USB 3.0 vs SATA: The 3 Differences You Need To Know

When it comes to data transfer and storage, many people will focus solely on speed, but it is merely just a piece of the puzzle. There are numerous other factors to take into consideration when choosing between USB 3.0 and SATA.

If you feel like you need more information about both of these options to make the best decision, you’ve come to the right place. We will define both USB 3.0 and SATA interfaces, including all their pros and cons.

Finally, we will provide a detailed comparison that will certainly help you make up your mind. 

What is USB 3.0?

Released back in 2008, USB 3.0 offers the maximum data transfer rate of 5 Gbps (5,120 Mbps). However, while this is possible in theory, the standard recommendation for day-to-day use is 3,200 Mbps.

USB 3.0 is truly an update compared to earlier models, even the latest one before this release – the USB 2.0, which offered a transfer speed rate of only 480 Mbps. 

If we were to dig a bit deeper, we’d find an even more striking contrast between the transfer speeds of USB 3.0 and USB 1.1, the maximum speed of which was 12 Mbps.

You may wonder if some outdated USB cables, devices, and adapters will be compatible with the USB 3.0, and this is usually the case. However, what may impose a problem is the data transmission rate, as it must be supported by a certain device. 

The USB 3.0 standard updates come in two different versions, USB 3.1 and USB 3.2. However, these three standards are mostly known as USB 3.2 Gen 1, USB 3.2 Gen 2, and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2.

When it comes to USB 3.0 types, it is important to mention the different kinds of connectors from this series:

  1. First, we have the USB Type-A, also known as Standard-A, mostly physically compatible with USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 cables and devices. 
  2. USB Type B is the standard USB 3.0, also referred to as Standard-B, and these USB ports are commonly found on large devices such as printers. Keep in mind that Type B 3.0 plugs aren’t compatible with older Type B receptacles.
  3. USB Micro-A can mostly be found on small devices such as smartphones, and they’re only compatible with USB 3.0 Micro-AB receptacles. However, USB 2.0 Micro-A plugs are an exception as they can be plugged into USB 3.0 Micro-AB receptacles.
  4. Finally, USB Micro-B plugs are compatible only with USB Micro-B receptacles, the only exception being older USB 2.0 Micro-B plugs that work with USB 3.0 Micro-B, as well as  USB 3.0 Micro-AB receptacles.

What is SATA?

When you hear someone talking about SATA devices, these are simply devices using the SATA interface. Besides the interface, there are also two SATA ports on the computer – one that connects to the motherboard and the other one that connects to the drive.

Therefore, SATA connects via two ports or connectors: the power connector and the data connector. 

Both of these connectors resemble the shape of the “L” letter, but the data connector is a bit smaller, as it has 7 pins. The power connector, on the other hand, consists of 15 pins, which also makes it a bit longer.

Besides the difference in size and the number of pins, the data connector, and the power connector also differ when it comes to their respective cables

The SATA power connector cable usually consists of numerous thin wires in different colors, while the data connector cable is usually a flat, single-band cable. 

While seemingly different, both of these connectors play an equally important role in the functioning of SATA, and both are required for any kind of SATA device. 

The role of the SATA data cable, as the name itself implies, is to transfer the files both from and to the computer, while the power cable provides the necessary electricity. 

Just like USB 3.0 came as an innovation and upgrade after the USB 2.0 release, the SATA interface replaced the ATA technology, offering improved technology and increased data transfer speed

What is eSATA?

Speaking of innovations, it is important to mention eSATA, which stands for External Serial Advanced Technology Attachment – SATA’s external interface. 

eSATA is the solution SATA technology offers for exterior storage, offering impressive transfer speed rates for external disk storage devices. 

What makes eSATA stand out in comparison to the USB interface is data accessibility, as with a SATA interface there is no translation of the data, so the data transfer doesn’t require as many steps. 

This kind of translation-free data transfer technology is the key factor in impressive data transfer speed when you’re using eSATA for your external disk storage devices. Also, no additional off-load chip is necessary.

But, what happens if your motherboard does not offer an eSATA connector? Luckily, by installing an adequate peripheral component interconnect (PCI) card, you will still be able to use the eSATA interface.

What are the differences between USB 3.0 and SATA?

If you’re still torn between USB 3.0 or SATA devices, we’re here to clear up any doubts and questions you may have about these two options by comparing them in the most important aspects.

It is also important to mention that we will also be comparing USB 3.0 and eSATA devices to give you a more detailed performance analysis of these two external hard drive options, rather than just comparing the USB and SATA interfaces.

1. Speed

The first factor that most people tend to focus on when comparing external data storage and transfer devices is the data transfer speed rate. When it comes to speed, it is clear that eSATA devices take the win, and there are several reasons.

First and foremost, it is important to consider data accessibility. As we’ve mentioned before, with a SATA interface, the data writing and reading won’t affect the transfer speed as there is no data translation.

The USB interface, on the other hand, works on the principle of data translation, and the speed will be affected by this process, especially if you’re using a USB PCB adapter for interface conversion. 

2. PC port compatibility

Another important difference between USB 3.0 and eSATA devices is their compatibility with your computer, and this is the first factor you should take into consideration when making a decision.

As we’ve mentioned, it is possible to use adapters for interface conversion, but this will significantly affect the transaction speed. 

Therefore, it is better to stick to the devices that are compatible with your computer, especially if you tend to store and transfer large amounts of data.

3. Device powering

An important difference between USB 3.0 and eSATA, and a huge advantage of eSATA over USB 3.0, is that you can use the latter to power devices.

However, when it comes to eSATA, a separate electrical connection is necessary.

Are USB 3.0 and SATA the same?

No, these two options can never fit into the same category, and for several reasons. First and foremost, their interfaces are completely different, which also affects the data transfer speed.

As we’ve explained, USB 3.0 requires data translation, while this is not a part of the data management process with SATA, which also results in a higher rate of data transfer speed.

Also, USB 3.0 allows you to power another device without an additional adapter, while with eSATA, you will definitely need another electricity connection, which is why eSATA comes with a cartridge. 

What’s more, there is the compatibility factor, as not all external storage devices will be compatible with all computers. Surely, adapters can be used to perform an interface conversion, but this will affect other parameters such as transfer speed. 

Other than that, it is safe to say that both USB 3.0 and SATA technologies represent remarkable upgrades as compared to the previous releases in both categories – especially when it comes to data transaction speed. 

F. A. Q.

Is SATA cable always faster than USB 3.0?

Yes, this is usually the case, considering both the theoretical and the achievable bandwidth of these options. As far as the theoretical bandwidth of USB 3.0 is concerned, it is estimated around 500 MB/s

A SATA cable, on the other hand, offers a bandwidth of approximately 600 MB/s, which means that SATA can be considered a better choice in this case.

Is USB 3.0 fast enough for HDD?

Yes, USB 3.0 is fast enough for HDD, and the transfer rate is considered to be satisfactory. However, keep in mind that results largely depend on the amount of data you’re transferring.

What is the difference between internal and external SSD?

When comparing the two, it is important to point out that both of these SSD models use the same data storing and transferring technology, and they offer impressive results when it comes to data transfer. 

That being said, the difference is in the placement of the device, as internal SSD is connected directly to the motherboard, while external SSD connects via a USB port. 

The main advantage of an external SSD is its portability, while an internal SSD usually offers greater bandwidth as it isn’t connected through a USB port, but directly. 

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