by Andrey Kuznetcov
01/05/2007 | 10:45 AM
Notwithstanding the ever-increasing speed of USB flash drives, there are still a number of devices selling that may disappoint you with their performance. They may differ dramatically from what you can expect after reading reviews of the most recent models. Why? Because transitioning to new technologies isn’t accomplished in a moment. Some of the production facilities are still turning out flash memory chips and controllers that are not up to today’s requirements anymore.
These electronic components are widely used by manufacturers from South-East Asia who often omit to declare their real characteristics or any characteristics at all. This review is intended to cast some light upon this situation. We’ll try to find out what USB flash drive is indeed the fastest at practical use.
You can also check out our USB Flash Drives Roundup with 1GB Storage Capacity. Part I for more solutions.
The design of this drive betrays the manufacturer’s desire to create as small a device as possible. And they did create it by making the drive foldable. The USB connector is to be flipped back from the miniature plastic case painted a lilac hue. The drive supports USB 2.0. Its dimensions are 34x22x11mm.
It comes with a USB cable, a small loop (to wear the device on the hand, probably), and a miniature CD that contains drivers, a user manual and Format and Lock utilities. The former program is for formatting and partitioning the drive; one partition can be protected with a password. It also allows making the drive bootable. The Lock program is for controlling access to the private area.
This device comes to retail at an average price of $33.
This device differs visually from others of the same type. Its rather large cardboard box is obviously designed so as to make the drive a possible gift. The box lid is fastened with a magnet. The drive itself lies inside on a black velvety tray. There are two paper inserts with fancy hieroglyphics that are to be put under the transparent plastic of the drive’s case. The cap is embellished with a stylized picture of a dragon. There’s a hole in the case for a neck cord. The drive supports USB 2.0. It measures 70x19x10mm and weighs 12g.
The device comes with a USB cable, a neck cord, a software CD (its contents are the same as with the previous drive), and two paper inserts for the case.
The average retail price of the drive is $34.
The case is made of silver-gray plastic. There is the model’s name on one side. The USB connector is inside the drive case under a translucent plastic cap. To use the drive, you should pull and shift the cap aside. The USB connector is moved forward by means of a latch on one side of the case. On the other side, there is a place to fasten a cord. The drive is equipped with a LED indicator of operation mode. The Handy Steno HA202 family includes models ranging in capacity from 256MB to 4GB. The manufacturer declares a max read speed of 15MB/s and a max write speed of 10MB/s. The drive supports USB 2.0; its dimensions are 70x19x11mm. Its weight is 15g.
This drive comes with a quick start guide, USB cable, cord, and a miniature CD with a user manual, disc management utility and drivers. The management utility allows formatting the drive, making it bootable, protecting access to files and folders with a password. Data can be stored in compressed form, if desired.
The average retail price of the drive is $33.
This is an example of a classic flash drive design. The case is made of gray metal with a black edging. The surface of the case is rough so that the drive didn’t slip off your fingers. There’s a blue LED indicator of operation mode on the case. The hole at the reverse side of the case is for a cord to carry the drive about. The manufacturer declares maximum read and write speeds of 24MB/s and 10MB/s, respectively, for this device. The drive supports USB 2.0 and its key features are a waterproof case and support for 256-bit AES encryption. The dimensions of the device are 78x23x12mm.
With this drive you also get software (on the drive itself) and a transportation cord. The MyDataZone program is for formatting and partitioning the drive. One partition can be protected with a password. The MyTraveler utility provides an interface to the drive’s functions such as data synchronization, protection of the drive against writing, entering a password for the private area, etc.
The average retail price of this drive is $55.
The rather small case of this drive is made of translucent black plastic. There’s an orange LED indicator of operation mode inside. The cap has a clip for fastening the drive on your pocket. There’s a hole for a cord on the drive’s end opposite to the connector. The product family the drive belongs to includes models ranging from 128MB to 2GB in capacity. The device supports USB 2.0. Its dimensions are 63x17x10.5mm; its weight is 7g.
