Testing methods

Our test bench for this flash drive roundup is a desktop computer running Windows 7 Enterprise 64-bit and consisting of an Intel Core i3-2100 CPU, ASUS P8H61-I (Rev. 3.0) mini-ITX motherboard with two USB 3.0 ports using an ASMedia ASM1042 USB 3.0 controller, 2 x 2GB Patriot DDR3-1333, one Intel 320 Series (G3) 80GB SSD, one Western Digital 2TB Caviar Green HDD, and one LITE-ON IHAS124-04 optical drive.

Iometer is a standard storage drive benchmarking software capable of testing mechanical, platter-based hard disc drives, flash-based solid state drives, and USB-interface flash drives. We provide a number of measurements for each drive. However, since the vast majority of users writes data to a flash drive, and then read off of it, the most important measurements for each drive are the sequential write and read speeds. While this might seem obvious, it should be noted this is different from a boot (OS) and application drive. OS/app drives typically do not see many frequent, sustained writes after initial installation. Furthermore, random writes/reads of smaller files are very common for an OS drive – this is where SSDs truly shine over mechanical HDDs, giving an SSD-based system spectacular snappiness compared to platter drive-based rigs. Random write/read performance is not particularly important for a flash drive unless it is being used as a ReadyBoost device. However, given how cheap DDR3 currently is, if you can afford a motherboard with USB 3.0 ports, you can afford enough system memory to not need a ReadyBoost drive! Furthermore, all of the USB 3.0 flash drives in this roundup are fast enough to support ReadyBoost in Windows 7.

That said, software virtualization applications like Ceedo, which act as a portable 'OS on a flash drive' certainly benefit from improved read/write performance, though thorough benchmarking and real-world performance tests of a program like Ceedo installed on a USB 3.0 flash drive are outside the scope of this article.

In addition to Iometer readings, we provide real-world usage scenario data for the drives. The first test writes 3,364 PDFs totaling 3.20GB from the SSD to the flash drive, then reads those same PDFs from the flash drive back to the SSD. The second scenario first copies 100 MP3 albums containing 1,133 files totaling 7.94GB from the SSD to the flash drive, and then those same MP3s from the flash drive to the SSD. The third and final test writes a single 4.16GB DVD image file (ISO of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas) to the flash drive and then back to the SSD.

All drives were formatted to NTFS with a 4KB allocation unit prior to benchmarking, and all tests in Iometer were run also using a 4KB block size. While default file system and block size are variable between manufacturers, NTFS allows files larger than 4GB to be written to the flash drive (critical for DVD and BRD ISOs, among other file types), and it allows drives larger than 32GB to be used under Windows XP (unlike FAT32).

Samples

We were graciously provided the following samples by their respective manufacturers:

Kingston must have a die-hard Cincinnati Bengals fan on their design team!

Product Usable Capacity Price $/1GB
ADATA S007 32GB USB 2.0 29.8GB $44 $1.47
ADATA S102 32GB USB 3.0 29.2GB $50 $1.71
Kingston DT Ultimate G2 32GB USB 3.0 29.8GB $85 $2.85
Kingston DT R500 32GB USB 2.0 29.8GB $62 $2.08
Mushkin Ventura Pro 32GB USB 3.0 29.4GB $75 $2.55
Patriot Supersonic 64GB USB 3.0 60.5GB $150 $2.48
Patriot Supersonic Magnum 64GB USB 3.0 58.9GB $196 $3.33
Super Talent Express DUO 16GB USB 3.0 14.6GB $28 $1.92
Super Talent Express RC8 64GB USB 3.0 51.2GB $145 $2.83

These are the prices as of the time of this article's writing, and are absolutely not static. Be sure to keep this in mind when determining their comparative costs and considering their bang for the buck. As you can see, the USB 3.0 drives have a wide dollar per GB cost, from ADATA's S102 at $1.71/GB to Patriot's $3.33/GB Supersonic Magnum. Find out how these flash drives performed on the next few pages!

Introduction: A Brief History of USB Flash Drives USB 3.0 and 2.0 Flash Drive Native Interface Write Performance
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  • rickcain2320 - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I really wished firewire had gained more traction in the market. I've had nothing but trouble with USB over the years, with quirky connection behavior to buggy driver sets to slow transfer speeds. Reply
  • Rick83 - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    20 GB was not huge.
    In fact, in 1998/1999 I had a 30 GB disk in a relatively cheap off-the-shelf computer.
    So by 2002, 60/80 GB would have been 'huge', but 20 was becoming pretty much standard for new machines.
    Reply
  • ckryan - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    My average system drive size never really increased all that much over the years. In 1998/1999 I had a 20GB system. When I built a new Pentium 4 system in 2003 I put an original 36GB 10K Raptor in it. I used it for quite some time. All of my laptops from the last decade always had around 40GB of very slow HDD. Then in the last two years I put small SSDs in all of my systems, until recently, when I bought and Intel 510 120GB for my main system. In many ways not having a ton of space taught me to optimize what I would put on my drive and how to make the most of it, helping me into the early days of SSDs where space is at a premium, especially in a mobile system where you only have access to one drive.

