PC Building: Why USB 3 flash drives don't exist

PC Building: Why USB 3 flash drives don't exist

One of the more exciting potential uses of USB 3 is speeding up the humble flash drive. Thanks to a chat with Corsair we now know just why they haven't started to appear yet.

Time to market for new IO technologies has always been a painful thing to watch. Excitement over technology announcements and standard ratification usually quickly gives way to a Mexican standoff between those who make the host hardware and those who make stuff that plugs into it.

Lag time
SATA and USB have been two technologies plagued by such a lag time. When Serial ATA was first introduced, for example, it took over a year from the first controller chips appearing on motherboards until the first drives hit the market. Even those making the motherboard lacked drives to test them with.

The USB 3 push
We have been seeing massive pushes towards USB 3 by big hardware manufacturers like Gigabyte and ASUS. We have seen several products turn up in the PC Authority labs that have fancy logos and plugs ready to accept USB 3 devices, yet so far there have been but a handful of external hard drives that actually use the technology.

We had suspected that the reason holding back other USB 3 products had been Intel's delay in incorporating it into its chipsets. Apparently this isn't the only thing stopping the flow of USB 3 products.

Why flash drives aren't USB 3 yet
During a Corsair event today the question was asked of its Vice President of Marketing, Jim Carlton, of why its range of Flash drives wasn't going USB 3 yet. Apparently there are two issues. Currently the speed limitations on thumb drive transfers come from the Flash chips themselves. In order to deliver throughput that can even touch that of USB 3 the chips need to be run in a quad channel configuration.

Currently this is only found on the Flash Voyager GTR range from Corsair. This is still a USB 2.0 based product however. So why isn't it using USB 3?

Apparently the other major limit on USB 3 flash drives is the USB controller itself. Most thumb drive manufacturers use third party controllers, and at the moment the only one on the market is made by Marvell. Marvell only supplies basic firmware with the controller, which makes it quite hard for manufacturers to use it without serious software engineering. As more companies come onboard with controller designs then it is likely we will see USB 3 flash drives appearing in the market.

See more about:  usb  |  flash  |  storage

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