USB Flash Drive Roundup – October 2006
By Gabriel Torres on October 5, 2006
USB flash memory drives are now part of our lives. Smaller and with a capacity higher than floppy disks, these devices are the perfect replacement for the old floppies. This time we brought four new models from Patriot (Xporter XT), ATP (ToughDrive), Corsair (Flash Readout) and OCZ (Roadster) and added them to our previous roundup, so we are comparing 13 different USB flash drives. Who is the winner?
Here is the full list of the USB flash drives we included in this roundup:
All of them are USB 2.0 and you may ask what is the difference between them besides their capacity. Well, there are a lot of differences. Geil David 100, OCZ Rally, Patriot Xporter XT and ATP ToughDrive use dual channel technology, achieving a performance higher than other models included in this roundup. Also, these four companies claim they have the fastest USB flash drive around, so we will be able to say which product is really the fastest one available on the market today.
Patriot Xporter XT and ATP ToughDrive use a rubber body making them waterproof and shockproof, imitating the idea introduced by Corsair with their Flash Voyager more than one year ago. But please remember what happened to our Flash Voyager after a while using it.
OCZ Roadster doesn’t compete for performance but for portability. It is one of the smallest USB flash drives around. To reduce its size OCZ soldered its flash chip inside its USB connector. The plastic body you see is just a protection.
Corsair Flash Readout also does not compete for performance but for innovative design. It is the first flash drive to carry a LCD display, which shows you the available space in the drive, in MB. You can also customize its label by just renaming the drive label on Windows. It also displays a pie chart with the amount of free space. What is most amazing is that this display doesn’t require any battery to work and it keeps turned on even when it isn’t connected to a PC.
Let’s now see the performance of the selected USB flash drives. To read more about the other models, read our May 2006 USB Flash Drive Roundup.
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only different device was the USB Drive being tested.
We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
On HD Tach we could measure two parameters: the average read speed, listed in megabytes per second (the higher, the better), and access time, listed in milliseconds (the lower, the better).
As expected, OCZ Rally, Geil David 100, Patriot Xporter XT and ATP ToughDrive achieved the best results in this test, as they use dual channel technology. ATP ToughDrive was the fastest USB flash drive in our new roundup, kicking previous kings out of the throne. It was 16.55% fastest than Patriot Xporter XT 2 GB, 17.36% faster than Geil David 100 256 MB, 26.59% faster than OCZ Rally 512 MB and 43.83% faster than OCZ Rally 2 GB. Really impressive, especially if we remember that ATP is not as famous as the other companies in the USB flash drive retail market. Patriot Xporter XT 2 GB achieved an outstanding result, on the same level as Geil David 100 256 MB.
Access time measures the time the time the computer spends accessing the device before starting transferring data. The lower this value, the better, i.e., the fastest the device is.
Kingston DataTraveller U3 Smart 1 GB and Geil David 100 256 MB achieved the best results here, only 0.4 ms. Kingston DataTraveller 2.0 512 MB and Kingston DataTraveller Elite 2 GB had also achieved a terrific result, with 0.5 ms, and OCZ Rally 512 MB was also great with 0.6 ms. ATP ToughDrive also has achieved a good result, with 0.9 ms access time. Patriot Xporter XT achieved a 4.5 ms access time, which isn’t the best but also it isn’t that bad. The problem here was Corsair Flash Readout, with a lousy 45.3 ms access time, and OCZ Roadster, with second worst result at 59.7 ms.
On Sandra we run the File System Benchmark module and used two parameters, the overall performance (called “index” by Sandra), measured in MB/s, and the random write speed, also measured in MB/s. Usually write speeds are lower than read speeds, so it is also very important to know the write speed, not only the read speed of an USB drive.
In Sandra ATP ToughDrive 1 GB also has achieved the best reading performance, being a little bit faster (3.45%) than Patriot Xporter XT 2 GB and Geil David 100 256 MB, which achieved the same performance level. It was 30.43% faster than OCZ Rally 2 GB and 36.36% faster than OCZ Rally 512 MB.
As for writing performance, ATP ToughDrive 1 GB also achieved the best result, being 7.14% faster than OCZ Rally 2 GB, 25% faster than Patriot Xporter XT 2 GB and 50% faster than Geil David 100 256 MB. Here Patriot Xporter XT 2 GB was 20% faster than Geil David 100 256 MB.
The majority of USB flash drives found on the market will achieve a mediocre performance, even when they are from well know companies like Kingston. Only a few companies are really working to improve the performance of pen drives, like Geil, OCZ, ATP and Patriot. In fact we were really impressed by ATP and Patriot, two companies that are coming now to the USB flash drive scene and delivering two of the best products around.
ATP simply created the fastest USB flash drive on the market today, which is amazing coming from a company with no reputation on the flash USB retail market. Probably this roundup will help ATP to become better known.
Patriot’s Xporter XT is also a terrific product, achieving the same reading performance as Geil’s David 100 but beating Geil’s product on writing speed.
So we are giving our “Golden Award” seal to ATP ToughDrive 1 GB and to Patriot Xporter XT 2 GB and we will keep our seal to Geil David 100 256 MB, as these are the three fastest USB flash drives around today. If we were looking for the fastest USB drive around, our choice would be among these three products. OCZ Rally was the fastest USB flash drive for a while, but it is time now to OCZ to launch a fastest product. We wouldn’t buy a Rally drive today.
Also, in the past we recommended Corsair Flash Voyager. Forget about it, as both ATP ToughDrive and Patriot Xporter XT also have a rubber protection but providing a far better performance. The funny part is that Corsair was the one that invented the rubber protection.
Why bothering with performance? Think about this: on a 2 GB part you can store the equivalent of three CDs – a huge data capacity. What is the point of having this colossal storage capacity available if transferring data will take forever?
Of course performance isn’t everything. Other companies are providing different features. If you are looking for something small, you could take a look at OCZ Roadster and ATP Petito (not included in our roundup) or even Kingmax Super Stick (which is very thin). And if you are looking for something innovative, Corsair Flash Readout is really great as you can see through its LCD display how much storage space is still left inside the drive without needing to connect it to a PC. Kingston provides a built-in hardware-based encryption engine on DataTraveller Elite and U3 technology on DataTraveller U3 Smart. It is really a pity that these devices don’t have a great performance.
If you aren’t a performance geek and are looking for specific features found on those other models, they can be a very good choice for you.