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The performance
Partly because the Asus drive enclosure doesn't support either TRIM or secure erase, and partly because we were short on time, we forewent our usual storage benchmark suite. Instead, we simply ran CrystalDiskMark, which measures sequential read and write speeds. That ought to give us a nice, at-a-glance overview of USB 3.1's potential.

For our testing, we fired up Asus' AI Suite software and enabled "Turbo" mode for the USB 3.1 controller. "Turbo" mode enables the USB attached SCSI protocol, which boosts transfer speeds by "eliminating most of the round trip delays between command phases and by utilizing a multi-tasking aware architecture that [speeds up] multiple transfers," according to Asus. Here are the results:

Simply switching the drive enclosure from a USB 3.0 port to a USB 3.1 one boosts sequential read and write performance by a good 75-78%. 4K random write speeds almost triple, too, although that gain may be attributable partly to differences between the Z97 chipset's native USB 3.0 implementation and the ASMedia USB 3.1 controller.

Either way, these speeds are impressive. Yes, it does take two SSDs running in RAID-0 mode to reach them. But keep in mind that newer M.2 SSDs can surpass the SATA interface's 6Gbps limit, and nothing is stopping hardware makers from devising USB 3.1 enclosures for those.

Availability
So, when can you get your hands on some USB 3.1 hardware yourself?

The motherboard we tested today is already available at Newegg for $159.99. The same e-tailer also sells Asus' Z97-PRO(Wi-Fi ac)/USB 3.1 and Z97-Deluxe/USB 3.1, which are similarly equipped with USB 3.1 Type-A ports. If you need cables, Newegg has you covered there, as well.

As for USB 3.1 devices to plug into those boards, I don't see any listed yet—but Asus did provide us with this handy list of upcoming products:

Manufacturer name Product category Product name Availability
AKiTiO USB 3.1 device Neutrino Bridge USB3.1 March 2015
USB 3.1 device NT2 U3.1 March 2015
AVLAB Technology SIIG USB 3.1 to 2.5-inch USB 3.1 to SATA 2.5-inch Enclosure April 2015
USB 3.1 to 2.5-inch USB 3.1 to SATA 2.5-inch Enclosure Pro Q2-Q3 2015
USB 3.1 to 3.5-inch USB 3.1 to SATA 3.5-inch Enclosure April 2015
GODO 2.5-inch USB 3.1 enclosure GD25602 2.5-inch USB3.1 HDD Enclosure March 2015
2.5-inch USB 3.1 enclosure GD25702 2.5-inch USB3.1 HDD Enclosure March 2015
2.5-inch USB 3.1 enclosure GD25611 2.5-inch USB3.1 HDD Enclosure March 2015
HighPoint Technologies, Inc USB 3.1 device RS3111A March 2015
USB 3.1 device RS3112A April 2015
Iomaster 2-port host card IOT-U31A3 March 2015
SATA 2.5 enclosure IOT-3125A3 March 2015
USB 3.1 to SATA 2.5 & 3.5 adapter IOT-3123A3 April 2015
USB 3.1 to MSATA & M2 SSD enclosure IOT-U31NF March 2015
Minerva Innovation Company 3.5-inch SATA to USB 3.1 enclosure 3.5-inch SATA mSATA x 2 and M.2 x 2 to USB 3.1 Adapter (Type B) March 2015
2.5-inch SATA to USB 3.1 enclosure 2.5-inch SATA mSATA SSD x 2 to USB 3.1 External Enclosure (Type-C x 2) March 2015
2.5-inch SATA to USB 3.1 enclosure 2.5-inch SATA M.2 SSD x 2 to USB 3.1 External Enclosure (Type-C x 2) April 2015
Speed Dragon USB 3.1 device USB 3.1 to SATA 6G cable adapter March 2015
USB 3.1 device USB 3.1 PCI-Express add-on card March 2015
USB 3.1 device USB 3.1 PCI-Express add-on card March 2015
USB 3.1 device USB 3.1 to dual SATA 6G hard drive enclosure April 2015
Super Talent Technology Corporation USB 3.1 device USB3.1 Portable SSD May 2015
Sunrich Technology Adapter U-1040 USB 3.1 to SATA 6G Adapter March 2015
Adapter U-1050 USB 3.1 to SATA 6G Adapter April 2015
Hub U-1060 USB 3.1 4-Port Hub TBA
Hub U-1070 USB 3.1 7-Port Hub TBA
Docking station U-1080 USB 3.1 Docking Station TBA
Docking station U-1090 USB 3.1 Docking Station TBA
UNITEK PCI Express to 2 Ports USB 3.1 (Type-A x 2) Y-7305 March 2015
PCI Express to 2 Ports USB 3.1 (Type-A x 1, Type-C x 1) Y-7306 March 2015
USB 3.1 to SATA6G enclosure Y-3363 April 2015
USB 3.1 to SATA6G Docking station Y-3605 April 2015
USB 3.1 to 2.5-inch Dual SATA6G enclosure (Type-C) Y-3364 April 2015
USB 3.1 active extension cable Y-3001 June 2015

I don't see that nifty Type-C thumb drive Adata showed us at CES a couple months back, but I'm sure it's coming, too.

Other motherboard makers are also jumping on the USB 3.1 bandwagon. Both ASRock and MSI have boards with USB 3.1 Type-C ports in the pipeline, and Biostar is cooking up a Z97 mobo with USB 3.1 Type-A ports. Then there's Apple, whose next MacBook Air laptop is rumored to feature a single USB 3.1 Type-C connector that splits power, data, and audio/video output duties.

In short, USB 3.1 is here, and there's plenty more where it came from. Given the encouraging nature of our performance results and the awesome reversibleness of the Type-C connector, that's cause for celebration.

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