ASUS first to show off a combined USB3/6Gb SATA card
While Gigabyte may have been the first motherboard manufacturer to heavily feature USB3 and 6Gb/s SATA support across their range, ASUS doesn’t want to leave their users feeling left out. Because of this, I think they may have finally found an actual purpose for consumers to use their PCI-Express slots for something other than graphics cards.
When the standard was unveiled back in 2004, it was set to replace both of the aging PCI and AGP standards in one go, and while it has definitely replaced AGP, the replacement of PCI cards has been a slow transition, with the 16 year old interface still appearing even on the latest X58 motherboards.
I guess one of the reasons for PCI’s longevity would be its well established status, having been around since 1993. While the interface only offers 133MB/s of bandwidth shared between all devices on its parallel bus, this is often more than enough for the legacy cards which use it.
USB 3.0 and 6Gb/s SATA however, are completely different animals, and about as bandwidth hungry as they come. According to the official specifications, USB 3 runs at 5000 Mb/s, over 10 times faster than USB 2’s 480Mb/s speed. Add in 6Gbit/s SATA which runs at you guessed it….6 Gigabits a second, and you’re going to need a lot of bandwidth.
ASUS have designed a PCI-Express x4 card that combines both of these interfaces in one. This card is imaginatively called the U3S6, and features a PLX PEX8613 3-port/12-lane PCI-E 2.0 bridge chip, not unlike the ones found on some dual GPU graphics cards. The PLX chip helps provide the NEC USB 3.0 controller and the SATA 6Gb/s controller with the huge bandwidth that they need, splitting the 4 typically PCI Express 1.1 lanes into the two PCI-E 2.0 links the card needs to run at its best.
Things are certainly looking a lot better than I first thought for the early days of these two new interfaces, while there are very few USB3 peripherals or SATA 6Gb/s HDDs on the market today, the devices should be widespread once the ports go mainstream, appearing on all new motherboards with add-in cards like this to help those left behind…