by Andrey Kuznetcov , Oleg Artamonov
05/19/2008 | 05:30 PM
USB flash drives are getting cheaper and larger with each passing day. A few hundred megabytes was considered a quite nice capacity just a little while ago but now the user needs gigabytes of storage space. 16 and 32GB models are already available, yet it is 4GB flash drives that enjoy highest demand as they have an optimal price/capacity ratio.
This roundup covers about three dozens of 4GB flash drives so that you could choose the one that meets your specific requirements to the exterior design, ergonomics, and performance.
It is a classic flash drive with a detachable cap. The meshed cap slips off just too easily and may get lost. You can put the cap on the drive’s butt-end at work but it doesn’t sit firm there. The holes in the mesh allow using a neck strap. The drive has a green activity indicator and comes without any accessories.
Size: 57.7 x 17.1 x 8.0mm; weight: 8.2g.
The design of this flash drive can also be called classic. It has a long case and a retractable connector. The C702 looks nice and can be easily opened with one hand. The case is somewhat flimsy, though. Its plastic bends and squeaks if you squeeze it a little in your fingers. Well, this is hardly a serious drawback unless you compare the C702 with shockproof models.
The drive has a bright blue activity indicator. It is visible under any kind of ambient lighting. The drive comes without accessories.
Size: 62.8 x 22.0 x 8.7mm; weight: 10.4g.
The N702 features perhaps the most extraordinary design among the drives included into this review. Its USB connector moves forward when you turn the back part of the case by 180 degrees. This is a very elegant, compact and ergonomic solution.
The drive lacks an activity indicator. The neck strap is fastened to it in an original manner – you won’t be able to replace the default strap if you cut or lose it.
Two neck straps of different lengths are included with the drive.
Size: 42.2 x 16.4 x 7.9mm; weight: 5.9g.
This is a turnable mechanism: the central part of the case should be first pulled out by about one centimeter and then turned around by 180 degrees. It is not quite an easy procedure because the fastening is stiff and you can’t take a good grip of the sleek sides of the drive with your fingers. Frankly speaking, this model would look better with an ordinary cap.
The activity indicator is green. It’s not very bright, yet quite visible. There are no accessories to this drive.
Size: 61.4 x 19.9 x 14.2mm; weight: 12.6g.
It is a compact flash drive with a retractable connector. The rough plastic surface helps you hold the drive in your fingers securely but doesn’t feel nice – it resembles some cheap hard rubber to the touch. The connector’s mechanism is rather stiff. You can open the drive with one hand, but it’s easier with both hands.
The drive lacks an activity indicator. Included with the drive is a very short cord – to wear it on your finger we wonder?
Size: 38.2 x 22.3 x 7.8mm; weight: 10.5g.
The drive has a black plastic case with amber pieces. It has an activity indicator and two holes for a neck strap. The AH220 comes with a software CD and a quick start guide.
Size: 61.6 x 16.9 x 10mm; weight: 7g.
The plastic case of this drive is colored a translucent violet and an opaque white. The case has a hole for a neck strap and a LED indicator of operation mode.
The kit contains a CD with software (including Apacer Compression Explorer for compressing, unzipping and protecting files with a password) and a quick start guide.
Size: 68 x 15 x 10.9mm; weight: 7g.
Flash drives with rubber cases are traditionally positioned as highly tolerant to harsh environments although it is an arguable point. An ordinary plastic or aluminum case can be waterproof too, but the lack of a robust carcass may eventually lead to fatal microcracks in the PCB or in the soldering of the USB connector as the drive is bent a little, for example when you put it into your jeans pocket. Moreover, flash drives with rubber cases are all very large.
The cap is made from rubber, too. It can be easily lost. The activity indicator is blue and not very bright.
A neck strap is included with the drive.
Size: 73.4 x 20.8 x 10.6mm; weight: 15.8g.
A classically designed drive in a long square plastic case. The case is white but its bottom panel is translucent showing the PCB with sticker. This doesn’t look very aesthetic.
