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USB and SATA connection questions.

Posted on 2011-04-28
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1. Are usb connections as much of a pain to you as they are to me?  

Just had a customer call.  Two USB ports on the back of her computer don’t work any more.  They did yesterday, but now they don’t.  It’s a Dell Vostro I sold her about two years ago.  I’ve seen the same thing on my own computer, both integrated ports and USB hubs.  Flash drives sometimes get recognized and sometimes not. My primary work machine now is a Quad 4 Dell Vostro 220.  I’ve plugged all sorts of hubs and flash drives into it.  Yesterday a flash drive went AWOL and reappeared on their own, without having to plug/unplug it or reboot the machine.  

2. Do certain messages mean anything?
“This device can go faster on a USB 2.0 connection”.  
When the hub and the port are both USB 2.0 and have been forever.  Does that matter?  I assume that the actual data transfer is still USB 2.0.  
And the general “there has been a malfunction and/or we can’t identify this device…”  It happens all the time. Is it the USB port, the hub, the motherboard, the device?  

3. Are PCI USB cards more reliable?  Are powered USB hubs more reliable than non-powered?  Are any hubs more reliable?

My general philosophy on computers is that if it’s not under warranty and not critical, if possible you circumvent a problem or hope it goes away.  This customer isn’t going to pay me $150 to slog over to her house 10 miles away and screw around with the USB ports on the back of her computer. For that matter I'm not sure what I'd even do to try and fix it.  

4. Someone told me that failing USB ports can be indications of a failing motherboard.  Is this true?  

5. Why does anyone buy external hard drive enclosures at any price?  External drives have been so cheap for so long I can’t believe there’s any advantage to putting together your own. In fact, external drives are often cheaper than the equivalent internal drive.  What sense does that make?

6. On the subject of connections, can I get the benefits of USB 3.0 and 6 GB SATA on older machines?  Is it worth trying?  I’m experimenting with a USB 3.0 PCI card and USB 3.0 dock and it’s worked OK.  I don’t know what real speed I’m getting but at least it hasn’t screwed up in any obvious ways.  

I try to give my customers reliable automatic backups, both full image and doc backups.  Speed means everything here, because if your backups take forever and slow your machine down to a crawl, what good are they?  

Is there any point to putting a USB 3.0 card or 6 GB sata card on a Dell Dimension 5100, or XPS Gen 4, or even a later machine, like a Vostro 200 or my Vostro 220?  After an application writes to a drive, down through various connections and through various bottlenecks, do we know if there’s any significant increase in speed?

7. Do you have the same ongoing problems with backups that I have?  I want to nail it down, to be able to put together hardware and software on a customer’s system and feel 98% confident that if a hard drive were to crash, or if I need to recover a system from a virus, I can restore a backup successfully.  Maybe it’s because I’m a perfectionist, but I’ve never had that type of confidence in any system.  For one customer I put in a large WD external drive with automatic backups, come back later and saw that the drive was connected and powered on, but it simply wasn’t working.  It wasn’t connecting.  

That wasn’t the customer’s fault. Other customers turn off their drives and forget to turn them on again. You can never idiot proof it.  For this reason I’ve come to favor internal drives on desktops. With laptops it’s hopeless.  You’d have to call your customers every three days and tell them to plug in and turn on their external drives.  

A lot of this can be solved if customers are well off financially and willing to spend money on their systems.  When 500GB internal drives cost $50 and 1 GB externals go for $60, it’s crazy to skimp on storage. Of course I’m also looking at Internet backups but I’m afraid that will just add more complexity to the mix and customers won't be willing to pay for it.  

Anyway, what do you think of USB 3.0 and 6GB sata and whether it’s worth looking into trying to use them on older systems?

Thanks,
Al  
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Question by:alanlsilverman
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David earned 800 total points
ID: 35488754
1. No
2. There is USB V1.0, V2.0 and V3.0    The higher the number, the faster it is.   The lower the number, the older the hardware.  Every thing matters and everything will sync up at the highest common speed.
3. It all depends.
4. By definition, a failing USB port which is part of a motherboard, means that the motherboard has partially failed, does it not?
5. Nobody buys external hard drives at any price, unless, perhaps they are gazillionaires.
6. Yes. Maybe. OK, fine. Run benchmarks to see speed.  There is always a benefit if a component is faster IF that component is the bottleneck. If something else is bottleneck, save the money.
7. Probably not.
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by:Aaron Tomosky
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ID: 35488778
5. When I take out factory drives and replace them with larger / better drives or ssd's because Dell/hp/apple want more than the cost of a new drive to upgrade. I buy an external enclosure for $20 and get a free external drive.
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by:David
David earned 800 total points
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'In fact, external drives are often cheaper than the equivalent internal drive.  What sense does that make?'

