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SilverStone SST-EC03 USB 3.0 PCI-E Card E-mail
Reviews - Featured Reviews: Accessories
Written by Marc Fructman   
Sunday, 27 November 2011
Table of Contents: Page Index
SilverStone SST-EC03 USB 3.0 PCI-E Card
Closer Look: EC03 Exterior
Closer Look: Interior
Testing and Results
ATTO Disk Benchmark
CrystalDiskMark 3.0 Tests
Everest Disk Benchmark
Final Thoughts and Conclusion

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

IMPORTANT: Although the rating and final score mentioned in this conclusion are made to be as objective as possible, please be advised that every author perceives these factors differently at various points in time. The author's experience with the product may differ significantly from your own. While we each do our best to ensure that all aspects of the product are considered, there are often times unforeseen market conditions and manufacturer changes which occur after publication that could render our rating obsolete. Please do not base any purchase solely on our conclusion, as it represents our product rating specifically for the product tested which may differ from future versions. All testing used the Windows 7 64-bit OS. Testing was not performed for any other operating systems.

The EC03 dual port USB 3.0 PCI express card (internal) is designed to give users access to two USB ports using the supplied 3.5” bay. And that is exactly what it does.

USB 3.0 is a vast improvement over USB 2.0. Theoretically USB 3.0 is capable of 4.8 Gbits/s (600Megabytes/s) versus high-speed USB 2.0 which is limited to 480Mbits/s (60 Megabytes/s). Protocol overhead will limit the actual bandwidth significantly. A PCI Express 2.0 “lane” can provide 500MB/s in one direction (1000MB/s in both directions).

Now that we have the EC03 to compare against the onboard USB 3.0 of the EVGA SR-2, we can see that USB 3.0 performance of the onboard SR-2 is only slightly better than the USB 3.0 speeds of the EC03 card. For anyone who lacks USB 3.0, the EC03 is a really good solution. In fact, there are many users out there right now who would like to get access to USB 3.0 and were dreading the added cost of a new computer build, who can now get access to USB 3.0 for around $32 (see below).

Even though SATA 3.0 (SATA 6 Gbits/s) only has a theoretical advantage of 20% over USB 3.0 (5Gbit/s), we are seeing that SATA 3.0 performance far exceeds the expected USB 3.0 performance (onboard or add-on). So, clearly if you are thinking about buying external drives vs internal, and you want maximum speed you have the information you need to make a good decision.

SilverStone_SST_EC03_004.jpg

The EC03 itself is a PCI express card with no obvious issues with the exception that rarely a device would not register unless it was first inserted into a USB 2.0 port. The included external 3.5” bay is somewhat thin and easily bends. The ports mount on with a decent size plastic pin, and 1 screw but they do not prevent motion of the USB ports and overall the EC03 feels flimsy.

While I do value the 3.5” form factor, many cases do not use this and if they do, these cases are likely to have only a single bay that is populated with a floppy disk drive. That means in order to install the EC03, many people will have to buy an additional adapter to fit a 5.25” bay. And this will result in those same individuals looking for USB 3.0 cards with 5.25” bays rather than 3.5” bays. In the long run, a free 3.5” bay will not do SilverStone's market as much justice as a bump in price for a 5.25” bay. At that point, using a complete 5.25” bay might not be a good use of space, so perhaps they can come up with a USB 3.0 card that provides 4 slots and can optionally use up to 4x PCI-E lanes. There are already 4 port USB 3.0 devices in the market, and SilverStone should look in that direction. This seems like a leap of the product niche, but looking at it from a market point of view, most people will want more than 2 USB 3.0 ports on a large 5.25 bay. In fact, there are already people asking for USB 3.0 ports on card readers, so this might also be a great area to move to. In general, the mere fact that this product is using a 3.5” bay is not counted as a deduction. However, if SilverStone had included a 5.25” adapter with the 3.5” bay, this would have been mirrored with a significant increase on the value side of the score.

The Supplied USB connector cable (24”) was not quite long enough for my EVGA SR-2. As a result I was not able to mount the bay in the standard location. It would be better if the cable was longer. However, if you are not running a huge case or HPTX motherboard then, it should be adequate as long as you don't mind the cable going across your motherboard.

The EC03 can supply up to 3600 milliamps of current when using the supplied molex connector. This is more than adequate for most uses.

Overall, performance was good. It came very close to the onboard USB 3.0 of the EVGA SR-2 board, and even exceeded its performance for some benchmark tests.

The unit tested with only an occasional issue. As mentioned, rarely, a USB device would not register in the 3.0 port initially. If I removed the device and placed it in a 2.0 port, then re-inserted back into the EC03, it would show up.

This review was also brought about because in the review of the SilverStone TS07 External USB 3.0 Enclosure, there was some thoughts that perhaps the limit on transfer speed was related to the onboard USB 3.0. SilverStone graciously volunteered the EC03 to test this theory. But clearly, the TS07's limit of around 234MB/s based on the benchmarks still stands. This does not rule out the possibility that the TS07's asmedia chip is the culprit. Therefore, additional testing is still warranted. The good news is that the SilverStone EC03 dual port USB 3.0 PCI Express Card was able to come very close to onboard USB 3.0 speeds.