The cap is detachable. It can be put on the drive’s butt-end but a neck strap, if you’ve attached one, doesn’t allow doing that. The RUF2-S has a second hole for a strap – on the cap. The cap sits firmly on the case, so you are unlikely to lose the drive while wearing it like this.
The activity indicator is green. Its visibility is rather poor.
A short USB extension cord is included with the drive.
Size: 75.5 x 18.2 x 9.0mm; weight: 15.8g.
Many, many years ago there was a “Memory in Black” flash drive from PQI with a capacity of 64 megabytes – it was quite a sufficient storage then. It had a big black plastic case that would block the neighboring USB port, a black glossy cap, and a chrome clip for wearing the drive in the pocket of your shirt or jeans.
Filemate provides this flashback with its 4GB Klix model that resembles the mentioned PQI. The Klix is somewhat more angular and lacks a steel clip which used to enliven the rather boring appearance of the PQI drive.
Unfortunately, we can’t say anything good about the exterior design of this device. Its case is large and wide, blocking the neighboring USB ports. Its appearance is dull, and the loosely fastened PCB rattles inside.
There is an indicator window in the case but it wasn’t alive in our sample of the drive.
The Klix comes without accessories.
Size: 74.9 x 22.1 x 10.3mm; weight: 11.1g.
It is a small and light flash drive with a turnable cap. The cap doesn’t protect the connector from dust and dirt as well as from mechanical damage because it is not robust itself. The can opens easily and can even do so accidentally in your pocket.
The activity indicator is red and dull and half-covered with the cap. It is almost not visible as the consequence.
The drive comes with a small loop for a neck strap. The strap should be purchased separately.
Size: 44.5 x 15.4 x 10.2mm; weight: 6.3g.
This flash drive opens up like a flick knife. The idea is good but the implementation is not. The plastic looks cheap. The color combination is not appealing, especially the large gray ring for a strap. The texture of the surface is not good, either. It is also rather hard to open the drive with one hand – the turning mechanism is too stiff.
The activity indicator is blue and not very bright. The drive has a read-only switch, which is quite a rare thing for a modern model.
A large metallic ring is included with the drive, obviously to wear it on your key-ring.
Size: 65.8 x 22.8 x 11.1mm; weight: 12.8g.
Touted as a super-reliable data storage, this device features a large massive case colored black and gray. The case is plastic with metallic side inserts. The cap is detachable. You can put it on the back end of the drive to avoid losing it. The cap sits firmly on the drive. The blue indicator is not very bright, yet perfectly visible. The manufacturer claims the closed drive to be able to survive a submersion into water 1 meter deep.
The drive is quite handy if its size and weight suit you. It comes without accessories.
Size: 78.0 x 21.9 x 12.1mm; weight: 24.9g.
This shining steel case doesn’t appeal to us because it is too large. In fact, the JumpDrive is one of the largest in this review. Its case is very thick. The large hole for a strap doesn’t make it any more elegant, either. On one hand, you can put the cap on the back of the drive so that it didn’t get lost. But on the other hand, you won’t be able to do that if you’ve attached a strap to the drive.
To be exact, the case is not all made from metal. It has a plastic base and metallic halves of the external casing.
The blue activity indicator is mild and sunken deep into the case. Its visibility is poor as the consequence.
The drive comes without accessories.
Size: 76.8 x 22.3 x 11.1mm; weight: 23.2g.
It’s one of the lightest and smallest drives with a retractable connector but it is not very handy. Its sleek case wants to slip out of your fingers and you have to apply an effort to fix the connector open. The case seems to be flimsy. We’ve got an apprehension it can just crack into two halves if you accidentally brush against it with your hand, which is quite possible if you’ve got a notebook.
The red activity indicator is bright and conspicuous. A neck-strap is included with the drive.
Size: 51.4 x 17.1 x 8.2mm; weight: 4.9g.
The rubber drives from OCZ break every record in terms of size. The problem is not even about the inconvenience of wearing and using such large devices (especially with a notebook) but about the insufficient rigidity of the case. The case bends easily and this may damage the drive’s internals eventually.
