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Data Storage Hardware IT

USB Flash Drive Life Varies Up To 10 Times 192

Posted by timothy
from the that's-worse-then-the-spread-for-people dept.
Lucas123 writes "Differences in the type of memory and I/O controllers used in USB drives can make one device perform two or three times faster and last 10 times longer than another, even if both sport the USB 2.0 logo, according to a Computerworld story. While a slow USB drive may be fine for moving a few dozen megabytes of files around, when you get into larger data transfers, that's when bandwidth contrictions become noticeable. In 2009, controller manufacturers are expected to begin shipping drives with dual- and even four-channel controllers, which will increase speeds even for slower drives."
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USB Flash Drive Life Varies Up To 10 Times

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  • FS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Psychotria (953670) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @11:31PM (#23774363)
    I assume the article is talking about flash drives. Are there any filesystems designed to specifically target these drives? The drives probably don't include any fault-tolerance, but a filesystem could, in theory.
    • Re:FS (Score:4, Informative)

      by Chlorus (1146335) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @11:33PM (#23774381)

      I assume the article is talking about flash drives. Are there any filesystems designed to specifically target these drives? The drives probably don't include any fault-tolerance, but a filesystem could, in theory.
      There's exFAT, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ExFAT [wikipedia.org] , but there's no free software implementation as of yet.
      • Re:FS (Score:5, Funny)

        by Hal_Porter (817932) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:40AM (#23774757)

        here's exFAT, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ExFAT [wikipedia.org] , but there's no free software implementation as of yet.
        It comes with Vista SP1, which is a free download.

        • by ElliotLee (713376)
          Wow, that's good to know. A file system suited especially for flash drives! Why isn't there an open source implementation?
          • Re:FS (Score:4, Informative)

            by Hal_Porter (817932) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:14AM (#23775659)
            exFAT isn't 'designed for USB flash devices'. Filesystems in fact don't need to be 'designed for USB flash devices' because those devices (assuming they last more than a couple of days) do wear levelling under the filesystem layer. It's a hacked up version of FAT that works past on drives bigger than 2TB or files bigger than 4GB. Since it's non back compatible and Microsoft have a new found business model of IP licensing I suspect there won't be any third party implementations. Curently there isn't a spec published for exFAT and it would be easier to patent some key part of a new filesystem than one which is back compatible with FAT.

            Mind you it's still free in the sense that you don't pay for it. I'm just annoyed by people using "free software" as a synonym of the business model they favour and expect everyone to know what they mean. Microsoft could claim according to the dictionary that exFAT is free and they'd be right. The FSF doesn't own the word and can't define it. But the exFAT specification is not published (the Sun version of Open Systems) and even if it were the standard would most likely not be an open one in the sense that you don't need a license to implement it (the PC industry criteria for an Open System). Maybe it will be of course, I haven't heard a statement from Microsoft on exFAT openness and licensing.
            • by DrYak (748999) on Friday June 13, 2008 @06:04AM (#23776073) Homepage

              The FSF doesn't own the word and can't define it.
              FSF isn't trying to twist the word "free". It's just the english language which is broken and lacks a simple everyday adjective with proper unambiguous distinction between "freedom" and "costless". They're are just trying to make a distinction between two completely different concepts using a language which lacks the proper tools to make that easy.

              Latin languages doesn't have this problem, and there's no "free vs. free" ambiguity. Thus nobody speaking those languages has the impression that FSF is playing with words.

              Besides, exFAT still costs money to the user, as Vista SP1's license explicitly requires that the user has bought a valid license for Vista, which almost never costs zero, except if the user got it through some channels as MSDNAA.
              • by Jesus_666 (702802)

                Latin languages doesn't have this problem, and there's no "free vs. free" ambiguity. Thus nobody speaking those languages has the impression that FSF is playing with words.

                It's not something that plague all germanic languages either. In German "frei" usually means freedom; while in some cases it can mean "without cost", those are few and static. More commonly used words for "without cost" would be "gratis" or "umsonst".

                No laguage is safe from misleading homonyms, however.

                • by Curien (267780)
                  Kostenlos seemed to me to be the universal word for "cost-free" in Germany, but I suppose there could be regional differences. I was in the Pfalz.

                  I'd argue that "frei" doesn't usually mean "freedom" either. For example, the German "no parking" and "no stopping" street signs read "parking frei" and "stoppen frei", respectively, where "frei" means the exact opposite of "freedom".
        • by nmg196 (184961) *
          > It comes with Vista SP1, which is a free download.

          Why does that get modded +5 funny?

          So far all windows service packs have been a free download. I really don't get why that's at all funny.
    • Re:FS (Score:5, Informative)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @11:39PM (#23774399) Journal
      Yes, [wikipedia.org] there is [wikipedia.org]. But those are designed for raw access to the flash medium. The drive's controller provides a facade of having a whatever you formatted it as.
      • by raddan (519638)
        I suspect that the two main considerations holding back device manufacturers from using formats other than FAT variants are:

        1) Is it easy for the device to work in Windows?