You only get a transportation cord with this drive; its average retail price is $33.
The pink-colored metal case has a matte surface and lies smugly in the hand. There are translucent plastic pieces on the ends of the drive. It is also equipped with a yellow-orange LED indicator. The cap fits very firm. The family includes models from 256MB to 2GB in capacity. The drive supports USB 2.0. Its dimensions are 68x19x9mm; its weight is 12g.
You get the following with this device: a USB cable, transportation cord, USBNB program (on the drive itself), and Quick Start guide.
The average retail price of this drive is $38.
The black box with the manufacturer’s symbol and name looks cute by itself. It contains a bulletproof drive whose small barrel-shaped case is made of rather thick metal – it’s hard to imagine how it may be broken. So, this is going to be a nice gift for people who live an active life. The cap is to be unscrewed rather than pulled out, which should make the drive hermetic. The dual-layer case carries an artistic ornament that looks like those on ancient Greek vases. This ornament is also functional as its relief gives you a reliable finger-hold. An impressive metal chain with a clasp and a key-ring is attached to the top of the cap.
The i-Disk BulletProof series includes models ranging in capacity from 128MB to 2GB (that’s the capacity of our sample) and supports USB 2.0. The manufacturer declares a max data-transfer rate of 20MB/s, but mentions a Premium version of the drive that has a data-transfer rate of 40MB/s. Data on the drive can be protected with a password and/or encrypted. You can also use pre-recorded or user-defined unique IDs and switch the drive into read-only mode.
The average retail price of the drive is $98.
The elegant black aluminum case has barely noticeable “ribs” on the sides. There’s a ring for a cord on the case. This series includes models from 128MB to 2GB in capacity. A max read speed of 12MB/s and a max write speed of 7MB/s are specified. The drive supports USB 2.0 and measures 76.4x19.4x10mm.
It comes with a wear cord.
The average retail price of the drive is $42.
The small case is made of black plastic with a velvety rough surface so that your fingers didn’t slide off. The cap on the USB connector is non-detachable and can be turned by 180 degrees. The case has a hole for a cord. The drive supports USB 2.0, measures 44x19x10.1mm and weighs 4.5g.
The drive comes with a transportation cord.
The average retail price of the drive is $45.
This drive from Sony is one of the most originally designed devices in this review. The manufacturer tried to make it as small as possible. In fact, it is just large enough for you to hold it with two fingers. You have to spend some time getting used to using it – connecting it to a USB port may not seem an obvious task at first. The MicroVault Tiny series includes models ranging from 256MB to 2GB in capacity. The drive supports USB 2.0. Its dimensions are 14.4x2.7x30mm.
The drive comes with a user manual, a sheet of stickers, and a transportation case made of a rubber-like blue translucent plastic. The case has a lock and a hole to carry the drive on a cord.
The average retail price of this device is $43.
There’s nothing extraordinary about this drive’s design. Its case is made of milk-white plastic with a blue piece on one side. A pink LED indicator is built into the case. The drive’s butt end opposite the connector has a hole for a transportation cord. The manufacturer declares a read speed of 10MB/s and a write speed of 2MB/s. The drive supports USB 2.0. Its dimensions are 61x18.6x9.8mm; its weight is 10g.
The following is enclosed with the drive: a Quick Start guide, a transportation cord, a miniature CD with mFormat, a user manual and drivers. The mFormat program can be used to create general-access and private-access partitions of the drive and to protect the private partition with a password. This utility can also make the drive bootable or use it as a lock to block the PC for a while.
The average retail price of the drive is $34.
The case is made of white nacreous plastic with a blue piece on the butt-end. The cap on the USB connector is non-detachable – you just turn it by 180 degrees to plug the drive into the USB port. The drive supports USB 2.0. Its dimensions are 57x18x7mm
You get a Quick Start guide with this drive.
