USB has emerged as the mainstream interface of choice for data transfer from computing platforms to external storage devices. Thunderbolt has traditionally been thought of as a high-end alternative. However, USB has made rapid strides in the last decade in terms of supported bandwidth - From a top speed of 5 Gbps in 2010, the ecosystem moved to devices supporting 10 Gbps in 2015. Late last year, we saw the retail availability of 20 Gbps support with USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 on both the host and device sides. Almost a year down the line, how is the ecosystem shaping up in terms of future potential? Do the Gen 2x2 devices currently available in the retail market live up to their billing? What can consumers do to take advantage of the standard without breaking the bank? Western Digital recently launched the SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD v2 with USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 support. A hands-on review of the SSD sets the perfect background for discussing the above aspects.


The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) has been hard at work in bringing new features into the world of USB - In the last five years or so, we have seen the emergence of Type-C, and multiple updates to the USB standard itself. USB4 has been making a lot of news recently (thanks to its implementation in Intel's Tiger Lake, as well as the fact that Intel lent its high-performance Thunderbolt 3 specifications for USB4). However, this piece deals with the most recent specification update prior to that - USB 3.2 Gen 2x2.

USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (or SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps) - A Brief History

In mid-2017, USB-IF announced USB 3.2 to bring 20 Gbps bandwidth support to the Type-C ecosystem. Type-C supports two sets of high-speed differential pairs. Only one set is used for traditional 10 Gbps operation (in USB 3.2 Gen 2), with the other set used for supporting alternate modes such as DisplayPort. USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 allows this set also to be used for data transmission (when the alternate modes are not needed). This doubled the available data bandwidth to 20 Gbps. A year down the road, ASMedia demonstrated a PHY for the 2x2 operation. At MWC 2019, USB-IF made public the branding strategy for the the different USB 3.2 flavors - SuperSpeed USB for USB 3.2 Gen 1 ( 5Gbps ), SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps for USB 3.2 Gen 2, and SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps for USB 3.2 Gen 2x2. This was followed by the announcement and demonstration of the ASMedia ASM3242 Gen 2x2 controller for hosts and the ASMedia ASM2364 Gen 2x2 to PCIe (NVMe) controller for devices at Computex 2019. At the same show, Phison also announced a single-chip USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 / NAND flash controller, the PS2251-17.

Premium motherboards with USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 ports built-in started appearing towards the end of 2019 with the introduction of the AMD TRX40 chipset, followed later on by the Intel Z490 boards. All these boards enabled the feature using the ASM3242 controller. Vendors also launched stand-alone PCIe 3.0 x4 expansion cards to equip older PCs with USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps) ports. On the client devices front, initial demonstrations were carried out with USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 enclosures equipped with PCIe 3.0 x4 M.2 NVMe SSDs. Some of these enclosures have made it to the retail market. Vendors such as Western Digital and Seagate have also released external SSDs supporting the USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 standard in the last 12 months.


Getting into the USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Ecosystem

Consumers wanting to get into the USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 ecosystem can opt to build a PC with one of the TRX40 or Z490 boards supporting SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps. Building a new PC is only an option for a few - for an interface standard to take off, consumers need to either get the port in an off-the-shelf PC, or, have PCIe expansion cards that can be fitted into older systems. GIGABYTE was one of the first tier-one vendors announce such a card - the GIGABYTE GC-USB 3.2 GEN 2x2. However, the card is yet to become available for retail purchase.

AbleConn PEX-UB159 and the ORICO PE20-1C

The currently available options for adding a USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 port to systems that don't come with one built in are listed below:

Yottamaster C5 and Silverstone ECU06

All these require a spare PCIe 3.0 x4 expansion slot in the computer. An interesting aspect to note is that the Silverstone ECU06 and the AbleConn PEX-UB159 do not require any external power. For reasons we haven't taken the trouble to analyze, the ORICO and Yottamaster cards require external power supplied via a SATA power connector. This could be relevant in systems that do not have a spare SATA power connector (as described in the next section). The Yottamaster C5 and the ORICO PE20-1C both seem to use the same PCB, with just the branding on the bracket being different. Additionally, the PE20-1C product tag is printed on the C5 PCB. This is enough evidence to infer that they are both sourced from the same factory line using the same PCB design.