        2) Is the format unencumbered?

        Technical considerations are probably generally not on their minds, at least not yet. I think the fact that both existing implementations you link to are GPL-licensed is a nail in the coffin for them-- there's no chance that Microsoft would ever consider stuffing the code into their default Windows
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by the_womble (580291)

      I assume the article is talking about flash drives.
      Yes, the article specifically says flash drives. The summary does not.

      One would have thought that the editors of a technology website would know that a USB drive is not necessarily flash - oops, sorry this is Slashdot.

    • Its very likely that any modern flash drive has error correction built in, if that is what you mean by "fault-tolerance".
    • I don't think that has a lot to do with it. It's probably power levels/quality and amount of time spent accessing it that kills the silicon layer of drives. Crappy ones can have tiny surges and have to constantly re-read and stuff so yeah I suppose a file system could filter out bad sectors and stuff on the computer side after it reads it just once but I still think it's a power quality thing.
      • by hairyfeet (841228)
        Actually according to TFA(I know. But hey,I got bored.) the reason they are slower is the use of MLC(multi level cell) VS SLC(single level cell),problem is almost nobody actually makes SLC anymore since it is about 4 times as expensive to make. And I don't know about you,but considering the speed that flash sizes are increasing IMHO it would be nuts to spend all the extra cash on a SLC when you will have outgrown it before making back the extra cash. It also mentions that you only really see the benefit of
    • Re:FS (Score:5, Informative)

      by linhux (104645) on Friday June 13, 2008 @03:52AM (#23775571) Homepage
      There is a Journalled Flash File System [wikipedia.org].
    • ZFS works great with flash drives. For a video demo check out: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7760232806099469333 [google.com] There is a english dubbed version of the video at http://blogs.sun.com/constantin/entry/csi_munich_how_to_save [sun.com] but I like the original german one better.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    And why are they mixing the two? It just confuses things.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912)
      While technically you are correct, you can assume that both will be affected by how good your engineers are. Well engineered drives will be both fast and have efficient wear-leveling. Poorly engineered drives will be slow and have terrible wear-leveling.
    • by LarsG (31008) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:34AM (#23774713) Journal
      Because SLC is both faster and more durable than MLC?
    • That's easy (Score:5, Funny)

      by Moraelin (679338) on Friday June 13, 2008 @01:54AM (#23775109) Journal
      Well, that's easy. See, if you have a painfully slow drive, you use it less. So it'll last you for decades ;)
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by beav007 (746004)
        I was using my USB drive last night, and noticed that it went fast for a while, slowed down for a stretch, and then sped up again. I'm guessing that this means it will only happen 9 more times and I'll be set. Is there a market for USB drives that have been pre run in?

        For sale: 4GB USB flash drive. Run in on linux - no viruses! Full logs of run in period, including all of the 10 variances.

        Careful! Some sellers sell flash devices as run in when they have only had 5 or 6 variances! We give you the logs t

    • by mh1997 (1065630)

      What does speed have to do with life?
      Everything! Live fast, love hard, die young!
  • MARKETING! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 12, 2008 @11:48PM (#23774461)
    Why is it every other media we have speed-ratings and benchmarks and reviews? With USB thumb-drives you can't tell virtually anything when purchasing one other than what color it is.

    I want to know SOMETHING like 133x is defined for CompactFlash to give a basic idea of the speed of the device. I'm willing to accept some fudging around but not prepared to find out my new 32-gig flash-drive is 10 times SLOWER than my old 2-gig one. How has this situation persisted this long in a performance-obsessed technical field?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by blahplusplus (757119)
      "Why is it every other media we have speed-ratings and benchmarks and reviews? With USB thumb-drives you can't tell virtually anything when purchasing one other than what color it is."

      USB thumb drives are like floppy disks, I think no one really cares that much about reliability since most transfers are done via network or CD/DVD/etc, or external storage (portable hard drive).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Nursie (632944)
      Well look for the ones from reputable companies that sell themselves on speed.

      Like Corsair, OCZ or Patriot sticks. If you do your research on the net first then you'll be ok. It's when you walk into a store and they have a selection af candy coloured novelty thumb drives, that's when you're going to get shafted.

      Personally I like the Patriot Xporter XT, I use it as a main disk on my NSLU2 debian box. It's not quite as quick as a normal HDD, but it's not bad. Corsair's voyager range are the defacto standard o
      • Re:MARKETING! (Score:5, Informative)

        by mollymoo (202721) on Friday June 13, 2008 @08:38AM (#23777305) Journal
        Corsair were awesome till a few months ago when they dumped SLC. My 16GB Voyager GT is a stick of shit. Oh yeah, streaming performance is great at 25MB/sec and random reads are pretty good too. Streaming writes are better than average at around 15MB/sec. But for random writes it's just awful. How does 10-20 writes per second sound? Crap? It is.

