USB 3.0 vs. External Hard Disk Drives

The variety of available USB 3.0 drives keep growing day by day, but as we all know by now, not all of them are equally good. Today we are going to introduce to you another three USB 3.0 flash drives and check out their ability to compete against an external hard disk drive supporting the same exact interface.

by Dmitry Vasiliev
09/20/2011 | 12:05 PM

In our recent review we tested a couple of USB 3.0 flash drives from Kingmax and Kingston which represented the two extremities of the current model range of such products. The Kingmax failed completely at processing small files and turned out to be the slowest USB 3.0 flash drive that we know of whereas the Kingston did unprecedentedly well with small files and was good enough for others. Of course, there may be products that are better than the Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 or worse than the Kingmax ED-01 but we don't know about them as yet. Perhaps some of the USB flash drives we are going to test today will expand these limits up or down.

 

We will also include an external hard disk drive with USB 3.0 interface into our today's review. Mobile HDDs are of course superior to flash drives in storage capacity but have such downsides as larger dimensions and weight. With precision mechanisms in their design, HDDs are also more vulnerable to shocks and hits. On the other hand, external HDDs used to be superior to flash drives in the times of USB 2.0 when it came to sheer speed. So, we are interested whether things have changed with the introduction of USB 3.0.

Testing Participants

Silicon Power Blaze B10

This small and light device looks very much alike to its numerous cousins that cannot boast a blue USB connector. It has got a translucent black case with a blue activity indicator. The connector's cap cannot be fixed on the other end of the case.

The special feature of this drive is the pattern on its case that changes color depending on the drive's temperature. Although the Blaze B10 does not get very hot at work, the color of the pattern really changes from blue in idle mode to lilac at high loads. Well, the paint on the device cannot really match the sensitivity of the Touch & See sticker on the product box which allows you to test this feature: the sticker changes its color instantaneously right after you touch the circle with your finger.

The manufacturer specifies the speed of reading only and it is not very high as today's USB 3.0 drives go. The speed of writing is not declared at all, so we suspect this product to have mediocre speed characteristics. The price is indicative of the same thing. The Blaze B10 costs as much money as midrange USB 2.0 flash drives.

Transcend JetFlash 700

The Transcend JetFlash 700 looks like a copy of the Silicon Power Blaze B10, having almost the same size, weight, materials, LED indicator, specified speed, etc. The only difference is the shape of the case (but the connector's cap still cannot be put on the drive's other end) and the lack of thermochromic paint. As opposed to the Blaze B10, the JetFlash 700 is not declared to be compatible with USB 1.1 but this can hardly bother anyone today.

Of course, the manufacturer couldn't do without announcing a certain feature as a competitive advantage of the product. Here, it is the use of ultrasonic welding in the making of the case. We can't see anything special about the drive's case, though.

The more tangible advantage is that this flash drive is even cheaper than the Blaze B10.

Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 G2

The second-generation USB 3.0 product from Kingston doesn't differ from its predecessor externally except for the G2 mark in its name but its specifications are different. The new drive is about 5 grams lighter while its specified read and write speeds are 20 and 10 MB/s higher, respectively. Its power consumption is lower which is indicated by the lack of a USB splitter cable in the box. And finally, it doesn't get as hot at work at its predecessor, even though it was hotter than the rest of the tested flash drives during our tests.

The Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 G2 is priced like its first-generation cousin and costs 50% more than the other two flash drives included into this review.

Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex STAA750201

This external HDD from Seagate offers as much as 750 gigabytes of storage at a relatively cheap price (it is slightly more expensive than the 32-gigabyte Kingston USB 3.0 flash drive).

The exterior design of this model is typical of its class. It is a flat box with rounded-off corners. The case is black and the indicators are white.

 

The key distinguishing feature of Seagate's GoFlex series is that you can replace the interface cable. You can buy adapters to transform the drive into a FireWire 800 or eSATA one.

Testbed and Methods

Our testbed was configured as follows:

We installed the latest drivers from the manufacturers of our components. The tested disks were NTFS-formatted with the default cluster size.

The tested USB drives were connected to the mainboard’s back-panel USB 3.0 ports based on an ASMedia ASM1042 controller.

We used the following benchmarking tools:

There were three FC-Test patterns corresponding to three typical usage scenarios:

We also used CrystalDisk Mark for you to be able to compare your results with ours if you want. We ran each test of that benchmark five times using 1000 megabytes of test data.