On the device side, one of the most economical ways to adopt USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 remains the purchase of an appropriate enclosure and a compatible SSD:

Coupling any of the above with a high-end NVMe SSD like the SK Hynix P31 (1TB / $135) or WD Black SN750 (1TB / $150, or 2TB / $310) should result in a speedy SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps external SSD for around 20¢/GB. Note that the SSDs mentioned here are specifically those that consistently maintain 1.5 GBps+ direct-to-TLC writes without a significant price premium.

The easier way out is to purchase an off-the-shelf external SSD. There are three options currently in the market, specified here in the order of retail availability date:

  • Western Digital's WD_BLACK P50 (500GB @ $134, 1TB @ $232, and 2TB @ $350)
  • Seagate's FireCuda Gaming SSD (500GB @ $200, 1TB @ $271, and 2TB @ $485
  • Western Digital's SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD v2 (2TB @ $380)

The SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD v2 line will also have a 1TB model, but that will not be available in retail until later this year.

Unless one moves to the high-end of the capacity line with the 2TB models, the cost-per-GB metric (above 20¢ per GB) is simply not competitive against the SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps external SSDs that have taken over the market in the last couple of years. At the 2TB capacity point, excellent external SSDs of this type are available at less than 15¢ per GB, while the best that the above three families can offer is 0.175¢ per GB. As adoption increases, the price should go down, but right now, there is no denying that there is a premium. Is the premium worth it? We review selected components from the above list in an attempt to find the answer.

The Test Devices

Western Digital had sampled a review unit of the WD_BLACK P50 (1TB version) earlier this year, but I had placed it at the bottom of my review queue for a couple of reasons. For starters, none of our direct-attached storage testbeds were SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps-capable. The other reason was that the WD_BLACK P50, despite its wide retail launch, appeared to be more of a technology-demonstration product, with the ecosystem for SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps still in its infancy. Last month, Western Digital doubled down on targeting the USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 device market with the launch of the SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD v2. A review sample was also supplied along with the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD v2, which was analyzed in detail last week.

Having two Gen 2x2 devices in hand, we felt that the standard was gaining market traction. To get started with the review, we reached out to a couple of the aforementioned expansion card manufacturers, and Yottamaster was the first to respond with a retail sample of the C5 expansion card.

The rest of the review details the steps taken to set up an appropriate testbed for evaluation of USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 devices, followed by a discussion of the features and characteristics of the WD_BLACK P50 and the SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD v2. A look at the performance numbers for various workloads - both synthetic and real-world, as well as accelerated playback of access traces - is provided. As customary, we also explore the worst-case consistency for typical DAS workloads, thermal performance and power consumption numbers. In the last section, we provide some concluding remarks while touching upon the outlook for the USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps) standard.

Testbed Travails
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  • henkhilti - Monday, October 5, 2020 - link

    Why do boot, office, PCMark10 runs.
    DAS is only about copying data from internal to external move the DAS to other system and do the opposite (copy data from external to internal).
    Users don't have ram drives or use robocopy (you already have the synthetic benchmarks).

    Just use fast internal drives (that people actually buy) and start dragging files/folders with File Explorer like humans do :)
  • repoman27 - Monday, October 5, 2020 - link

    I boot from USB external media all the time. It's a pretty common part of many workflows. So is running VM's that reside on external media. Or working with large media files that live on external media dedicated to a particular project / client.
  • hubick - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    I was bike commuting from home to work with my SSD (Samsung X5 Thunderbolt 3) in my pocket and booting Linux off it at either end. Easier than trying to sync data, plus I only had to maintain the, like, 1000 development tools I need in once place.
  • drajitshnew - Monday, October 5, 2020 - link