Its average retail price if $31.
We used the following test programs:
The testbed was configured like follows:
We will use two versions of FC-Test as we did in our previous flash drives roundup. The newer version employs a slightly changed test algorithm that ensures more stable and accurate results. So, you can compare the drives with those that we reviewed in old and recent articles published on our site.
We’ll start out with the synthetic IOMeter benchmark. This pattern measures the drive’s sequential read and write speeds on data blocks of different size (from 0.5 to 1024KB).
The first diagram shows the sequential read speed of the drives and there are two clear leaders here, the drives from Apacer and Kingston. The former looks better with large data blocks, but the latter is superior on small data blocks. The A-DATA PD3 and the Pretec ChaCha should also be distinguished. They are slower at reading than the two leaders, yet are much faster than the other models. The A-DATA PD0 and the TwinMOS R3 are the slowest flash drives in this test.
Note also that the read speed of each drive stops to grow up further after 64KB data blocks.
The sequential write diagram shows three leaders. The Apacer HA202 is the first of them, followed by the Kingston Secure. The A-DATA PD3 is third on the podium. The A-DATA PD0 and TwinMOS R3 are the slowest in this test. They produce stable, but poor results.
And here again we can see that each drive reaches its highest speed on 64KB and larger data blocks.
We’ll evaluate the speed of random read and write operations by measuring the time the drives take to perform them. The data block size is varied from 0.5 to 32768KB in this test.
The first diagram shows the time it takes to perform random reading. The smallest, i.e. the best, results are provided by the Apacer HA202 and Kingston Secure. The A-DATA PD3 and Pretec ChaCha spend somewhat more time to do random reading. The A-DATA PD0 and TwinMOS R3 are the slowest drives – and they have performed poorly in the previous test, too.
It’s quite predictable with random writing: the Apacer HA202 has the best result. Next goes the Kingston Secure. The A-DATA PD3 occupies third place. The A-DATA PD0 and TwinMOS R3 are again the slowest of all.
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 average read access time is less than 1 millisecond with four of the drives. These are PQI U339S, Kingston Secure, Apacer HA202 and Sony Tiny. The TwinMOS R3 doesn’t look bad, either. The other devices have a much higher read access time.
There is no such a big gap between the best and worst drives as in the previous test. The Apacer HA202, PQI U339S and Pretec ChaCha have low write access time. The Transcend V60 and PQI U190 have the highest write access time.
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, and 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 and the Kingston Secure is an indisputable leader here. It is far ahead of the second-best Apacer HA202. The A-DATA PD3 is third. The Transcend V60, PQI U190 and A-DATA PD0 are the three slowest drives in this test.
It is the Apacer HA202 that wins the test of reading the 100x1MB file-set. It has exchanged places with the Kingston Secure which is second here. Lower down the diagram is the Pretec ChaCha. This trio has a considerable lead over the rest of the participating drives among which there are no obvious outsiders. You can note, however, that the A-DATA PD0 and the TwinMOS R3 are the only drives that have a read speed of less than 10MB/s in this test.
The Kingston Secure proves to be the fastest of all when writing ten 10MB files, but it is very closely followed by the Apacer HA202. The difference is very small. The A-DATA PD3 takes third place again, but is considerably slower than the two leaders. The Transcend V60, PQI U190 and A-DATA PD0 again have the lowest speed of writing.
There’s a tough fight for the top place in the test of reading the 10x10MB file-set. The Apacer HA202 comes out on top, outperforming its closest rival Kingston Secure. The Pretec ChaCha is third, but is closely followed by the A-DATA PD3. The other drives have similar speeds, but the A-DATA PD0 and TwinMOS R3 are again the slowest of all.
It’s with a single 100MB file that the drives can reveal their potential in full. The Apacer HA202 takes the least time to write that file – this drive improves its speed greatly when it comes to processing fewer, but larger files. The Kingston Secure is second. The A-DATA PD3 is third and is rather far from the leaders. There are no changes at the bottom of the diagram: the Transcend V60, PQI U190 and A-DATA PD0 are still the slowest at writing.