The cap can be removed quite easily. A special gag on a chain can be found in the kit – you can put the cap on it when you’re using the drive.
The activity indicator is amber.
Size: 81.2 x 21.2 x 10mm; weight: 18.5g.
As opposed to the inconspicuous black-and-blue coloring of the ATV model, the ATV Turbo is for those who prefer gaudy colors. Its large case is painted yellow with black stripes.
Otherwise, the ATV Turbo is the same as the ordinary ATV. Particularly, its long case is still prone to bending.
The activity indicator is amber.
Size: 81.2 x 21.2 x 10.0mm; weight: 18.5g.
That’s a classic sample of a flash drive. The case has a metallic casing and plastic butt-ends. The amber-colored activity indicator is very bright. The cap slips off the drive easily and is also easy to lose because there is no way to fasten it on a strap or at the back of the drive.
A neck-strap is included with the drive.
Size: 68.8 x 16 x 8.1mm; weight: 11.8g.
The main drawback of this rubberized drive is its tight-fitting cap. The case is not very neatly manufactured, showing a coarse seam between its two halves. The good news is that the kit contains a special rubber gag that helps you avoid losing the cap. The red activity indicator is so dull that you almost can’t see it under daylight.
Besides the gag, a neck-strap is included with the drive.
Size: 72.0 x 25.6 x 12.6mm; weight: 16.8g.
This flash drive owes its large size to the integrated dual-port USB hub. Its usefulness is rather questionable, though. Perhaps people who often work from the flash drive could use this feature but it would be logical for this model to support U3 technology then. And if you but rarely use your flash drive, it is handier to buy an ordinary hub and connect it permanently to your PC when you feel a lack of USB ports.
The detachable cap has a hole for a strap – you can attach it to the drive so that it didn’t get lost. The strap itself is not included, though.
The Yego EZdrive didn’t work on all the PCs we’ve got in our labs. On some machines, the OS would identify the integrated hub but could see no flash drive proper.
Size: 69.3 x 43.6 x 15.0mm; weight: 19.9g.
This large and heavy drive is not very handy at everyday use but it is a perfect gift for lovers of powerful motorcycles. As opposed to most gift products that only feature a special coloring of the case (e.g. the nacreous Transcend V90), the Extreme Ducati Edition is not only painted red but also stylized to look like a racing bike.
This drive opens up in two steps: the internal plastic shell comes out first and then the USB connector proper emerges out of it. You can open the Ducati easily with two fingers even.
There is no special name on the package with this drive, only its speed rating, but it really deserves a proper name. It features a nice classic design with a combination of gray and black together with silvery text. The drive looks cute overall. The tiny sticker with the capacity rating spoils the impression somewhat but you can just tear it off. The case is made from metal with plastic pieces at the ends. It seems robust enough.
The cap is detachable. It holds firm, yet is not very hard to take off. You can’t put it on the drive’s butt-end at work.
The red activity indicator is bright and conspicuous. It highlights the butt-end of the case.
The drive comes without accessories.
Size: 66.7 x 17.0 x 7.0mm; weight: 10.5g.
Representing a simple design, this flash drive is both beautiful and handy. The case is made from plastic, including the chrome-plated piece. The connector is pulled out by means of a slider. You can easily open this drive with one hand. The connector is fixed securely in the open position and cannot fold up when you plug it into the USB port. The activity indicator is blue, small, and not very bright.
A potential drawback, the connector can get dusted eventually. It is a common problem of all flash drives with a retractable connector. On the other hand, the device is practical because you cannot lose its cap – it just doesn’t have one.
The box contains a neck strap and a disc with drivers for Windows 98 SE, Transcend software and user manual.
Size: 64.0 x 21.6 x 10.4mm; weight: 10.7g.
This drive has an unusual appearance due to its translucent green plastic case. A LED indicator is placed inside the case. The drive comes with a software CD and a user manual.
Size: 58.3 x 17.3 x 8.8mm; weight: 8g.
