USB has become a daily part of our computer life. Almost any gadget or external device use the USB port to connect to your computer. Some devices also rely on our USB ports to get power or charge their battery.
Problem is that the USB ports doesn’t support true high-speed data transfers (at least until version 3 becomes generally available). Granted, USB is an ingenious way of connecting devices to your computer. It really revolutionized the home computer when it became a system standard. However, too much of a good thing, often results in sluggish computers and slooow file copying. Why’s that ?
In this article I’m going to try answer that and give you a few tips and tricks on how to improve your USB (and computer) performance and to avoid those sluggish moments.
The best tip…
Perhaps the best tip is this one: USB dependent devices that require high performance or high transfer speed need a dedicated USB port. Which means that Web-cams, or external hard-drives, should only be connected to USB ports on the main-board. As I will explain later on, connecting such devices together using hubs or switches will decrease the performance and transfer rate.
Having many devices means switching back and forth between them. And when you get sick of doing that, the most common solution is to buy a USB Hub. Even tho the better solution would be to add new USB port PCI card. Of course this being impossible on your Laptop.
Most people don’t realize that a HUB (or a switch) is just a device that divides the available bandwidth between the connected devices, much like a traffic light does at a crossroad. Each connected device get their green light for a few milliseconds, and then have to wait until their light goes green again. Having high performance devices connected to a hub will therefor slow everything down.
Don’t get me wrong, a USB hub is a great asset as long as you use it for your low-end devices, such as you memory card reader, mp3-player, USB charger etc. High-end devices such as webcams, and external hard-drives should be connected directly to the main board USB port.
Because USB runs on limited power, choosing the right USB cable will also affect the overall performance. As with your stereo, choosing the right cable will improve or reduce the quality of your output. Depending on how much money you are willing to spend, the quality of the cable can highly increase your device performance. The more expensive kinds are shielded to avoid interference from external sources. That being said, it’s not been proven that cables thats costs insane amounts of money are that much better than the cheaper models as long as they are both shielded or within a reasonable length.
Too long cables (more than 7 feet) are generally not recommended because the USB signal isn’t designed for it. This will result in data loss or slower transfer rate as the signal has to travel too far.
There are cables with “extra power” designed to improve long distance data transfer, but as a general rule – keep it short.
Readyboost was said to be the Saviour to all sluggish computers (at least that’s what Microsoft wanted us to believe). I’m not going to talk to much about it here, as I know Rich is writing an article on the subject. Readyboost may be used to improve your computers overall performance (using a high-speed flash drive) but the effect is limited on systems with more than 1 GB of RAM available.
On External Drives (and internal ones) you can improve your computers overall performance by enabling the disks writing cache. The writing cache is a sort of RAM available to the hard-drive. When enabled, data that is to be stored on the disk can be put there until the hard-drive has accessed the available space. When disabled, the computer has to wait until the hard-drive is ready to physically store the data in the available location.
NOTE! Enabling writing cache on a Flash Memory stick may improve the device performance. But it is not advised to do so unless it’s a high-speed device. Using writing cache on a Flash memory Stick (that is not designed for it) may result in data-loss or physical damage to its hardware.
- You find it in the Control Panel (System | Hardware) or by typing devmgmt.msc in the Start menu Search Field.
- Locate your hard-drive, and Right-Click it. Choose Properties
- In the Properties window, click the Policies Tab, and check to enable Writing Cache.
- Click OK to save
On Some windows versions the policies tab might use the terms “Quick Removal” and “Better Performance” instead of “Enable Writing Cahce”. Depending on the device you choose.
NOTE! If you enable Writing Cache on your USB device you MUST use the “Safely Remove Hardware notification” icon in the System Tray before disconnecting the device. Unless of course you enjoy the thrill of maybe loosing important data.
Did I miss anything? Did I forget something? If you have more tips on the subject feel free to leave your comment.