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How Fast Is USB 3.0 Really? – The Answer May Surprise You

Macworld’s James Galbraith says that as a Mac user, he’s never been a big fan of USB for storage, but times have changed and thanks to USB 3.0s availability on almost all shipping Macs, its bootability, its improved performance, and its relatively low price, his USB bias is quickly disappearing.

Galbraith notes that USB 3.0 (also known as SuperSpeed USB) has a maximum bandwidth rate of 5 gbps (gigabits per second). That translates to 640 MBps (megabytes per second) — ten times faster than USB 2.0 (aka Hi-Speed USB), while Intel’s Thunderbolt technology allows theoretical data-transfer speeds of up to 10 gbps on each of its bi-directional channels or twice as fast as USB 3.0. But how fast is Thunderbolt really?

Galbraith did some lab tests, discovering that FireWire 800 was about half as fast as USB 3.0 in write tests, and considerably slower on reads as well, while Thunderbolt turned in real world scores nearly identical to the USB 3.0 results, indicating that the 7200-rpm drive was acting as a bottleneck to the faster transfer speeds of which it’s nominally capable of.

Sounds like for most of us, paying the price premium for Thunderbolt peripherals instead of USB 3 is questionable.

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