USB 2, 3, and eSATA Continued: PCMark Vantage
We used the 64-bit version of the Vantage benchmark here, and defragmented the hard drive immediately prior to running it. The test was looped 3x. One thing to keep in mind when comparing PCMark Vantage results is that the benchmark's margin of error is fairly wide—we'd estimate a few percent points at least. Relevant factors include whether or not the hard drive was defragmented immediately prior to the run and whether Vantage was run immediately following OS+driver installation, or only after a full suite of tests and other benchmarks had been run. We ran full iterations of the benchmark in all situations, but have limited the sub-test breakdown to those individual suites that actually show variation. We benchmarked the Seagate 110PS using both USB 3 and USB 2, then attached the bare drive to the Gigabyte's eSATA ports and tested it with AHCI enabled and disabled.
The aggregate scores are all close together; there's just a 4.8 percent difference between the USB 2 and eSATA AHCI tests. We saw more significant variation in the "Music" test suite, where the AHCI-enabled eSATA port easily outpaced the other connections. We have to note that we saw quite a bit of variation in the Music suite when testing eSATA with the JMicron AHCI driver; scores ranged from 6792 to the listed 8176. The higher number is given here because it's what was mostly reported, but the test continued to periodically throw low numbers.
We already take multiple steps to ensure PCMark Vantage runs in a clean environment and we loop the test 3x each time. The 20 percent variation we saw simply shouldn't be occurring, but since it was unique to the JMicron-provided driver, we're assuming it's not PCMark Vantage causing the problem—at least not entirely. In the drive-specific benchmarks, USB 2 is blown away by both of the other two interfaces. While that's no surprise, the fact that modest 2.5" mobile hard drive is nearly 50 percent as fast is a strong indication that even older/lower-end enclosures could benefit significantly from USB 3.0, assuming you take the time to upgrade them.
USB 3.0 Performance Evaluation
If you've been eyeing USB 3 and wondering if its worth the cost, we'd say yes. First generation or not, NEC's controller performed flawlessly in our tests, and Windows 7 had no problem recognizing and installing the proper USB 3 driver. The difference between USB 2 and 3 is quite noticeable, even with modest hardware; consumers who work with external drives on a regular basis may find this to be an extremely practical upgrade.
While USB 3 probably will shove eSATA out of the market, the older external SATA standard is more than capable of keeping up with its new rival and still offers several features that USB 3 can't match. If you like the performance of USB 3 but aren't ready to jump for a new motherboard just yet, eSATA is a good alternative if you've got the ports. Alternatively, you can grab an expansion card; there are several PCI-Express solutions that combine both NEC's chip and Marvell's 6G controller on a single PCB.