It is important to note that the negatives and the positives listed here may not be the same as your own. There are some minor deductions for the flimsy feeling of the external bay. While the bay is marketed as “free”, the reality is that without the external bay and supplied connector, the internal USB 3.0 is not very useful. In that respect, I consider that it should be part of the package (as evidenced by the manual), and not some “free” add on to give additional value. Providing just a 3.5” bay is not a deduction, but the value of the product could have been higher if a 5.25” adapter was included. On the plus side, performance almost matches the motherboard USB 3.0 speeds. Also, a plus goes to improving access to power thru the molex connector. Each plus or minus listed should be measured by your own personal meter, and then you can decide if this case is worth your money.

Overall, for a USB 3.0 card providing 2 ports specifically to 3.5” drive bay $32.50 (Amazon) is a fair deal, and the performance of the EC03 is good.

Pros:

+ Good Value (if just using 3.5” bay.)
+ Good Performance.
+ Easy driver installation.

Cons:

- USB cord not long enough for larger desktop installs.
- 3.5” bay is flimsy.
- No Warranty visible in packaging.
- Rarely, a device would not be recognized unless it was inserted into a 2.0 port, and reinserted into the 3.0 port.

Ratings:

Performance: 8.75
Appearance: 8.50
Construction: 8.00
Functionality: 8.75
Value: 8.25

Final Score: 8.45 out of 10.

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Comments 

 
# I'm glad I didn't waitWhyNotV2 2011-12-05 03:48
While the SilverStone USB 3.0 doesn't seem terrible, I'm glad I became a semi-early adopter and bought the SIIG 4-port USB 3.0 kit. It's worked very well for me this past year that I've had it and definitely isn't flimsy. The only issues I had with it was my original installation in that I forgot to plug the power in and it took me a few minutes to figure it out. The price I the SIIG was high (I got mine "on sale" for $54.95), but again, 4 ports (not that I've used more than 1 at a time), sturdier and 2 size bay compatibility.

I may pick up the Silverstone 3.0 for my wife's computer for the price...or wait :)
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# PCIe x1 slotkatnrica 2011-12-05 10:20
This article says:
"The EC03 card from SilverStone installs into a single lane PCI-E gen 2.0 slot..."

How many motherboards built before 2010 even have a "Gen2, 5.0Gbps" x1 PCIe slot? All (or nearly all) only have a Gen1 (2.5Gbps) x1 PCIe slot. Yes, the graphics x16 slot is Gen2 on a vast majority of motherboards, but not the x1 slots.
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# RE: PCIe x1 slotOlin Coles 2011-12-05 10:26
Before 2010? How about before 2007, which is when PCI-E 2.0 slots were all over the market and a standard for motherboards? I think you might be remembering the dates incorrectly. I remember Intel X38 motherboards having PCI-E 2.0 lanes back in early 2007.
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# RE: RE: PCIe x1 slotkatnrica 2011-12-05 10:46
Olin -- you are correct! I looked at the product briefs of the X38 and the P45 chipsets; yes both of those support multiple x1 lanes (6) at 500MB/s, which clearly means they are Gen2 capable. Sorry about that - I should have looked at these datasheets before I posted my question ;-)
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# RE: SilverStone SST-EC03 USB 3.0 PCI-E CardMugsy 2011-12-05 14:03
I'm wondering if there isn't a "technical" reason why most boards and adapters are limited to just TWO usb 3.0 ports and not more? ("WhyNot" above is the first report I've heard of a 4-port adapter, and it's pricey.) Even this particular adapter, while providing room for two more ports, requires a SECOND card to add them. That suggests one needs beefier hardware to support more than two usb 3.0 ports at once.

This also raises serious questions about an inability to use "hubs", "daisy-chaining" or other ways of expanding the number of ports when you run out.

Or... to paraphrase what Bill Gates once said about the PC: "640K should be enough for anybody"... or in this case, "two usb 3.0 ports should be enough for anybody"?
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# RE: RE: SilverStone SST-EC03 USB 3.0 PCI-E CardMack 2011-12-05 17:56
Intel has been lacking native support for USB 3.0. on their motherboards.
That seems to be a lot of the reason why these boards seem to only carry 2 onboard USB ports, as they are 3rd party solutions.
Intel's new 7X series chipsets do support USB 3.0.

A single PCI Express 2.0 ?lane? can provide 500MB/s in one direction (1000MB/s in both directions).
So, having a 4 port USB 3.0 solution that is plugged in to a single PCI-E slot, is not going to give you full bandwidth for each port. There's just not enough available bandwidth. That is why it might be better for engineers to spec a x4 PCI slot for 4 port USB 3.0
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# RE: RE: RE: SilverStone SST-EC03 USB 3.0 PCI-E CardMack 2011-12-05 17:59
Sorry typo, x4 PCI-E slot... would cover the necessary bandwidth.
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# RE: RE: RE: SilverStone SST-EC03 USB 3.0 PCI-E CardDavid Ramsey 2011-12-05 18:01
Everybody lacks native USB 3.0; not a single Intel or AMD chipset supports it. Anything that has USB 3.0 now relies on NEC or Renesas controller chips.

Dunno what AMD's excuse is. Intel said Light Peak, aka Thunderbolt, would obviate the need for it, but their latest X79 chipset doesn't have that, either.
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# Nice clean lookMax Power - usb3pcicard.com 2012-02-27 08:03
I like these kits because the usb 3 ports are located at the front of the pc. The cables aren't too obstructive inside the case either.
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