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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  • webmastir - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    great write up, thanks! Reply
  • Kelemvor - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Absolutely. Hit on all the topics. Thanks. And they really aren't all that much more expensive. Reply
  • sbrown23 - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    It was good, but I would like to have seen a testing of Linux distro running from the flash drive to get an idea of performance in that type of scenario. Load each up with a Linux distribution, boot each one and run a couple of benchmarks (heck even include boottime, etc.) Reply
  • pvdw - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    Definitely. The biggest use I get out of flash drives is for tech support, so I find random reads and writes sorely lacking. :( Reply
  • xygot - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    This is a nice article for USB 3.0 using flash drive. However, I'm more interested in benchmark between USB 3.0 and eSata using external hard drive. Is there a benchmark on the way?

    This is what holding me for now if I need to upgrade to USB 3.0 or stay on eSata.
    Reply
  • Zenthar - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I would like to see that as well. Given the $/GB of those thumbdrives, I would also be curious to see external USB 3.0 SSDs. Different needs will warrant different solutions.

    For backups for example (mostly sequential read/write), it would probably be more cost/efficient to get an external 2.5 HDD. If you want something to install and run applications from, then perhaps you will get better performance out of an external SSD.

    The extra size of external HDD/SSD could be a bit annoying, but this usually translates to lower possibility of losing or washing the drive.
    Reply
  • Gigantopithecus - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Hi xygot - I don't plan on adding a USB 3.0 vs eSATA performance comparison to the article. However, I can report that using a USB 3.0 HDD dock with a Western Digital WD20EARS on both ends of the transfer, for MP3 files, I get sustained writes of ~30MB/s and sustained reads of 50MB/s. Hope that helps! Reply
  • ckryan - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    If you want to use a mechanical HDD, just stick with eSata. You won't be limited in any aspect of the HDD's performance. But I think there are some newer eSata and USB3 docks on the way, or possibly already on the market. Why not both?

    In my eSata II testing, I've found that a 7200rpm desktop drive has almost identical performance in an enclosure as it does with the Sata ports on the MB. As for USB3.0, I have two motherboards that support it, but no usb 3.0 devices. So I can't really speak to 3.0's performance except to say it's not like your HDD will run faster in a USB3 enclosure than it does in your computer.

    As for the few USB3 external HDD, it's always been my preference to roll my own with an enclosure and my own HDD.
    Reply
  • Sweeo - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    Well for me I would go for USB 3,how many comps/other divices got eSata ?
    USB 3 backword compatable
    The thing is "other devises"
    Reply
  • doylecc - Monday, August 01, 2011 - link

    Adding eSATA is easy if you have a desktop. The adapter is inexpensive; this one costs less than $5 and provides two eSATA ports:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    The eSata adapter socket mounts on an expansion card bracket that installs in any unused expansion card opening in the back of your computer.

    Performance-wise, eSATA will allow you to extract the full performance from any mechanical hard drive. The faster SSDs need SATA III (6GB/sec) or USB 3 bandwidth for full performance.

    Of course, if you have a laptop, you're limited to the built-in ports.
    Reply

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