The last diagram in this section shows the speed of reading one 100MB file. There is in fact little difference in the read speed between the file-sets we use. The Apacer HA202 outperforms the Kingston Secure and takes first place. The Pretec ChaCha is third, and the A-DATA PD3 is fourth. The other drives deliver similar performance and are considerably slower than the leaders. The A-DATA PD0 and the TwinMOS R3 still cannot accelerate even to 10MB/s.
Now we’ll check the drives out in the newest version of FC-Test.
The first diagram is about writing a hundred 1MB files. The Kingston Secure is ragingly fast here, enjoying an almost twofold advantage over its closest pursuer Apacer HA202. The A-DATA PD3 is third. There are three obvious losers here: Transcend V60, PQI U190 and A-DATA PD0.
When reading the 100x1MB file-set, the Apacer HA202 is slightly faster than the Kingston Secure. The leaders are followed by the A-DATA PD3 and the Pretec ChaCha that don’t differ much between each other. The other drives are considerably slower than the leading quartet. The A-DATA PD0 and TwinMOS R3 are the slowest in this test.
The Kingston Secure wins again as it is writing the 10x10MB file-set, but the Apacer HA202 has got closer to the leader. The A-DATA PD3 is third. The Transcend V60, PQI U190 and A-DATA PD0 look much weaker than their opponents in this test.
The diagram of reading the 10x10MB file-set shows four clear leaders. The Apacer HA202 takes first place again and is followed by the Kingston Secure. The A-DATA PD3 and Pretec ChaCha are third and fourth, respectively. The A-DATA PD0 and TwinMOS R3 are the slowest drives here.
The Apacer HA202 manages to leave the Kingston Secure behind in the test of writing a single 100MB file. Third place goes to the A-DATA PD3. The Transcend V60, PQI U190 and A-DATA PD0 are the trio of outsiders, although the Transcend makes an attempt to break away from this group.
As we’ve noted earlier, the size of the processed file has a bigger effect on the drive’s write speed than on its read speed. That’s why there are no big changes here. The Apacer HA202 is in the lead, followed by the Kingston Secure, A-DATA PD3 and Pretec ChaCha. These four again look preferable to the other devices in read speed. The A-DATA PD0 and TwinMOS R3 are the slowest.
We’ve benchmarked the real-life performance of twelve USB flash drives, but there’s one reservation we want to add. We’ve seen a few times samples of the same model taken from different production batches vary in speed characteristics. It looks like some manufacturers from Southeast Asia just take what components they have at hand when they have run short of the components they used initially. We can’t predict such changes, so our conclusion refers only to the particular samples of the USB drives we’ve actually tested.
Most users don’t really care what type of flash memory and controller the manufacturers employ in their USB drives. Users care about the final result, which is the effective performance of the device. From this point of view, the Apacer HA202 and the Kingston Secure have no rivals as they have been the best in most of our tests. The Apacer HA202 offers the highest read speed and also the highest write speed with large files. The Kingston Secure is somewhat slower in read speed, but faster when writing small and medium-sized files. So, if speed is your priority, consider these two products. The A-DATA PD3 and Pretec ChaCha may be distinguished among the remaining models. They are somewhat slower than the leaders, but you may like them for some other reason.
We’ve also discovered a few models that may cause you regret your having spent your money for them. These are A-DATA PD0, Transcend V60, PQI U190 and TwinMOS R3. Their performance is too low by today’s standards.
Besides speed, there are other factors that may affect your shopping choice, particularly a product’s design or accessories, but that’s something you should decide for yourself, basing on your personal taste. You may like the original shape of the Pretec BulletProof coupled with its “gift” box or the extremely small size of the Sony Tiny. Perhaps one of these devices has just the properties you’ve been looking for?