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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  • LightRider - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Page 22 Shikatronics Manhattan

    quote:

    The drive ships with a lanyard and a USB extension cable, which makes the cap issue less of a hindrance
    USB Extension Cable Included No
    Data Encryption No
    Reply
  • LightRider - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Of course I make an error in my post pointing out an error...
    quote:

    Lanyard Included No
    USB Extension Cable Included No
    Reply
  • phisrow - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    I'm glad to have some idea about real world performance specs, to the degree that the volatility of the market allows that, of these drives. Any chance that this, or future, reviews of this kind could test making the drives bootable. Some are easy, some are impossible, and some need some real voodoo to get them working. I'd love to know which is which these days. Reply
  • johnsonx - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Page 13:

    "although, neither is obviously full-proof."
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    "From top to bottom, a AA battery, Kingston DataTraveler II drive, Kingston DataTraveler Elite."

    No, not even close.
    Elite is on top, DT2 is next, AA battery next, and 9-volt battery on the bottom.
    Reply
  • TheInvincibleMustard - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    C'mon, I soooo posted that before you!

    :p

    -TIM
    Reply
  • yacoub - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    What's with all the scratches on the Corsair Flash Voyager's USB connector? Reply
  • TheInvincibleMustard - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    I was actually wondering that, too ... what did you do to that poor thing to take the cover off???

    All in the name of science, eh?

    TYPO: Pg 13 ... the caption for the "battery" picture doesn't correspond to the actual picture ... oh ... and just how OLD is that 9V Eveready? It looks like something out of the stonage in comparison to the other things in the picture ...

    -TIM
    Reply
  • SpaceRanger - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Stonage?? Sorry.. Couldn't help pointing out a typo in a "typo informative" post..

    /em hides now.
    Reply
  • TheInvincibleMustard - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    :p

    And that's all I hafta say about that.

    -TIM
    Reply

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