Introduction

A little under a decade ago, there was still a lot of uncertainty as to the eventual successor to the floppy drive. Iomega had tremendous success with their Zip drives, and the failed LS-120 standard offered something that looked like a floppy, but was far too expensive to be a replacement. One thing was certain: the market needed a cost-effective, high capacity successor to the aging 3.5" floppy.

An unexpected mid-term successor came with the blank CD-R. With discs falling well below $1 per CD-R, many turned effectively to disposable CDs as their floppy replacements. Although CD-Rs offered the increased capacity over floppies while maintaining a very low cost, they lacked the flexibility in that they could only be written to once.

Fast forward to today, and it's clear that the floppy is now dead. Except for loading storage drivers during Windows setup (which can still be accomplished in other non-floppy methods), the floppy drive is no longer necessary. Home networks are prevalent enough that copying files from one computer to the next doesn't require any external media, and thanks to the prevalence of the USB flash drive, carrying files between computers outside of the home is no longer a problem either.

While a single USB flash drive is no where near as cheap as floppies used to be, the capacity of today's USB flash drives is tremendous. With the largest consumer drives topping 4GB in size, and retail stores stocking 512MB and 1GB drives, it's hard to remember having to split files over multiple floppies to get them from one computer to the next. You can simply buy a ridiculously large USB flash drive and you rarely have to worry about running out of space on it.

The driving force behind improvements and adaptation of new storage technologies has almost always been cost per bit. Fundamentally, a lower cost per bit is why we use magnetic hard drives instead of solid state storage, and it is also a major reason why DRAM is used for main memory instead of faster, yet more expensive SRAM. The same cost-per-bit mentality applied to the early days of flash, and is a significant factor in why USB flash drives are so prevalent today.

The flash that is used in USB drives today is what is known as NAND flash. Because of a much more efficient layout, NAND flash can achieve greater densities than NOR flash, making it the flash of choice for mass storage. NAND flash is actually quite efficient; a single NAND flash cell is approximately half the size of a conventional DRAM memory cell, meaning that you can easily produce affordable, high density, storage based on NAND flash. Obviously, the advantage of NAND flash over DRAM is that flash does not require a constant charge to retain its data, and thus is a suitable alternative (or accessory) to magnetic disk based storage.

Without a doubt, the advent of the NAND flash based USB drive has taken the PC industry by storm. Companies give these little drives away, and memory manufacturers have gone into the business of making USB drives in a big way. With almost a dozen different manufacturers present in this roundup alone, and even more available on the market, the USB flash drive scene is really just starting to heat up.

With lots of manufacturers producing drives, and the demand for these USB flash drives increasing every day, it was time for us to put together a roundup. Also, in preparation for this roundup, we have included price indexing for USB flash drives in our Real Time Price Engine. So, head over there and search away for the best prices on all USB flash drives.


Special thanks to Newegg for providing the Memina Rocket drive for this roundup.

Special thanks to Memory.Com for providing the Transcend JetFlash 110 and Transcend JetFlash 2.0 for this roundup.
The Performance Equation
POST A COMMENT

37 Comments

View All Comments

  • phisrow - Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - link

    I'm glad to have some idea about real world performance specs, to the degree that the volatility of the market allows that, of these drives. Any chance that this, or future, reviews of this kind could test making the drives bootable. Some are easy, some are impossible, and some need some real voodoo to get them working. I'd love to know which is which these days. Reply
  • johnsonx - Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - link

    Page 13:

    "although, neither is obviously full-proof."
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - link

    "From top to bottom, a AA battery, Kingston DataTraveler II drive, Kingston DataTraveler Elite."

    No, not even close.
    Elite is on top, DT2 is next, AA battery next, and 9-volt battery on the bottom.
    Reply
  • TheInvincibleMustard - Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - link

    C'mon, I soooo posted that before you!

    :p

    -TIM
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - link

    What's with all the scratches on the Corsair Flash Voyager's USB connector? Reply
  • TheInvincibleMustard - Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - link

    I was actually wondering that, too ... what did you do to that poor thing to take the cover off???

    All in the name of science, eh?

    TYPO: Pg 13 ... the caption for the "battery" picture doesn't correspond to the actual picture ... oh ... and just how OLD is that 9V Eveready? It looks like something out of the stonage in comparison to the other things in the picture ...

    -TIM
    Reply
  • SpaceRanger - Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - link

    Stonage?? Sorry.. Couldn't help pointing out a typo in a "typo informative" post..

    /em hides now.
    Reply
  • TheInvincibleMustard - Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - link

    :p

    And that's all I hafta say about that.

    -TIM
    Reply
  • sxr7171 - Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - link

    Time to get a Lexar JumpDrive lightning. This may not be important to a lot of people, but a USB drive IMHO needs to have a loop for a keyring. It is the most convenient way to carry the thing and always have it with you no matter what. I guess this applies more to people living in the city and not needing a car and the big bulky car keys/remote that come with that. Reply
  • TheInvincibleMustard - Tuesday, October 04, 2005 - link

    Speaking of, is there some reason the Lexar isn't on the RTPE? I mean, it did just win an Editor's Choice and all, so you'd hope it would be one of the drives listed in the newly-announced Flash Storage section ... :(

    -TIM
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now