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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  • BJL - Monday, October 16, 2006 - link

    Do the read and write speeds change for the 1gb and above models? Would I get the same performance, or should I stick with the 512mb? Reply
  • NeoZGeo - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    what kinf of benchmark are you guys using? How come some of those drive write speed is sooooo low!? Like Trenscent, OCZ Rally, i've seen some reviews out there which says other wise. Reply
  • NeoZGeo - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    here's the review by tom's

    if you look at the trenscend jet flash, it actually has the highest write speed average out at 23.3 mb/s vs anandtech's 8.7 mb/s !? what the hell?
    Reply
  • NeoZGeo - Monday, October 17, 2005 - link

    haha oops, forgot about the link :D

    http://www.tomshardware.com/storage/20050520/usb_f...">linky
    Reply
  • quanta - Wednesday, December 7, 2005 - link

    It looked like Tom's test is testing the write speed between USB host and flash drive's controller's memory buffer, instead of actual write speed, which can only be verify by doing a read after writing is completed. There are also reports that http://www.auphanonline.com/articles/view.php?arti...">cluster size may affect the write access behaviour. BTW, Tom's http://www.tomshardware.com/2005/08/10/two_fast_an...">later review has simultaneous reads and writes benchmark, which slows Memina Rocket to a halt. Reply
  • quanta - Wednesday, December 7, 2005 - link

    In addition, even when using buffered write in SiSoft Sandra, it is extremely unlikely that Transcend Jetflash 110 can write anywhere near 23.3MB/s. http://www.oc.com.tw/article/0510/readparticle.asp...">This benchmark shows that when doing random write with Kingston DataTraveler ELITE, write speed dropped more than a half compared to sequential write. Reply
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  • TrueWisdom - Wednesday, October 12, 2005 - link

    I'm the in-house support for a university building and I've had absolutely horrible luck with Lexar drives. Lexar often fails to detect entirely on somewhat older machines (the Latitude C840, for example) and has also displayed a relatively high failure rate for me. I don't have any positive or negative impressions of Kingston drives, so I can't say anything there, but I will say that I've had by far the best luck with Sandisk drives. I've never had one fail on me, and I've seen them go through wash cycles, get run over by a car, and get left out in the rain. Compatibility has been universal as well. They may not be the fastest drives but they really are the only ones I've ever trusted. Reply
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  • pendrivethis - Friday, October 7, 2005 - link

    i work for a flash memory controller maker and in all honesty the most meaningful performance test is random write. and no one really advertise that since sequential read speeds seem much more appealing and marketable. i can get a dual-channel & interleaving enabled usb 2.0 pen drive with micron or samsung nand-type flash to go up to 34mB/s in sequential read, but the engineer who designed this still tells me that he'd rather use and-type flash from renesas (formerly hitachi) since and flash has a better random write than nand flash.

    and knowing what i know, if you use your pen drive very often, and i suspect some of you may be in that boat, i'd check out some of the burn-in testing results especially since companies are not entirely using only samsung nand flash. certain new flash whether nand-type or ag-and-type and even some high-density samsung flash seem to be displaying a need for extra care in ecc. data-verify errors are fatal, especially if it's the only copy you got...

    anand, perhaps a little visit to some of the design houses for these controllers the next time when you're in taiwan is in order. computex is only 9 months away.
    Reply

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