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February 19, 2020

USB-C HDD Disappoints Vis-a-vis USB3

On September 23, I compared benchmark and Macrium backup results for a USB-C attached NVMe SSD vs. a USB-3 attached M.2 SSD. The results tilted dramatically, in favor of USB-C: up to 22 times faster on CrystalDiskMark, and 3.5 times faster for Macrium Reflect backup. Wondering how this might change, I ordered an Inatek FE2004C USB-C 3.1 (Gen 1) device. I then placed the same Seagate ST200LX001 FireCuda 2TB 2.5″ HDD in that enclosure, as well as a StarTech S2510BUM33 2.5″ USB 3.0 drive enclosure. Once again, I ran CrystalDiskMark through the USB-C port for the Inatek device, and a USB 3.0 port for its StarTech alternative. As before, I also ran Macrium Reflect to back up my Lenovo Yoga X380 to each of the two set-ups in quick succession. The title of this piece reflects my reaction to the results — namely, that USB-C HDD disappoints vis-a-vis USB 3.

In for a surprise: USB-C is SLOWER!

To my great surprise and astonishment, the USB C enclosure turned out to be slower across the board with the Seagate hard disk. This shows pretty dramatically in the CrystalDiskMark results, where USB 3.0 clocks 1.1 to 4.4 times faster.

USB-C HDD Disappoints Vis-a-vis USB3.cdm

USB-C is on the left, and USB 3.0 on the right. Though bus speed favors USB-C, benchmarks go the other way.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Ditto for Macrium Reflect: USB-C is SLOWER

In keeping with the earlier set of checks, I also ran a Macrium Reflect image backup on the Yoga X380, once with the drive ensconced in the Intatek USB-C device, and again with that same drive in the StarTech device. Here are those completion times (USB-C left; USB 3.0 right):

USB-C HDD Disappoints Vis-a-vis USB3.macref

USB-C left, USB 3.0 right. 1339 seconds versus 1117 seconds = 1.2:1.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

USB 3.0 is 20 percent faster on the Reflect image backup, which I aver is more of a real-world comparison. I can only speculate that the StarTech devices may have a better/more efficient UASP implementation than does the Inatek device. This certainly runs counter to what I expected. It also makes me feel much less compelled to upgrade the near half-dozen USB 3.0 2.5″ drives I keep around for backing up my smaller laptops. But now, I find myself wondering if this is a one-off incident, subject to the specifics of the test kits used. I’ll keep playing around — and reporting on what I learn as I go. It’s still to early to tell if this is an unhappy accident, or an actual pattern. Very interesting!

Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.

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