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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  • sprockkets - Thursday, October 6, 2005 - link

    Although not reviewed here, I got the A Data key from 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.
  • jgh - Wednesday, October 5, 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.">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?
  • Toolsac - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    I just wanna say thanks to anand for bring us all so much info on every nook and crany of computing. When ever I am getting ready to upgrade or have a problem with my computer, Anand can help me. THANKS GUYS YOU ROCK!!!
  • GameManK - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    also curious about the memorex drives like the m-flyer
  • hoppa - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Cool article, and a nice summary of the market (the intro stuff), but seriously, who really cares that much about the perfomance of these things when the entire thing can be written or read in <1 minute anyway. I do love benchmarks though (born and will die a stat-whore)!

    I have a suggestion for the article: can you post a single picture of all the drives (preferably with a key). I'd like to see what they all look like but I wasn't too crazy at all about clicking through 20 pages. In fact, I only made it through 4.

  • vexingv - Friday, October 21, 2005 - link

    its an iomega 256mb and claims to be usb2, but is ridiculously slow compared to a generic 64mb drive i have. i've tried transferring about 20mb worth of portable firefox on the two drives side-by-side and the iomega drive took close to 5 minutes while my other drive took less than a minute.
    these benchmarks are really useful for that purpose of finding drives w/ faster flash memory controllers.
  • Souka - Wednesday, October 5, 2005 - link

    REad the article....less than 1 min? Read it....not happening.

    Write times had the biggest delta....upto 20x speed difference....

    So would you rather watch your drive write data for 3.5mins, or almost an hour?

    Far as "clicking through 20 pages" Click once on the "Print this Article"....then you just use page down(or equivalent button) to scroll through
  • Chriz - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    This was a good roundup, but I was also curious on some other drives that can be found on Newegg. Mainly interested in the Apacer drives and also the Memorex M-flyer...which got a good review in Maximum PC because of the retractable USB connector which seems convenient to me, but I am really not sure on the performance compared to other drives.
  • intellon - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    And why was iPod Shuffle excluded? Is it cuz of security matter/ bigger size/ higher cost? Cuz I use half of my shuffle for transfering files to and from - work, home and school.
  • jkostans - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Because its an mp3 player. There are plenty of ipod shuffle type players out there which aren't included, some smaller and more compact. I'm sure they would be with the slowest of the slow.

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