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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  • sxr7171 - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Time to get a Lexar JumpDrive lightning. This may not be important to a lot of people, but a USB drive IMHO needs to have a loop for a keyring. It is the most convenient way to carry the thing and always have it with you no matter what. I guess this applies more to people living in the city and not needing a car and the big bulky car keys/remote that come with that. Reply
  • TheInvincibleMustard - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Speaking of, is there some reason the Lexar isn't on the RTPE? I mean, it did just win an Editor's Choice and all, so you'd hope it would be one of the drives listed in the newly-announced Flash Storage section ... :(

    -TIM
    Reply
  • Pete84 - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Bummer, OCZ's dual channel USB stick didn't get in. Reply
  • jkostans - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Someone didn't read the article...... Reply
  • SpaceRanger - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Are USB drives able to be made Bootable?? I know that systems can recognize USB Floppy Drives, and boot from those, but I was wondering if you could take a USB Flash Drive and make it a bootable device. Reply
  • Phantronius - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    depending on the flash drive and the motherboard BIOS, yes you can do it. Reply
  • Phantronius - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    1st!!!

    I love my OEM made from some pretty lady in china USB 2.0 stick, its saved my ass so many times for my work, especially in data reterival and spyware removal.
    Reply
  • Souka - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    I've had the Memina Rocket for a couple months now....before they even announced it (thanks to NewEgg)....write spead defintly kinda bite with small files especially, but usually I put drivers and stuff there once, then read mutliple times....so its a good match for me.

    PQI's I got over a year ago, and completely made everyone jealous.... for once, mem were bragging theirs is smaller than someone else's. :D

    I still use a SanDisk Titanium.....only a 512mb module, but still works well.



    Reply
  • Souka - Wednesday, October 5, 2005 - link

    oopsss...typo

    meant to say...

    PQI's I got over a year ago for my office, and completely made everyone jealous.... for once, men were bragging theirs was smaller!! :D
    Reply

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