Performance

CrystalDisk Mark

First of all, we want to see if there is any difference between the two USB 3.0 controllers we have at our disposal (ASMedia ASM1042 and EtronTech EJ168A). We connect a first-generation Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 to them and benchmark its performance using CrystalDisk Mark.

 

The first screenshot shows the performance of the flash drive in our previous test session when it was connected to the EtronTech controller whereas the second screenshot is about the same drive's performance with the ASMedia controller.

There is almost no difference between the two controllers in read speed but the EtronTech is faster when writing 512KB data blocks. The ASMedia is better at processing 4KB data blocks, though.

Now we can proceed to testing the new flash drives. CrystalDisk Mark goes first.


Silicon Power Blaze B10

The speed of the Blaze B10 is far from impressive. It is roughly comparable to the speed of the lackluster Kingmax ED-01 from the previous test session.


Transcend JetFlash 700

The Transcend JetFlash 700 isn't any better. It is even closer than the Blaze B10 to the Kingmax ED-01 in performance.


Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate G2

Like in the previous test session, the Kingston drive (it's from a newer generation now) is far ahead of its opponents.

Its sequential read speed is even higher than specified: almost 130 MB/s instead of the promised 100 MB/s. It is roughly 50% faster than the first-generation DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 in the other read tests.

Writing is not a strong point of this product, though. It is superior to its predecessor in sequential writing only but suffers a terrible performance hit in every other write test from CrystalDisk Mark. On the other hand, this doesn't prevent the DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 G2 from being many times as fast as its opponents in terms of writing small and medium-sized files.


Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex STAA750201

The external HDD with USB 3.0 interface is overall faster than the first pair of USB flash drives we've just tested, yet the latter are better in terms of reading small and medium-sized files.

The Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex doesn't look so good when compared to the Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 G2. Being ahead of the flash drive in sequential writing or when writing 512KB data blocks, the external HDD falls behind its opponent in the tests of reading as well as when writing small files.

FC-Test

Now let's check the drives out in FC-Test. Running a little ahead, we can tell you that it produces the same general picture as CrystalDisk Mark except for one nuance.

The Kingston beats the opposition in the read test and is followed by the external HDD from Seagate. The remaining flash drives deliver similar performance, the Transcend being just a little better than the Silicon Power at reading.

The picture isn't so clear in the test of writing although we've got the same pairs of leaders and losers.

The Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate G2 is slower than the external HDD when writing a single large file, but goes ahead with medium and small files.

Oddly enough, the second-generation Kingston performs very differently in the write tests from CrystalDisk Mark and FC-Test. Compared to the first-generation model we tested in our previous review, it is slower in every write test from CrystalDisk Mark except for sequential writing. FC-Test, which is closer to real-life applications, produces a completely different picture: the second-generation model is somewhat faster than its predecessor in each mode.

The Silicon Power is ahead of the Transcend in terms of sequential writing but the latter is better with small and medium-sized files. The Transcend is overall the faster drive in this pair.

Compared to the Kingmax ED-01 from our previous test session, these products are somewhat slower when writing a single large file, but faster with small and medium-sized files where the Kingmax failed completely. This may be due to the difference in the USB 3.0 controllers, though (the ASMedia controller proved to be faster than the EtronTech when writing small files to a fast flash drive, but we guess we should leave this topic for a comprehensive review of USB 3.0 controllers).

Conclusion

The Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 G2 is surely the star product of this review. It proved to be superior to the other two USB 3.0 flash drives in every parameter and could even challenge the external HDD. So if you used to prefer portable HDDs for their speed rather than storage capacity, it's time to switch to modern flash drives which deliver the same performance but are much easier to handle. Rather large for a flash drive, the DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 G2 is still much smaller than an external HDD.

The Transcend JetFlash 700 and Silicon Power Blaze B10 can also be considered as rather fast portable storage media if you don't mind their low write speed, especially with medium-sized and small files. These two are quite fast at reading files of any size and do not slow down much when writing large files. They are affordable and comparable to ordinary USB 2.0 products in price. Somewhat faster and cheaper, the Transcend JetFlash 700 may seem more appealing than the Silicon Power Blaze B10. But again, you must be aware of their ambiguous speed characteristics. They are fast when reading or when writing large files, but are no better than regular USB 2.0 flash drives when writing small files. They were also inferior in speed to the external HDD.