Although USB 3.0 has taken quite a while to arrive, it is now finally here and device manufacturers are beginning to crank out peripherals that utilize the new interface. Judging by our benchmark tests, the Sunbeamtech Airbox USB 3.0 seems to show performance at least on par with existing SATA 2.0 drives, and theoretically nearly as much as that available from the SATA 3.0 interface. As of yet no chipset manufacturer has implemented USB 3.0 into their Southbridge, but instead use an add-on controller chip in combination with a pair of USB 3.0 jacks mounted in the rear I/O section of the board. So it will likely be some time before case and accessory manufacturers begin to make USB 3.0 ports available from the front of the computer.
One advantage that USB 3.0 has is being backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices. I had a chance to test this last month with the review of the MSI 890GXM-G65 motherboard. Any USB 2.0 device plugged into the rear USB 3.0 ports are recognized and operate as normal at USB 2.0 speed. However I ran into the same problem I experienced during the Kingwin DockMaster USB 3.0 review when plugging a USB 3.0 device into a USB 2.0 port. Either it would display a Windows notification error, or simply not be recognized at all.
Because the cable connectors are made differently from USB 2.0 to USB 3.0 it seems that not all devices and ports are 100% interchangeable. USB 3.0 uses eight pins instead of the four on USB 2.0 but they are aligned in two rows of four each in order to be interchangeable. I found that by experimenting with the depth of the connector in the port I could get it to make contact successfully with the four front pins. I had to insert it all the way and then pull it out a millimeter or two.
That said, I had absolutely no problems using the Airbox in a USB 3.0 port. And with a little adjustment it works fine in USB 2.0 as well. Obviously you won't get the enhanced speed when used with USB 2.0 but it eliminates having to worry whether another computer has a USB 3.0 port or not, especially since they're not very common yet. From the benchmark tests run it seems we're getting full drive speed performance through the USB 3.0 interface. Any speed difference between the USB 3.0 and a direct SATA connection was negligible. As usual, the Airbox feels like a high quality Sunbeamtech device that is definitely easy to use and looks good as well.
I found the Sunbeamtech Airbox USB 3.0 for sale at a popular online retailer for right around $55. That's roughly $20 more than the eSATA version of the same product. This is inline with other USB 3.0 device pricing we've seen, but what I can't understand is why manufacturers are setting their MSRPs so high compared to USB 2.0 or eSATA enclosures. Granted USB 3.0 has a higher bandwidth potential than either of the other types, but you'll never see anywhere near 5Gb/s speed with a 3½" standard hard drive.
OCIA.net awards the Sunbeamtech Airbox USB 3.0 enclosure our Silver Seal of Approval.