    I have been reading Anandtech for 16 years now and this is the most outright confusing article that I have read for the reasons listed
    1. I disagree with the testbed choice-- IT IS NOT A SYSTEM,IT IS A HACK . I do not think that it has realworld applicability. Could you try a couple of Ryzen system. Failing that just stop giving 16 threads q32 results. I cannot think of a case where a 1 TB, bus powered DAS would be used in a realworld use requiring 16*32 random reads. Can you?
    2. I agree with @danneely @spunjji @stormyparis, USB 3.2 is a mess. Even rtfm fails. I would request your reviewers to add the supported speeds to each system, board and flagship mobile review. With 8k video (and limited storage) it is not unthinkable to use one of these devices to transfer files.
  • ganeshts - Monday, October 5, 2020 - link

    The article is a description of our attempts to make use of USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 as a regular consumer. Rarely do people go out on a limb and make a new PC for something that could be achieved with an expansion card. That is the reason for the piece being described as 'ecosystem review', rather than a review of just the WD_BLACK P50 and the SanDisk Extreme PRO v2.

    The testbed choice was an attempt to use the three 'direct-attached storage testbeds' we have used since starting the reviews set back in 2014. It did end up as a 'hack', but that serves the purpose of this particular review well. If you see many more Gen 2x2 reviews using the same Haswell testbed, then your complaint is justified.

    AnandTech's editors do not operate out of a central location. Most (including me) are freelancers spread out throughout the world. As far as testing out a couple of Ryzen systems goes - all the Ryzen PCs with me are SFF machines without a PCIe expansion slot. I am loath to building a new testbed at *this point in time* because USB4 is just around the corner. It is better to build a testbed that can serve the purpose well for at least 2 to 3 years.

    As for bus-powered DAS and the 4KQ32T16 workload - if you don't think it is suitable, feel free to disregard the numbers. The limited applicability of the workload is exactly the reason we felt it was OK to present the results from the other workloads on the same machine.
  • supdawgwtfd - Monday, October 5, 2020 - link

    What editors?
  • drajitshnew - Tuesday, October 6, 2020 - link

    Thank you for addressing my concerns. In light of this I have 2 fresh ones
    1. As you also agree the host system is a hack-- it should not become the regular testbed. I do not bother with T16q32 results in any review, because I do not have any workload that can generate such a workload.
    2. Please again I would like like that all devices with USB 3xyz are labelled with speeds and power output supported.
  • PaulHoule - Monday, October 5, 2020 - link

    The issues they run into here make me think of the practical problems I have with USB.

    I have a few recent Windows laptops that have USB 3 Type A and Type C ports.

    In the old days you were supposed to be able to plug a hub into a host then plug a hub into a hub and do it again and have it work. The spec said you could do it and you really could.

    In the USB3 spec I don't see anything promised as to what kind of configurations are supported and I find I can't take it for granted that I plug my PC into a 4-way hub and can then plug my monitor into the hub and then plug my keyboard and mouse into the monitor.

    Some configurations work but then I plug in the RealSense camera and my mouse stops working; or maybe the SD card reader connects and disconnects all the time and I am always hearing the notification tone for that.

    The hard way I learned "at most four way hubs" and "never plug a hub into a hub" and I've finally settled in on something that works but plug in a USB hard drive and I pray that the filesystem doesn't get corrupted.

    Let's see an expose on that!
  • eastcoast_pete - Monday, October 5, 2020 - link

    I know this will read old-fashioned, but I really wish that one of these USB flavors would allow true "serial" use, i.e. the ability to daisy-chain USB devices directly in the plug. With most "ultraportables" now down to 1-2 ports, USB charging is often made absurd by the then-lost connectivity. If one could simply plug another device into the back of the male USB plug, that issue would be moot. Is there such a solution? I will gladly stay on 3.1 or 3.2 if that feature would be enabled.
  • repoman27 - Monday, October 5, 2020 - link

    In theory, they all do. You just need to embed a USB hub to create that topology. It costs money, adds complexity, and consumes power, but plenty of dongles and some chargers already do this.

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