10 USB Flash Drives Roundup

The manufacturers have made some progress since we last tested USB flash drives in our labs. Almost all major brands have mastered dual-channel memory controllers and large-capacity memory chips. Today we will look at popular USB drives with 1GB storage capacity from Apacer, A-Data, Kingston, OCZ and Transcend.

by Andrey Kuznetcov
10/28/2006 | 01:04 PM

The manufacturers have made some progress since we last tested USB flash drives in our labs. Almost all major brands have mastered dual-channel memory controllers and large-capacity memory chips. With the ongoing introduction of “thinner” tech processes into flash memory manufacture, the cost of chips is getting lower at such a fast rate that Moore’s law may look retarded in comparison. Talking about absolute capacity records, Pretec has recently announced a USB drive that can store as much as 16 gigabytes of data!

 

But for our today’s tests we took drives with a decent and popular capacity of 1GB from such renowned firms as Apacer, A-Data, Kingston, OCZ and Transcend. The last brand is represented by four drive models.

Now let’s learn more about the drives to be tested.

Testing Participants

Apacer Handy Steno HT203 200x 1GB (AP-HHR1002D2G)

This model continues the Handy Steno HT203 drive family. It doesn’t differ externally from its predecessors, marked as 133x.

The long case of the drive is made of transparent plastic and is originally shaped. The cap on the USB connector is attached to the case with a thin metal clip. The yellow LED indicator of operation mode is located in the case, closer to the middle. Some design nuances can be mentioned here: the case extends towards the side opposite to the connector, making it easy to fish the drive from the pocket. The wire clip facilitates the process, too. The big length of the case may not be very convenient, though, and the glossy plastic surface of the drive doesn’t look so fine after having been in your fingers a while. Your fingerprints will be too easily readable on it.

What distinguishes this drive from its predecessors is its increased data-transfer rate. It is marked as 200x. The manufacturer specifies a max read speed of 30MB/s and a max write speed of 18MB/s. The Handy Steno HT203 series includes models with a capacity of 512MB, 1GB, 2GB and 4 GB. The drive supports USB 2.0.

The accessories include an elegant USB cradle, a multilingual quick start guide, and a miniature CD.

The CD contains a driver, a user manual and Flash Disk Utility. The latter can be used to format the drive, make it bootable, compress files on it or protect them with a password.

The average retail price of this device is $40.

Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition DTII+M/1GB

The compact case of this drive is made of gray plastic that looks like a metal. The coarse black plastic inserts in the sides prevent your fingers from slipping off the device. There is a shiny cover piece on the face side of the drive with the name of the manufacturer and a blue LED indicator of operation mode. Two shiny cover pieces on the reverse side of the device show the name of the model and its capacity.

The Data Traveler II Migo Edition series includes drives with a storage capacity of 256MB, 512MB, and 1, 2 and 4GB. The manufacturer declares a read speed up to 19MB/s and a write speed up to 13MB/s. The drive is equipped with a USB 2.0 interface. Its dimensions are 67.7 x 20.8 x 9.0mm; its weight is 11.3g.

The drive comes with a quick start guide, a neck cord, and software (stored on the drive itself).

We’ve already reviewed this model on our site, but the results of the tests you’ll see below suggest that the manufacturer has quietly upgraded the product without changing the numbers in its specs.

The software pack consists of Migo Software and Secure Traveler with accompanying manuals in PDF format. The former program allows the user to store important personal data (from Microsoft Outlook) on the drive and access them on other computers. The owner of the drive will have access to his/her e-mail accounts and will be able to receive and send e-mail letters. The correspondence will be stored right on the flash drive, so you can process it later without having Internet access. The Migo program allows using your personal preferences in Microsoft Internet Explorer, namely Favorites, Cookies, History and Home page. While working not at your own PC, your personal data are stored on the flash drive and are kept secure in three ways: 1) all the information about the websites you visit is deleted, 2) you can safely work with Word, Excel and PowerPoint files located on the drive and create new files, and 3) the names of the recently used files (Start → My Recent Documents) will be deleted on your exiting Migo.

The Secure Travel utility protects your confidential data by creating two zones on the drive, for general and private access. You’ll need a password to work with the data in the private zone.

The drive sells at $33 on average.

