had a couple USB 2 drives, some USB 2 flash drives, different peripherals. I just used USB 2 and when I got the new one I thought, well I'll get a USB 3 drive to go along with it, and I was shocked at how much faster it was.

Let's look at the Wikipedia page here for USB and see what the speeds actually are.

So if we scroll down here we can see there is USB 2 and USB 3. Let's jump to USB 2 and we can see that the optimal rate is 480 Mbits per second. Now, of course, you can get a little bit lower than that in most cases but let's use that as a benchmark and then look at USB 3 and see that it is 5 Gbits. So that is more than eight times the potential speed. Anyway you cut it you're going to get between five and eight times the speed between USB 3 and USB 2. That is quite a dramatic difference when transferring files.

Now when I got my new Mac I was shocked by how cheap the USB 3 drive was. It really wasn't any more expensive than a USB 2 drive. Drive prices have continued to drop. So it was pretty inexpensive for me to pick up some big USB 3 drives just to give them a try.

So I'm going to copy this file from my internal drive on the desktop into this folder here. It is going to start copying. You can see here it's going to take less than a minute. Now this is an external drive of Archive here to USB 3 drive. This file here is almost 4 GB in size. On USB 2 this would take several minutes, definitely, if not ten minutes or more. Here you see it is actually going to complete quick enough for me to not to have to skip over it in this video tutorial. This is the dramatic increase that I saw.

I saw the same thing with Time Machine. I started backing up to a USB 3 drive and I was amazed that I didn't even have to wait overnight for my entire drive to be backed up via Time Machine. It did it in just a couple of hours. Basically the time it took me to go to dinner and come back. I was really impressed by USB 3 when I saw it do that.

Now you may be thinking, well wait a minute, there is something even faster than USB 3 on all new Macs called Thunderbolt. So why not use Thunderbolt. Get a Thunderbolt drive.

Well the first thing, of course, is that Thunderbolt drives are much more expensive than USB 3 drives. So that's one thing. Especially if you are going to do backups. Something where it is not really critical. Just running in the background. It doesn't really pay to spend more money.

If we look at Thunderbolt here we can get some clues as to the speed 20 Gbit per second. So four times faster than USB 3. So right away you are thinking this is the clear winner EXCEPT the bottleneck then becomes the drive itself. If you are using a standard hard drive it's not going to read and write fast enough to keep up with that. You are not going to see a difference between USB 3 and Thunderbolt because the drive will be slower than both. Slightly slower than USB 3 and that speed will then be the same for Thunderbolt 2 so you end up with the same transfer speed.

Using an SSD drive, well that of course is much more expensive, so that is a whole different ballgame. Then yes Thunderbolt would make sense if you have money as no object and speed is what you want. Then SSD drive using Thunderbolt 2 is the winner. But for most people for backup purposes, for archiving purposes, USB 3 wins out.

So basically the point of this video is that if you have upgraded to a newer Mac recently and are using USB 2 external drives or even small external thumb drives you may want to consider going to USB 3, spending that extra money just to get something new anyway. Then using that USB 3 drive you will be amazed at the dramatic difference. Certainly for me it was worth every penny and I have now replace all of my external peripherals, wheres possible, with USB 3 over USB 2.

Comments: 16 Responses to “Upgrading To USB 3”

    4 years ago

    Perhaps Gary your viewers may have an interest in learning more about RAID technology in a future post. I chose getting an enclosure with two 3.0TB Drives to connect to my Mac Pro thunderbolt 2 port along with using individual USB 3 Drives. Very pleased with that choice.

      4 years ago

      Never found the need to use a RAID before. In a world where you can now get 2TB SSDs, I’m wondering why you would even need one. In the past I’ve seen video editor use RAIDs for speed when cost wasn’t an issue. But now you would just buy a large SSD instead, right?

        4 years ago

        I will likely go the SSD route when they become increasingly more affordable. My Mac Pro (refurb.) only has the 250GB Drive which is why I went the RAID route until I can afford to put at least a 1TB drive in it.

          4 years ago

          Right. Things have changed so quickly. 1TB SSDs are now well under $500. But not too long ago RAID was a clear winner just based on price.

          Jasper robinson
          4 years ago

          I was about to get rid of my slow 2010 mbp but decided to replace the HDD with ssd. The improvement in performance has been stunning and I now use the old HDD in a usb 3 caddy for back ups.

            4 years ago

            I did the same thing with my 17″ MBP (mid 2010) with it’s i7 2.66GHz and 8MB of RAM. I placed 2 x 240GB SSD. Works super fast. The only downside are the slow USB 2 and Fire-Wire 800 ports. I hope there is an eSATA express card available that works on my MBP. So far, I have bought 2 different sATA express cards but none of them work on OSX :( Still hoping to find one because my MBP is running smoothly and I do not want to spend 3000 hard coins on that new fantastic iMac Retina ;)

    4 years ago

    I found this for my imac 27″ mid 2011 http://www.kanex.com/thunderbolt-esata

    4 years ago

    Are there any certain USB 3.0 external hard drives that you recommend for time machine backups? I currently have a Mercury Elite Pro 2TB from OWC (USB 2.0). Thx!

      4 years ago

      I wouldn’t recommend any without first trying out a variety of them and testing them against each other. I would just check reviews and see what the “crowd” says about them. I ended up getting a 4TB Seagate one.

    Per Falkjær
    4 years ago

    I bought a new card-reader and might now consider shooting in RAW;-))

    4 years ago

    How can one tell which USB one has?

      4 years ago

      One way is to look at the product specs for the Mac you bought. But if you don’t have those handy, just go to the Apple menu, choose About this Mac. Then System Report. Look for USB on the left and select it and you’ll see the details.

    4 years ago

    I wished firewire had become the standard, USB is so problematic.

      4 years ago

      Care to elaborate? Firewire 800 is half the speed of USB 3.

    4 years ago

    I bought my most recent EHD on the basis of this report -https://www.backblaze.com/blog/best-hard-drive/. The accompanying comments indicate some controversy, but overall it seemed like a pretty good guide.

    4 years ago

    Very informative video.

Comments Closed.