    Though now that I think about it, what the hell were people doing with all that space (besides games)? I'll have to find my old late 90's vintage system and see. My first computer was a 386sx 16, a packard bell, with a 40megabyte hdd. I could install windows 3.1 OR Ultima 7, but not both. So in twenty years I went from a 40MB HDD and 1.44MB "High Density" floppies to 3TB HDD, super fast SSDs, and enormous flash drives. Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but I seem to be waxing nostalgic a lot recently about the "Good old days" that never really were.
    Reply
  • randinspace - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Around that same time period I got into some pretty dubious translation "scenes" ("they're are for educational purposes") and had to go from a DELL with a 20gb HDD to a custom build packing a 60 GB drive within a mere year, but between prices being what they were and eventually abandoning my desktop for a laptop it made a lot more sense to me to rely upon DVDs for long term storage until just a couple of years ago. Now my netbook has a bigger HDD than my first external HDD did but the idea of losing so much data/material at once completely terrifies me since everybody else's projects got derailed left and right back then due to HDD failures... Actually, I wonder how often hardware failure was just an excuse by lazy/greedy translators/editors? More than health problems anyway.

    That said, video encoding techniques have somehow advanced at a rate that makes it possible to have not only better resolutions but lower file sizes than we did back then (not accounting for the likes of .flv and morons that decide to distribute .ts files and bloated Blu-Ray .isos) as long as you have a decent CPU, but instead of taking the gains and running this has somehow inspired most people to ratchet up the space taken up by the audio side for all that the last thing that makes a difference in one's experience of something in a language they can't understand (that might be subtitled in a language they only barely understand) is the difference between AAC and FLAC.

    Even in certain games the largest part of the install might be the audio, and by the same token since CDs are still hanging in there but people now have TB of storage instead of MB (sticking a CD in the drive or having your stereo nearby to listen to it) or GB (I'm glad that .rmf is far behind me but .ogg and .mp3 are still valid for most setups) there isn't a lot of incentive for most people to "limit themselves" to either highly compressed or even variable bitrate files instead of WAV (LOL, though some make an argument for the time saved encoding) and FLAC and APE and what have you (my personal favorite of the bunch is TTA but too many people fail at it for some reason).

    OK I put too much text in parentheses there, but since I wasn't using my disk space on games the short answer to your question of what people were using the space for aside from them is hoarding AV... In fact there's a really apt quote that shows up on DailyTech from somebody (either a seagate or WD executive, I think) commenting that by providing consumers with storage capacity they were just helping them watch porn or something like that.
    Reply
  • Stahn Aileron - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I'm pretty sure he meant relatively to portable storage solutions, not internal to a computer.

    Actually, when exactly did portable HDD's come into the mainstream?
    Reply
  • hurrakan - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Thanks.

    I have a 32GB Kingston Data Traveller Ultimate 3 but it's annoying because it needs an attachment to use USB2. And as very few computers have USB3, I always have to carry the attachment.

    I wish the "Kingston HyperX MAX USB3" had been included - I would have liked to see how it compares.

    Also, it would be awesome if Anandtech conducted a benchmark of microSD cards (different brands and classes).
    Reply
  • randinspace - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I was thinking the same thing since I've been wondering a lot about the performance of SD/micro~/SDHC/micro~ considering the fact that just about any device with USB input will also have a card reader but the opposite isn't necessarily true, tablets and smart phones for example. Hell, even my netbook has an SD card slot. Reply
  • HangFire - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Nice review.

    Now, I'd like to see Motherboards on Bench, with SATA 2/3, USB 2/3, Gb Ethernet, and memory bandwidth benchmarks.
    Reply
  • blowfish - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    of course the principal benefit of USB over eSATA is the ability to hot swap a USB connected device. If that's not important to you, then eSATA is very cost effective. I expect to see eSATA/USB 3.0 hard drive enclosures appear before too long though, which would allow the best of both worlds. I think many USB problems relate to power - some older motherboards can't handle all the USB ports being filled and can give erratic results. Reply
  • mino - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    You hot-swap eSATA just the same. And the main reason is performance - USB3 could not EVER reach eSATA performance levels, basically because of the protocol overhead even if everything was equal. Reply

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