Final Words

Despite our original expectations, performance was truly varied amongst all of the contenders in this roundup. Even more surprising was the fact that very few drives were able to pull through with competitive write speeds.

Given the relative simplicity of these drives, it wasn't too hard to figure out who did what right, and what components were responsible for excellent performance. For example, the Kingston DataTraveler Elite drive posted some of the highest overall write scores out of all of the drives in this roundup. However, the DataTraveler Elite uses the same Samsung NAND flash that is used by Transcend, Memina and SanDisk among other manufacturers. The secret to Kingston's success appears to be the M-Systems flash controller used in the Elite, and Kingston assured us that all Elites will ship with this very controller to guarantee that you'll see this exact level of performance.

But the real question isn't who did what right, but rather, which drive do you buy? By now, we've demonstrated that there is a tangible performance difference between these drives, so it's not as easy as just buying the cheapest thing out there or the one that looks the coolest.

If you want the best in performance, Lexar, Memina and OCZ offer the absolute highest read speeds, but out of that bunch, only the Lexar JumpDrive really comes through with balanced write performance as well. The real competition for the best overall performing drive falls between the Lexar JumpDrive Lightning and Kingston's DataTraveler Elite. They both offer high end read performance, and the absolute best write performance that we've tested across all file sizes. While the Memina drive offers higher read speeds in some cases, it is only really competitive when writing very large files, and truly falls behind with small files.

So, which do you choose between the Lexar and Kingston drives? Kingston's hardware encryption engine makes sure that there's no performance penalty when accessing the secure partition, but Lexar's software allows for both public and secure partitions to be mounted at the same time.

In the end, the Lexar vs. Kingston debate boils down to price and styling. Lexar's JumpDrive Lightning is more stylish, but gets dirty much quicker than the DataTraveler Elite's plastic case. Kingston's drive isn't as flashy, but doesn't show wear nearly as bad as the Lexar. The slight advantage however goes to Kingston for being priced around $10 cheaper than the Lexar drive. But honestly it's a tough call between the two, so we'll leave the final decision up to your personal preference, as you can't go wrong with either drive.

So, our Editor's Choice Gold award for best performing USB flash drive is shared by both Kingston for the DataTraveler Elite and Lexar for the JumpDrive Lightning.

SanDisk offered similar write speeds to the Lexar and Kingston offerings, but the Cruzer Titanium's read speeds suffered and were generally in the second tier of the performance standings, all while being priced similarly to the Kingston drive.

But obviously, not everyone wants to spend as much as what the Kingston/Lexar drives will set you back, so what are some other options?

At around $20 less than the Kingston DataTraveler Elite, Corsair's Flash Voyager offers fairly high write speeds, at the expense of upper mid-range read speeds. We found the 1GB Flash Voyager for $67.80 at ZipZoomFly.

OCZ's Rally drive also happens to be priced similarly to Corsair's Flash Voyager, and offers much higher read speeds, but at the expense of noticeably lower write speeds. Unfortunately, as you go down in price, you'll find yourself having to make more trade-offs like this.

For a great value, Crucial's 512MB Gizmo! Drive can be had for less than $30 and performs reasonably well.

If you're looking for a small form factor drive, PQI's I-Stick and SanDisk's Cruzer Micro offer the absolute smallest form factors that you can get in a USB flash drive. The best option out of those two ends up being the I-Stick Pro170 as it offers superior read speeds, and competitive write speeds to the Cruzer Micro.

And with that, we conclude our first USB flash drive roundup, with the promise of many more to come as newer and updated flash drives become available. Hopefully, manufacturers will take note of the winners of this roundup and pay attention to what those manufacturers did right in their designs so that the next time we round up a bunch of USB drives, we see some big improvements in performance.

Honestly, the majority of drives in this roundup performed absolutely dismally, especially when looking at write performance. Companies like Kingston and Lexar proved that a very well balanced drive can be produced. Now it's time for the rest to play catch-up.

Write Performance (con't)
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  • sprockkets - Thursday, October 6, 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 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.

    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
  • 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!!! Reply
  • GameManK - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    also curious about the memorex drives like the m-flyer Reply
  • 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.



    -andy
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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
    Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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. Reply
  • 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. Reply

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