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
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  • BJL - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    Do the read and write speeds change for the 1gb and above models? Would I get the same performance, or should I stick with the 512mb? Reply
  • NeoZGeo - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    what kinf of benchmark are you guys using? How come some of those drive write speed is sooooo low!? Like Trenscent, OCZ Rally, i've seen some reviews out there which says other wise. Reply
  • NeoZGeo - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    here's the review by tom's

    if you look at the trenscend jet flash, it actually has the highest write speed average out at 23.3 mb/s vs anandtech's 8.7 mb/s !? what the hell?
    Reply
  • NeoZGeo - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    haha oops, forgot about the link :D

    http://www.tomshardware.com/storage/20050520/usb_f...">linky
    Reply
  • quanta - Wednesday, December 07, 2005 - link

    It looked like Tom's test is testing the write speed between USB host and flash drive's controller's memory buffer, instead of actual write speed, which can only be verify by doing a read after writing is completed. There are also reports that http://www.auphanonline.com/articles/view.php?arti...">cluster size may affect the write access behaviour. BTW, Tom's http://www.tomshardware.com/2005/08/10/two_fast_an...">later review has simultaneous reads and writes benchmark, which slows Memina Rocket to a halt. Reply
  • quanta - Wednesday, December 07, 2005 - link

    In addition, even when using buffered write in SiSoft Sandra, it is extremely unlikely that Transcend Jetflash 110 can write anywhere near 23.3MB/s. http://www.oc.com.tw/article/0510/readparticle.asp...">This benchmark shows that when doing random write with Kingston DataTraveler ELITE, write speed dropped more than a half compared to sequential write. Reply
  • TrueWisdom - Wednesday, October 12, 2005 - link

    I'm the in-house support for a university building and I've had absolutely horrible luck with Lexar drives. Lexar often fails to detect entirely on somewhat older machines (the Latitude C840, for example) and has also displayed a relatively high failure rate for me. I don't have any positive or negative impressions of Kingston drives, so I can't say anything there, but I will say that I've had by far the best luck with Sandisk drives. I've never had one fail on me, and I've seen them go through wash cycles, get run over by a car, and get left out in the rain. Compatibility has been universal as well. They may not be the fastest drives but they really are the only ones I've ever trusted. Reply
  • pendrivethis - Friday, October 07, 2005 - link

    i work for a flash memory controller maker and in all honesty the most meaningful performance test is random write. and no one really advertise that since sequential read speeds seem much more appealing and marketable. i can get a dual-channel & interleaving enabled usb 2.0 pen drive with micron or samsung nand-type flash to go up to 34mB/s in sequential read, but the engineer who designed this still tells me that he'd rather use and-type flash from renesas (formerly hitachi) since and flash has a better random write than nand flash.

    and knowing what i know, if you use your pen drive very often, and i suspect some of you may be in that boat, i'd check out some of the burn-in testing results especially since companies are not entirely using only samsung nand flash. certain new flash whether nand-type or ag-and-type and even some high-density samsung flash seem to be displaying a need for extra care in ecc. data-verify errors are fatal, especially if it's the only copy you got...

    anand, perhaps a little visit to some of the design houses for these controllers the next time when you're in taiwan is in order. computex is only 9 months away.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Thursday, October 06, 2005 - link

    Although not reviewed here, I got the A Data key from newegg.com simply because they say it works with Linux on the package. I know any key will, but they are the only ones to have the guts to say it. Thanks for admitting Linux exists. Lifetime warranty too. Reply
  • jgh - Wednesday, October 05, 2005 - link

    here is a link for another link, to an app that can make many (but probably not all) usb drives bootable and a couple of other hints/tips.

    http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/5735">link

    O.T. - for some reason i get a message that says i do not have permission to access this forum when i tried to create a new login with my e-mail address. did i get banned or something? i have only posted once (it was about the gta:lcs website). i also cannot log in with the origianl user name and password.

    p.s. - it is o.k. to post links like this right?
    Reply

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