Kingston Data Traveler Elite DTEP/1GB

The second drive from Kingston is larger and differently shaped. Its gray plastic case with a metallic shimmer is curved in at the middle and extends towards the ends. The two inserts of black rough plastic on the drive’s sides help hold it tight in the fingers. The manufacturer’s name is embossed on the top of the drive. There is a blue LED indicator there, too. The model name and capacity are printed at the bottom of the case. The cap is somewhat unhandy. It has small juts to hold fast on the case, but they make it difficult to put the cap on and take it off.

The Data Traveler Elite family includes models with capacities of 256KB, 512KB, 1GB, 2GB and 4GB. The manufacturer declares a read speed up to 24MB/s and a write speed up to 14MB/s. The drive supports USB 2.0. Its dimensions are 77.4 x 22.1 x 10.1mm; the weight is 11.3g.

The drive comes with a neck cord and software (stored on the drive itself). The software bundle includes MyTraveler and TravelerSafe+ utilities and their manuals in PDF format.

With the MyTraveler program you can organize your data on the drive and synchronize them with a PC. You can also specify preferences that would evoke certain actions when the Data Traveler Elite drive is connected. Particularly, you can visually control the drive via a console designed like a small LCD display. It shows the total capacity of the drive and the amount of free space on it. It also displays icons that denote restricted-access zones and read-only mode. The console menu gives you access to advanced options like setting up a password for the personal zone, enabling read-only mode, synchronizing all the folders, including My Favorites and My Documents, and creating personal folders.

The TravelerSafe+ utility allows to create a special zone on the drive where password-protected confidential data can be stored.

The average retail price of the drive is $56.

Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo (USM1GEX)

Micro Vault series drives feature an original design that sets them apart from other products. Here, the visible part of the case and the cap are made of ivory-white plastic. They meet each other exactly in the middle so that the circle gives you a view of a part of the drive that is made of translucent brown plastic. On one side of the drive you can see its capacity marked, on the other, the interface. There is a green LED indicator under the circle. The cap with the manufacturer’s name snaps in place very tight, so you are unlikely to lose it. A small neck cord can be attached to the cap.

As far as I could gather from the manufacturer’s website, the Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo series includes 1GB and 512MB models with declared read and write speeds of 28MB/s and 18MB/s, respectively. There is a 2GB model in the series but it has different speed specs. The drive has a USB 2.0 interface. Its dimensions are 78 x 20 x 11mm; its weight is 13g.

You get a neck cord and a CD with PowerChartManager as accessories to this drive. The manufacturer’s website mentions four more programs you can use with this flash drive, but you have to download them from the Internet. These are AutoZip (to compress data on the drive), PC Lock (can temporarily block the keyboard and mouse), Password Lock (protects confidential data with a password) and AutoLogin (enables you to automatically log in to your favorite websites). It’s not quite clear why they didn’t put these programs on the included CD which comes with quite a lot of free space left. Perhaps Sony tries to promote the attendance of its website.

The PowerChartManager is intended to manage documents, files and folders stored on the flash drive. Selected files can be prepared for a PowerPoint presentation. Documents can be imported from other external drives; files can be exported, too.

The average retail price of the device is $25.

Transcend JetFlash V30 TS1GJFV30

This JetFlash V30 series drive is made of black plastic with a blue streak. The case is small and sleek, which is very handy for carrying it in your pocket. The drive has a blue LED indicator near the connector. The manufacturer and model names and the capacity of the drive are printed on the case.

The JetFlash V30 series includes models with a capacity of 512MB, 1GB, 2GB and 4GB. They are no record-breakers in terms of speed: the declared read and write speeds are 10MB/s and 2MB/s, respectively (this refers to the models from 512MB to 2GB in capacity). They have a USB 2.0 interface. The dimensions of the device are 60 x 16.5 x 8.1mm; its weight is 7g.

The drive comes with a neck cord, a quick start guide, and a miniature CD (that contains drivers, the mFormat utility, and an electronic version of the user manual).

The mFormat program can block the computer upon your enabling the PC-Clock feature. You specify the time period and the text/image to be outputted on the screen during that time. The Format option allows to format the drive and, if necessary, to partition it into two logical volumes, one for password-protected confidential data. You can also use the drive as a boot disk for the old operating systems Windows 98 SE and ME. The Login option gives you access to the protected partition.

The average retail price of the drive is $23.

