There’s something a little special about the Buffalo DriveStation HD-HXU3 external hard drive we’re looking at today. It’s not the casing, which is a glossy plastic variant of what every other manufacturer offers; it’s not the capacity, which is a fairly average 1TB; nor is it the software, which consists of a basic backup program much like you’ll find on many other drives. Even in terms of connectivity there’s only a single USB socket - but as the title has already given away, it’s USB 3.0 rather than the 2.0 version found on almost every other device around.
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last few years, this is incredibly significant. We’ve been happily living with Universal Serial Bus (USB) version 2.0 for years; indeed it’s so ubiquitous that you’ll find it in anything from DisplayLink monitors, through webcams, peripherals, cameras, memory sticks, headphones and printers to mobile phones - most things that can be connected to a PC, in fact.
However, anyone who has had to transfer large amounts of data from a memory stick or external hard drive will know that it’s simply not a fast enough solution. USB 3.0 is here to rectify this, finally offering a huge and much-needed increase in bandwidth: compare USB 3.0’s 4.8Gbit/s to USB 2.0’s miserly 480Mbit/s (keeping in mind that theoretical maximum bandwidth is almost never reached in real-world scenarios).
Inevitably other solutions have presented themselves, with the most popular of these being eSATA (external SATA), which offers a high bandwidth of 3.2Gbit/s. However, this brings with it its own set of complications, including short, thick cables, and no integrated power provision to devices. Worse is that it's not a universal standard, so while you can guarantee that any laptop or PC that's been released in the last 5 years has USB 2.0 ports, the same can't be said for eSATA. USB 3.0, however, has the potential to quickly replace its predecessor as the de-facto connectivity standard, especially since it is backwards compatible and a single controller can still handle up to 127 daisy-chained devices.
To clarify the point about backwards compatibility: you’ll be able to plug USB 2.0 devices into a USB 3.0 controller’s ports, and USB 3.0 devices into USB 2.0 ports – but of course they’ll only work at USB 2.0 speeds, so there’s no point getting a SuperSpeed drive for your old PC (though there are adapter cards available, so anyone with a free PCIe slot can add USB 3.0 to their machine). It’s worth keeping in mind that USB 3.0 devices also require USB 3.0 cables, which have a different connector at the device end - meaning you can’t use your old cables even if you wanted to. While this might be inconvenient, it does help to avoid confusion and we reckon the possible inconvenience is worth it.