This flash drive looks elegant, the green band in the middle being the indicator of the drive’s capacity. The metallic case ensures higher robustness. The cap is locked on the drive, so you can’t lose it accidentally. A blue indicator of operation mode is at the drive’s butt-end.
The kit contains a metallic chain, a quick start guide, a napkin to clean the device, and a mini-CD with software. The drive itself contains a user manual, drivers, and the JetFlash Elite software suite.
Size: 49.5 x 15.8 x 7.4mm; weight: 15g.
We used the following test programs:
The testbed was configured like follows:
Besides the drives tested for this review we include the results of a few drives we had tested earlier. They are marked Blue in tables. You can read about ome of them in our last year's roundup:
We’ll start out with the synthetic IOMeter benchmark. This pattern measures the drive’s sequential read and write speed on data blocks of different size (from 0.5 to 1024KB). The table shows all the results we’ve got and the diagram shows the maximum speed for each drive.
There is a leading group of five flash drives that show similar speeds, about 33MBps. Four more models made it to 30MBps. Ss many as 14 models could not reach 20MBps even. What is surprising, the Transcend JetFlash 185 is among the slowest here. In our previous test session, the 2GB JetFlash 185 delivered an acceptable read speed and a superb write speed.
The JetFlash 185 is higher in the table at writing, yet it doesn’t show any records, being twice slower than the leader. The ATP ToughDrive, Super Talent 200x and A-Data C702 have dropped out of the group of leaders of the previous test. All of them are quite fast, yet there is a large gap towards the faster models. Note also the huge difference between the leaders and the losers: the fastest drive was 2.5 times as fast as the slowest one in the read test but now the difference is fivefold!
The average read/write response time is measured in a 10-minute test to read/write random-address 512-byte data blocks at a request queue of 1.
Every drive has a low response time at reading. The only exception is the OCZ Rally 2. It is a surprise because this drive did quite well in the sequential read and write tests.
As usual, there is a large variation of results in the write response test. There are few surprises here, though. The Apacer drives are the slowest and they were not fast in the previous tests, either. The leaders of the write test are on top again. Take note that the OCZ Rally 2 is in the top ten.
Although the discussions about ReadyBoost technology integrated into Windows Vista are far from being over, we can’t but check the drives out for their support of ReadyBoost. To remind you, the flash drive must have a capacity of 256MB to pass this test. Moreover, it has to deliver a speed of 2.5MB/s when reading random-address 4KB data blocks and a speed of 1.75MB/s when writing random-address 512MB data blocks. We performed this test using IOMeter. In the diagrams below blue marks the results that comply with the ReadyBoost requirements and pink marks the results that do not comply with them.
The poor results of the Apacer drives might be expected because of their rather low performance in the previous tests. The OCZ Rally 2 is quite a disappointment but it already had a very poor result in the read response test.
The Kingston DataTraveler Secure and A-Data PD10 are the best drives in this test.
Five more models join the group of losers in the write speed test. And about ten drives show very modest results, not higher than 3MBps. Compare them to the leaders: the two models from OCZ and one Lexar easily overtook the 12MBps barrier. These are not just good results – the numbers are two times higher than in the random read test!
FC-Test will help us examine the flash drives under real-life conditions. The program 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.
There are three leaders at writing 1MB files: Super Talent 200x, OCZ Rally 2 Turbo and OCZ ATV Turbo. Alas, most of the drives could not reach a speed of 10MBps even. The RiData Yego EZdrive has a fantastically low speed.
The speeds vary less when the drives read 1MB files, yet the leader is 2.5 times as fast as the slowest drive. The top four includes the Super Talent 200x, Patriot Xporter, Lexar JumpDrive and A-Data C702. And there are five more drives that deliver a write speed higher than 30MBps.
About half of the drives are slower than 20MBps. On the other hand, none of them is slower than 10MBps.
Each drive has a higher write speed when the size of the files is increased to 10 megabytes, but there are no changes in the standings. The RiData Yego EZdrive is again the slowest of all, with an almost tenfold gap from the leaders.