Transcend JetFlash 160 TS1GJF160

This JetFlash 160 series drive is made of violet plastic. The mirror-like top part of the case shows the manufacturer name, the name of the model and its capacity. This text isn’t very readable, though. The LED indicator of operation mode is located inside the case; it shines in blue.

The JetFlash 160 series includes models with a capacity of 512MB, 1GB, 2GB, 4GB and 8GB. The manufacturer declares a read speed of 12MB/s and a write speed of 8MB for the models with capacities from 512MB to 4GB. The drive is equipped with a USB 2.0 interface. The dimensions of the drive are 61 x 18.6 x 9.8mm; its weight is 10g.

The device comes with a neck cord, a quick start guide, and a miniature CD that contains drivers, the mFormat utility, and an electronic version of the user manual.

The mFormat program supplied with this drive has a different interface than the version you get with the drive described in the previous section, but offers the same functionality.

The average retail price of this drive is $24.

Transcend JetFlash 168 TS1GJF168

The black plastic case of this drive has a light gray cover piece on the face side that shows the names of the model and manufacturer, the capacity, and a stylized picture of a flower. With the two previous products from Transcend, it is the color of the plastic that indicates the capacity. Here, the capacity is indicated by the flower. It is an orchid here, the symbol of woman’s beauty in Chinese culture. The drive is equipped with a red LED indicator.

The JetFlash 168 series includes models with capacities of 1, 2 and 4GB. The manufacturer declares a max read speed of 12MB/s and a write speed of 8MB/s. The drive supports USB 2.0. The dimensions of the device are 61 x 18.6 x 9.8mm; its weight is 10g.

You get a neck cord, a quick start guide and a miniature CD (contains drivers, an electronic version of the user manual and mFormat) with this device. The mFormat program is exactly the same as is included with the model described in the previous section. The contents of the CD are the same as of the CD enclosed with the JetFlash 160.

The average retail price of the drive is $24.

Transcend JetFlash TS1GJF210 FingerPrint USB Drive

Here is the most exciting model in the review. It even looks different. The cap on the USB connector is made of transparent silvery plastic and is comparable in length to the whole length of the device here. You’ll get the reason for this design solution as soon as you remove the protective cap. There is a scanning field at the top of the drive which is the feature that distinguishes this device from the rest of the models included into this review. The case is made from black plastic whereas the LED indicator is designed in such a way that it highlights the orange round insert that shows the model capacity. The insert also gives you a finger-hold when you are extracting the drive from a tight USB connector.

The JetFlash TS1GJF210 series consists of only two models, 1 and 2GB in capacity. The manufacturer declares a read speed of 9MB/s and a write speed of 8MB/s for them. The drive supports USB 2.0. Its dimensions are 70 x 23 x 11mm; its weight is 15g.

The accessories to the drive include a neck cord, a quick start guide, and a miniature CD with Repartition Tool and an electronic version of the user manual. Besides that, the software is stored on the disk itself.

The specific functions of the device show up in the way it is identified by the system. On connecting the device, there appear two new devices, a new local drive and a new removable drive (as if one more optical drive has been added to the system).

Now, let’s take a look at the software pack and the fingerprint recognition technology implemented in the drive. On your connecting it, you are automatically asked to install and set up the software. You create an identification file, enter your login and password, and then proceed to what is the most interesting part of the procedure.

You should move the mouse to point at the finger whose scan will be used for authorization purposes. After scanning the finger successfully for three times, the Master will offer to perform the same procedure for the rest of your fingers if you feel like very, very paranoid. Upon completion, a backup copy of the identification file is created. After that, the FingerPrint Application Suite will always reside in the system tray and you can evoke it from there to access its option. To work with files and to change the settings, you have to enter through the User Authorization window. This can be done in two alternative ways, by entering the login and password or by providing your fingerprint. The latter method may prove not the quickest one, by the way. You won’t be let in if you’ve pressed your finger to the sensor field wrongly and your scan has not been recognized. After successful identification, the user is given control over the passwords, i.e. over the database that contains login and password information for the websites you are registered at. Particularly, you can change the settings for automatic authentication on websites.

The program can also be used to protect files on your PC. You select the files and they will then only be accessible through the user authorization window. The protection can be removed anytime, of course. The protected files are searchable. The FingerPrint Application Suite allows you to store a list of your Internet Explorer Favorite links on the JetFlash drive. They become available in the browser when you attach the drive to a PC and launch Internet Explorer. You can also change the program’s own settings, create a backup copy of the user identification file or restore it.