You need to learn the difference between enterprise/server class disks and desktop. Those $100 external packages use cheap, cheap disks designed for 2400 hours use per year at typically 10-20% duty cycle.  The internal dell/HP/ibm, etc disks are enterprise designed for 100% duty cycle 24x7x365, and this is just one differentiator.
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by:nobus
nobus earned 800 total points
ID: 35489436
1 - no problems from this side, dut i am careful to use external disks ONLY from a powered USB hub, or if they have their own power source; since the usb port only provides 5 V at 0.5 A = 2.5 W MAX
>>>  read : easily overpowered usb system, if powered from it
2 - did it happen after an update ?  then roll back to test
i had it also happen when the BIOS reset the usb to USB 1...never knew why, but it was
>>  I assume that the actual data transfer is still USB 2.0   <<   measure it by transferring a 10, or 100 Mb single file -  USB 1 = 12 MB/s, while USB 2 = 40 x faster : 480 MB/s
3 - i use a belkin, 7 port one   http://www.belkin.com/IWCatProductPage.process?Product_Id=158910
4- since the usb is a part of the mobo - yes
5 - external cases : there are a couple of advantages :
* you can connect any ide - or sata disk in it, AND connect those directly to ide/sata ports , if needed (to run diags)
* you can put in a cd, or dvd drive in most - can be useful
* you can use several different disks - for different purposes
6- you can use USB3 on all PC's, if you have the proper adapter : pci, PCIe..
as for the speed - it depends on the system specs and backup itself (lots of files are much slower)
7- as for backups - you cna use external ones, but why not use internal disks ? much faster, always same connection - and you can still have an external backup once a month if you like

i have had good experiences with safelyremove for usb problems :  http://safelyremove.com/?pid=1
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Author Comment

by:alanlsilverman
ID: 35496134
Clarifying #4, that a non-functional USB port might be a (strong) indicator that the whole motherboard is about to fail, to become unusable, not just that the USB port alone is no longer useable.

dlethe, I'm seeing 1TB external drives on sale for $50-60.  Often you can find the model number of these drives and they are the same number that manufacturers put in some of their desktops.  Are you saying that all these drives are crap?

Nobus, I agree that I'd always rather use internal drives for backups, but for laptops this isn't practical nor for desktops with a small form factor.  Also, if my client is in another state or country, I can order them an external drive, have them put it in and set up the backups over the Internet.  I can do this even if they know nothing about computers.  I'd never attempt to instruct them how to install internal drives.
Best,
Al    

 
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by:David
David earned 800 total points
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USB 1.0/2.0 ports are great for keyboards and cameras, but not for hard drives.  Wrong physical interface, and the more things you plug into the hub the worst it gets as it is all shared serial bandwidth.

And, while you ask, yes, I consider a whitebox enclosure with a flavor-of-the-day $39.00 disk that doesn't carry the disk manufacturer's full warranty, that is not designed for more than 8 hours a day use, light duty, 300 days a year ... crap.

All that data entrusted to a $39.00 wholesale disk?  Surely customer's data is worth the expense of a pair of disks in RAID1 attached to an interface port that is actually designed for high-speed disks.

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by:alanlsilverman
ID: 35499108
dlethe, could you tell me which manufacturers and models of hard drives you trust?  Do you have some ballpark figure on the cost of the disks you use? Definitely a customer's data is worth it.  It's the right way to set up things and I hate to set them up wrong.  Unfortunately many of my customers wouldn't go for the increased price.  They can't afford it.  As for Raid, I've always shied away from it because if one disk is corrupted that means the backup is immediately corrupted too.  Do you have that concern?  I set up multiple backups to secondary disks using Acronis, the more backups the better.  That way there's a good chance of having at this one good backup and with full disk backups you can go back to different dates.  
Thanks,
Al  
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by:David
David earned 800 total points
ID: 35499154
There are basically 2 classes of disks.  Enterprise and desktop.  Desktop drives are designed for 2400 hours ANNUALLY, typically 10% duty cycle, meaning 8 hours a day 5 days a week light use.
Enterprise are designed for 24x7x365 at 100% full use.

Beyond that enterprise drives have 100X more ECC bits, so you get much less data loss, bit rot; and other problems.
Do your customers sometimes complain that the PC locks up for maybe 10 seconds then starts working again?   Maybe mouse works but nothing else does?   This is a "feature" of desktop drives.

