USB 3.0 is starting to pick up traction, but motherboards are still using third-party chips to add the fast blue port to systems. Intel officially won't be in the game until its Ivy Bridge processors are released next year, along with the associated chipsets that come with them.
Expansion cards also exist for older systems that offer two USB 3.0 ports, but these tend to be PCI-E x1 2.0 cards. As such, they'll only offer a theoretical maximum of 4Gbps, 1Gbps less than the maximum speed of a single USB 3.0 port. In theory, with both ports operating full tilt this could mean the bus gets saturated before reaching maximum potential.
In practice this is barely an issue. Our testing has showed that USB 3.0, like USB 2.0 before it, isn't actually capable of the speeds it touts. Divide 5Gbps by eight and you get 625MBps — a pipe dream compared to our highest speed to date of 254MBps over a single port.
Still, HighPoint is here to make sure that no matter the situation, its expansion card won't be starved for bandwidth. The RocketU 1144A is a four-port USB 3.0 controller, designed for a PCI-E x4 2.0 slot. That gives it a potential 16Gbps, or 2GBps to work with — something promised right on the box. If it ever delivers it'll be a miracle on par with immaculate conception, but the four ASMedia ASM1042 controllers, one assigned per port and all feeding into a PLX PEX 8609, will ensure that things operate to the best possible speed.
Gathering together our best performing USB 3.0 gear, we were able to reach a maximum throughput of 802.1MBps through the HighPoint controller. This was attained using a Vantec CB-SATAU3-6 from the very lovely people at PC Case Gear, a Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD, Kingston HyperX Max 3.0 64GB SSD, Kingston DataTraveler HyperX 64GB thumb drive and Patriot Supersonic 32GB thumb drive.
It should be noted that all these devices perform differently — the Kingston HyperX 64GB SSD and Patriot Supersonic 32GB thumb drive in particular don't reach USB 3.0's ceiling. There is every indication, though, that if you could manage to scrounge up four Kingston DataTraveler HyperX 64GB sticks (and a bunch of extension cables so all four would actually fit), HighPoint's card could reach up to 1GBps. Once faster performing USB 3.0 gear becomes more commonplace, we hope to be able to test this theory.
If you don't want to wait for Intel to catch up, HighPoint's RocketU 1144A is an excellent way to get into USB 3.0 now, bringing along a dollop of future-proofing as well.