The Repartition Tool can be used to resize the Private and Public partitions on the JetFlash as necessary. All the data on the drive will be lost during repartitioning. After that, the data stored in the Private area will remain invisible until the user logs in. If you don’t enter your login, the information will be stored in the Public area.

The average retail price of the drive is $41.

Testbed and Methods

We used the following test programs:

The testbed was configured like follows:

This time we’ll only be benchmarking the flash drives with IOMeter and two versions of FC-Test. The difference between the two versions is in a slightly different test algorithm that ensures more stable and accurate results.

We won’t publish the results of the synthetic AIDA benchmark whose main feature was that it produced diagrams ready to be published. Since the test conditions have been changed considerably, we won’t compare the drives with those that we have tested earlier in our labs. However, we retested the OCZ Rally and the A-DATA My Flash RB15 because the former was once a leader in performance and the latter provoked some questions from users who reported that the 256MB version of the A-DATA RB15 that we had tested in our labs differed quite greatly in speed from the 1GB version.

Performance

Intel IOMeter: Sequential Read & Write

We’ll start out with the synthetic IOMeter benchmark. The first pattern measures the sequential read and write speed of the drive on data blocks of different size (from 0.5 to 1024KB).

The first diagram shows the sequential read speed of the drives. Some graphs almost merge into one which is indicative of the high accuracy of the benchmark as well as of the fact that different manufacturers may use the same flash memory type and controller in their products. We’ve got two such pairs here: the Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition and the Apacer Handy Steno HT203, which are also the fastest in this test, and the Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo with the OCZ Rally drive that perform quite well, too. The A-DATA My Flash RB15 and the Kingston Data Traveler Elite also deliver high performance while the Transcend JetFlash TS1GJF210 FingerPrint is the slowest device here.

The sequential write diagram shows that the Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo is unrivalled in this parameter. The Apacer Handy Steno HT203 takes the second place and is followed by the Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition. The Transcend JetFlash V30 has the lowest speed.

By the way, our using different data block sizes provides us with some thinking matter. You can note that in some instances a drive’s performance increases in more than two times when the data block is doubled in size. Perhaps we hit at the request size that is the maximum the controller can process at once? This information can be used to try to maximize a drive’s performance by changing the cluster size at formatting.

Intel IOMeter: Random Read & Write

The speed of read and write operations can be evaluated by measuring the time it takes to perform them. The data block size was varied from 0.5 to 32768KB in this test.

The first diagram shows the time it takes to perform a random read operation. You can see that Transcend’s drives take the most time to do that whereas the Apacer Handy Steno HT203 and the Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition complete the operation in the smallest amount of time.

The Transcend JetFlash V30 takes the most time to perform random writing. The Apacer Handy Steno HT203 and the Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition were the quickest to perform the write operation.

Intel IOMeter: Average Read & Write Response Time

The average read/write response time is measured in a 10-minute test to read/write 512-byte data blocks with a request queue of 1.

The first diagram shows the read response time. You can see two groups of drives here. Some drives have a very low response time and they have previously had the highest sequential read speeds. The drives from the second group have much worse results.

There are two groups, too, in the write response diagram. Some of the flash drives have almost the same and low write response time. These drives have also been among the leaders in the sequential write test.

FC-Test 1.0

FC-Test will help us examine the flash drives under real-life conditions. The test writes and reads a few file-sets and measures the time it takes to perform each operation. This helps calculate the speed of the drive and see how it depends on the number and size of the processed files. We use three file-sets that differ in the size (1, 10 and 100MB) and number (1, 10, 100) of files included. Practice suggests that a 100MB file is large enough to reveal the maximum performance of a USB flash drive and using a larger file doesn’t affect the results much.

The first diagram shows the speed of writing a hundred 1MB files. This is done the quickest of all by the Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo. The Kingston Data Traveler Elite takes the second place and is followed by the Apacer Handy Steno HT203. The Transcend JetFlash V30 has the lowest speed here.

The Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition is in the lead when it comes to reading the 100x1MB file-set. The Apacer Handy Steno HT203 is second. The third-on-the-podium Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo is barely ahead of the OCZ Rally. The Transcend JetFlash TS1GJF210 FingerPrint is the worst at reading that file-set.