You should read this paper I wrote.

http://www.experts-exchange.com/Storage/Misc/A_2757-Disk-drive-reliability-overview.html

But to answer your question, I've worked with all the technologies from SSDs; FibreChannel;  SSA (Yes, SSA, not SAS); ST506; winchesters; (boy, really dating myself), and anyway I recommend whatever the situation calls for.  I've even deployed those $39 desktop drives in large storage farms, but only under ZFS and RAIDZ3 configs (look it up).

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by:alanlsilverman
ID: 35500277
Are most of your customers business accounts or home users?  Mine are home users with a sprinkling of small businesses.  And what do you do for backups on laptops?  Remember also that I'm using both these internal and external drives almost entirely for backup. They don't run 24 hours a day.  Once a day the documents are backed up incrementally and once a week there is a full disk incremental backup.
I'll read the article.
Al
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by:nobus
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ID: 35500607
if you want speed for a backup - use eSata where possible
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by:alanlsilverman
ID: 35513008
I’m going to close this shortly as it’s been chewed over pretty well.
But looking over this note I have a few clarifications.

1. I think I muddied things by talking about both USB connections and hard drives.  I never plug an external hard drive into a hub.  I go direct into the internal ports.  I favor powered hubs anyway and plug all sorts of other things into them, especially flash drives.  

2. Sometimes the internal USB ports stop working.  Do you consider this an indication that the whole motherboard might be about to die?  Or just that one component (USB port or bank of ports) has failed?

3. Have you used Spinrite?  I’ve used it to recover unrecoverable data, so I know that it  does something.  I’ve also begun to do a Spinrite maintenance (level 4) on whole drives before I send them back to my customers. Is this worth doing?

4. I was just reading the SATA wiki, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_ATA.  One thing I read:  “While even the fastest conventional hard disk drives can barely saturate the original SATA 1.5 Gbit/s bandwidth, Solid-State Drives have already saturated SATA 3 Gbit/s…”  What does this mean?  It sounds like the bandwidth of the type of sata (1, 2 or the new sata 3) doesn’t matter because the disk speed is slower than the interface.  Is that what you make of it?

4. dlethe, I read your article. It's very good.  When possible I also always use internal drives for backup.  With laptops and customers who live far away, it's not possible.
 
I do believe that our customer set is very different.  To me protecting data is paramount.  There’s just a point beyond which my customers, home and very small, business, won’t pay any more for increased data security. I’ve always shied away from refurbished and used drives completely.  But it seems like a used/refurbished internal Enterprise level drive might be as good or better than a new consumer level drive, especially for backups. I’m also considering the price point here.  What is your opinion?
Thanks,
Al

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by:nobus
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ID: 35513518
as it is, normal rotating disks cannot saturate (read reach the speed of) the bandwith
SSD drives -  which are memory drives - are MUCH faster, and can saturate the bandwith easily
here a nice discussion - and comparison :  http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/IDE/SSD_vs_VelociRaptor_vs_Raptor/SSD_vs_VelociRaptor_Raptor.html
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by:alanlsilverman
ID: 35514305
which means to me that there's no reason to go to sata 3.0 unless you have ssd drives (which, in 3-4 years everyone will have) or if sata 3.0 is cheaper/more reliable than earlier drives.  
thanks,
al
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by:nobus
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ID: 35514511
well - that's your point of view
if you don't need more help -  don't forget to close this Q
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by:Aaron Tomosky
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ID: 35514614
It's a classic chicken/egg setup. As drives get faster the bus has to already be in place and widely available.
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Author Comment

by:alanlsilverman
ID: 35514625
Isn't that the case though?  Or is there some other performance boost to be expected when using Sata 3.0 on the standard platters, especially with older computers?
best regards,
al
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Author Comment

by:alanlsilverman
ID: 35515814
I'm closing now, but if anyone wants to give an opinion on #2 above, USB ports and motherboard failures, #3 - Spinrite, or about refurbished Enterprise drives - #4 above, please do.
Thanks for all the good advice,
Al
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by:David
ID: 35515882
On #2, look at your motherboard manual & physical layout.  Does one chip control all or some USB ports?  That is a good way to find out.  If a USB stops working, does the same thing happen in another port?   Maybe physical connection, or if you are near the coast, where air gets corrosion, then it could be a poor connection.  Maybe insufficient power.  The trick is to look at the event log and maybe it will provide a hint.

Now if the USB chip fails and since it isn't removable, then the motherboard fails.   But for $20 you can buy a USB card for your motherboard so even if the USB chip failed, you don't need to write off the motherboard.
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