Future of External Connections - USB 3.0 vs eSATA, a No-Brainer Until we Get Power Over SATA, or eSATAp

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Power Over SATA: eSATAp

A SATA device with the new speed and power features would be an able competitor to USB 3.0 for external HDDs, and the speed battle for SSDs will need hands-on testing, as mentioned above. But it appears USB 3.0 is going to get to market first, and how the 6G and SATAp (described in the previous article) roll out is going to work is currently unknown.

Everyday that USB 3.0 products are on the market (and SATAp/SATA 6 ones aren’t) USB 3.0 will pull ahead of SATA - not just on that day’s sales, but in consumer and manufacturer preference. The more time people have to buy USB 3.0 products, the harder a time SATA manufacturers will have getting people to switch over.

Combining eSATAp and SATA 6Gb/s

Worse still, there is no such thing as SATAp/SATA 6 or SATAp 6 yet. The projects are, currently, at least to the public, unrelated. Hopefully, the delay we’re seeing on the SATA 6 specification is related to rolling SATAp into it - or at least getting them both out at the same time. Otherwise, manufacturers and consumers will end up with a confusing upgrade path, and may just take the USB 3.0 route instead. I’ll give SATA-IO’s media people a call and let you know if I find anything out.

Note that SATA, and eventually SATA 6, are, and will, be the methods of choice to connect internal drives. Power comes directly from the Power Supply Unit on its own cable any way. And USB’s software and processing overhead make it a terrible choice for permanently attached boot drive.

Out, Out, Brief FireWire?

FireWire, or IEEE 1394, had the speed crown until eSATA came out. But, now that eSATA devices are cheaper and easier to find (than 1394a or FireWire 400, let alone 1394b (800)), it is loosing relevance quickly in external storage circles. This is despite some advantages that no one ever used.

FireWire could deliver enough power for a full sized (3.5”) drive, but manufacturers didn’t take advantage of this. There is a specification (IEEE 1394c) that allows for Ethernet LAN ports and cables to be used to also send and receive FireWire data. This would increase the flexibility of motherboards including such a port substantially. It would be an even bigger plus on laptops, where space for ports is at a premium. But manufacturers didn’t jump on those chances either.

FireWire S1600, which doubles 800’s speed, is being almost completely ignored by the industry. The S3200 spec, which should have come out last year, is unavailable at time of writing (Jan 31). Even when it does come out, it is still slower than the next generation USB and SATA connectors will be. A situation where FireWire is still a good connection for external storage is hard to visualize.

Some of its features, like peer-to-peer communication and 100 meter long cable runs, do however, keep it in the game for connecting monitors and other audio and video devices. The next article looks at FireWire in this context, along with HDMI and DisplayPort.

This post is part of the series: Next-Gen PC Cables

USB, eSATA, and FireWire are all getting makeovers on the storage side, and Dell wants you to use DisplayPort instead of DVI or HDMI. The latter’s Type-B connector could give it a huge boost though.

  1. The New Choices for External Drive Connection
  2. USB 3.0 Will Dominate Until Power Over SATA Arrives
  3. HDMI vs DisplayPort: Hard for Consumers to Get Excited about Manufacturers’ Royalty Savings
  4. Does DisplayPort Have Advantages for PC Users?