The flash drives deliver higher performance in general with the 10x10MB file-set, but the Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo still remains the fastest among them. The two other podium-takes are the same, too. They are the Data Traveler Elite and the Apacer Handy Steno HT203. The Transcend JetFlash V30 still cannot leave the last line of the diagram.

The Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition is the quickest at reading the 10x10MB file-set and is followed by the Apacer Handy Steno HT203. After the leader, the OCZ Rally has exchanged places with the Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo and takes the third place. The Transcend JetFlash TS1GJF210 FingerPrint is the slowest drive in this test.

When one 100MB file is being written, the Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo becomes an unrivalled leader, but the following three devices deliver almost the same speed. The Apacer Handy Steno HT203 comes second to the finish, and the Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition is third. The Transcend JetFlash V30 is much slower than the rest of the participating devices.

The Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition once again shows its superiority at writing. The Apacer Handy Steno HT203 takes the second place and the OCZ Rally is third, being just a little faster than the Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo. The Transcend JetFlash TS1GJF210 FingerPrint is again the slowest of all.

FC-Test 2.0

Here are the results produced by the second version of FC-Test.

When copying a hundred 1MB files, the Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo enjoys a big lead over the other products. The Kingston Data Traveler Elite takes the second place and is quite far from the other drives, too. It is followed by the Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition and the Apacer Handy Steno HT203 which deliver almost the same write speed. The Transcend JetFlash V30 is the slowest drive in this test.

The Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition shows the highest speed in the test of reading a hundred 1MB files. The Apacer Handy Steno HT203 is second best. The Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo is on the podium, too, leaving the OCZ Rally just one step behind. The most feature-rich device, Transcend JetFlash TS1GJF210 FingerPrint, proves to be the slowest in this test.

Now, the flash drives are copying ten files, 10MB each. As you can see, the Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo wins this test by a large margin. After the leader, the results are denser. The Kingston Data Traveler Elite is closely followed by the Apacer Handy Steno HT203 and the Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition. The Transcend JetFlash V30 is the slowest drive here.

The same set of files is being read now. This test is won by the Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition which is followed by the Apacer Handy Steno HT203. The Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo and the OCZ Rally are not so far behind the Apacer. The Transcend JetFlash TS1GJF210 FingerPrint is the slowest here.

And now one 100MB file is being written on the disk. The Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo meets no competition here. After it, there are three flash drives that have similar speeds: the Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition, Apacer Handy Steno HT203 and Kingston Data Traveler Elite. The Transcend JetFlash TS1GJF210 FingerPrint is at the very bottom of the diagram.

And finally, the same 100MB file is being read from the drive. The Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition proves its superiority at writing once again. The Apacer Handy Steno HT203 takes the second place and is followed by the OCZ Rally and the Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo that have similar speeds here.

Conclusion

It’s time to sum up everything we’ve seen in the tests. You may have noticed that the results produced by the synthetic IOMeter generally agree with what was produced by the two versions of our real-life benchmark FC-Test.

We can also see that today’s USB flash drives have improved over their predecessors in terms of read and write speed. The oldies OCZ Rally and A-DATA My Flash RB15 haven’t managed to compete with the leaders of this test session. But they are not downright bad in comparison, either.

So, we’d first like to single out the Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo model that knows no rivals when it comes to writing. The highest read speed is provided by the Kingston Data Traveler II Plus Migo Edition which has almost hit the 200x mark.

So, these are the two models you should take into consideration if you care about the speed of your flash drive. Well, other drives from this review, particularly the Apacer Handy Steno HT203, Kingston Data Traveler Elite, OCZ Rally and A-DATA My Flash RB15, deliver high performance in general, too. But which is better?

The Sony Micro Vault USM-EX Turbo seems to be the absolute leader, providing an optimal combination of high read and write speeds. Its price is moderate, too, whereas the Apacer Handy Steno HT203 costs almost the same money as the Transcend JetFlash TS1GJF210 FingerPrint, the most technically complex device in this review that combines a flash drive and a fingerprint sensor. The latter is rather slow by today’s standards, though.

We guess there is no sense in purchasing the Transcend JetFlash V30 that has a very low write speed and costs as much as the considerably faster alternatives. On the other hand, you may like its design and small dimensions. Of course, tastes differ, so you may have quite a different opinion than ours.

And one final remark. We’ve tested particular samples of the drives and we cannot guarantee that other samples of the same model will perform exactly like that because some Asian manufacturers may use different electronic components, those that they have currently in stock, in one and the same model.