The size of the files doesn’t affect the read speed much, but we see every drive speed up a little. We’ve got the same leaders and losers, though.
Every drive accelerates a little more when writing a single 100MB file, but the standings are overall the same. The Super Talent 200x is in the lead, followed by two Turbo series drives from OCZ. The SanDisk Ducati, Buffalo RUF2-S, Kingston DT Secure and Patriot Xporter are somewhat slower than the leaders. The RiData Yego EZdrive can’t leave its last place although it is very close to the A-Data C701.
There are but minor changes in the leading group and no changes at all among the three slowest devices.
The second version of FC-Test uses a more accurate measurement method, yet its results are often similar to those of the first version.
The Super Talent 200x, the winner of the previous test, is inferior to the two Turbo drives from OCZ but the gap is small. The speeds are considerably lower starting from the sixth position. The RiData drive habitually takes last place being ten times slower than the leader and two times slower than the closest opponent.
There is a smaller difference between the drives at reading. The drives from Lexar, A-Data and Corsair join the group of leaders. Note that the Transcend JetFlash 185 is average in terms of writing and poor at reading although its 2GB version performed most successfully in our previous test session.
Most of the drives accelerate when the file size is increased to 10 megabytes. We’ve got the same pair of leaders, OCZ’s ATV Turbo and Rally 2 Turbo, but the speed lowers rapidly starting from third place. The Super Talent 200x even gets somewhat slower with the larger files. The gap between the first and last place has diminished because the RiData has sped up. It cannot leave its last place, though.
The increased size of the files doesn’t affect the results of the read test much. We’ve got the same leaders and losers.
Most drives add about 1MBps to their speed when writing one 100MB file. It has no effect on the standings, though. OCZ’s Turbo drives are still the leaders, followed by the Kingston DataTraveler Secure and Buffalo RUF2-S. At the bottom of the diagram the RiData Yego EZdrive manages to leave last place.
There is almost no difference between the top five drives when reading one large file. Overall, we have the same leaders and losers again.
From a performance point of view, this test session produced the following leaders: Super Talent 200x, Buffalo RUF2-S, Patriot Xporter, OCZ ATV Turbo and OCZ Rally 2 Turbo. All of them had superb results at both reading and writing files and easily passed the Vista ReadyBoost compliancy check.
By the way, you may be wondering why we perform the ReadyBoost check at all if the technology itself is rather dubious. Well, as opposed to most other tests which require a high speed of sequential reading or writing, the ReadyBoost test operates with random requests. The most common application of flash drives – using them as portable storage – demands a high linear speed but there is one application, besides ReadyBoost, which needs a high random access speed. We mean using flash drives for storing applications. You can just plug your flash drive into a USB port of any PC and access the programs you’ve brought with you. This usage is becoming more popular and is targeted by U3 technology which is supported by some of the tested drives and by software collections such as PortableApps. The random access speed is important when you start your applications right from the flash drive because it largely determines the effective performance of such applications.
Thus, if you plan to use your flash drive mainly for carrying files, you should consider the FC-Test results in the first place. But if you are going to launch applications from the drive, you should take a look at the IOMeter/ReadyBoost test.
An example of the difference between these tests is the OCZ Rally 2 model which showed very good sequential speeds but failed the ReadyBoost and random access tests. For comparison, the OCZ Rally 2 Turbo is among the leaders in both cases.
The Transcend JetFlash 185 needs a special mention. The 2GB version of this drive showed a very good read speed and a record-breaking write speed in our previous test session but the 4GB model is not that good. Moreover, it is among the slowest three drives in terms of read speed. So, be careful when reading through test results: the numbers only apply to the particular model rather than to the entire series.
As for the losers, the RiData Yego EZdrive, A-Data C701 and LG Mini Retractable are the slowest drives in this test session, they performed poorly in every test. Their exterior design isn’t that impressive, either. In our opinion, the C701 is simple and inexpensive-looking, the Mini Retractable is not convenient to use, and the EZdrive is too large. They can hardly appeal much to the potential customer.