        I tried to use one as the boot drive in my Eee PC and it was glacial. There also seemed to be some kind of pathological interaction between the MCL Voyager GT and Linux's CFQ IO scheduler - when performing a lot of writes the machine would lock solid for several seconds at a time, it looked like reads were being squeezed out. I never did boil it down to a clean test case though. Switching to the deadline scheduler improved matters substantially. While investigating that I realised Linux doesn't have an optimal scheduler for flash drives, they're all built around reducing and consolidating head seeks. no-op (which as the name suggests is just a FIFO with no real scheduling at all) is the fastest scheduler for USB flash, but you get no fair scheduling at all - you have to wait for that 500MB write to finish before your 100-byte read gets its turn. At least some of no-op's better performance is down to it not being anticipatory - it doesn't wait a few milliseconds after an IO to see if the process that requested the previous read/write requests another near by. That's just a waste of time with flash which doesn't have a physical head to seek.

        There's a fair bit of tuning you can do at runtime with Linux's IO schedulers, read the docs in /my/linux/source/Documentation/block.

        If you want fast, look at the old, 8GB SLC Voyager GTs. 30MB/sec read, 25MB/sec headline figures don't sound that much better, but in the real world they can be 3x faster at writes than the newer MLC models thanks to overwhelmingly better random write performance.
    • by tepples (727027)

      I want to know SOMETHING like 133x is defined for CompactFlash to give a basic idea of the speed of the device.
      SDHC cards have a speed rating on them. So if you buy an SDHC card and an SDHC adapter, you can get some idea of how fast your transfers will be.
  • Someone asked me about this very thing last week.
    I thought everyone knew that you get what you pay for, both speed and durability.
    I have found also that the drives marked ReadyBoost usually mean they're among the faster drives.
    • by Schlemphfer (556732) on Friday June 13, 2008 @01:07AM (#23774921) Homepage
      >I thought everyone knew that you get what you pay for, both speed and durability.

      Sure, you get what you pay for. But the problem here is that these drives don't indicate on the packaging whether they use SLC or MLC memory, or whether they offer more than one channel.

      So let's say the crappy variety of 4 GB USB drives currently go for $25, and the better, faster variety will never sell at that price. Right now, you have no way of knowing whether that 4 GB drive going for $50 is made with the faster, more durable SLC memory, or whether the drive is simply overpriced.

      You can therefore spend $50 for a drive and not get what you paid for. And the only way to safeguard yourself is to waste time researching your drive -- something you shouldn't have to do, since this info ought to be published as part of the drive's specifications.

      • by blind biker (1066130) on Friday June 13, 2008 @04:37AM (#23775723) Journal
        Mod parent up! This is the heart of the problem right there: manufacturers don't write whether the USB drive (or SD card, or any other Flash RAM device) uses SLC or MLC Flash RAM. But that's the main difference. SLC Flash will survive 100.000 write/erase cycles, MLC only about 5000. That's a HUGE difference. Especially if you use the USB drive to host an OS that likes logging a lot. Each log write implies the whole Flash RAM block (usually 128 KB) to be erased and then written to.

        Logging is the Flash RAM killer.

        And Kingston and Sandisk should start putting "SLC" or "MLC" on their products, so we techies know whether they are worth the double price.
      • ... a bit of research on the internet, before you go out to purchase these things, will save you a lot of time, money and disappointment.

        Also, buying a reputable brand (Corsair and OCZ are generally good).
        • by Miseph (979059)
          Yes, but GP explicitly stated that a) they have better things to do than research a $50 thumb drive purchase and b) there's no reason they should have to research it, since companies SHOULD be simply publishing it on the box.

          Nice try though.
      • by jrp2 (458093)
        > Sure, you get what you pay for. But the problem
        > here is that these drives don't indicate on the
        > packaging whether they use SLC or MLC memory, or
        > whether they offer more than one channel.

        At the very least you would expect the makers of the "good drives" to make it clear why they are worth the extra cash. Not sure I expect the makers of "bad drives" to advertise their deficiencies.

        As consumers, we can then assume that drives that do not list specs are crap.
  • by tedrlord (95173) on Thursday June 12, 2008 @11:58PM (#23774523)
    So, wait. Are you telling me that better quality products will perform better and last longer? You've blown my mind here! My whole worldview will need to be adjusted.
  • I recently bought one of these [ncix.com]. hdparm said it's reading at 26 MB/s. Then it said it was reading at 17 MB/s. Not sure why the variance.

    Then I copied a 700 MB file onto it from a local hard drive in gnome, which reported initially that it was transferring at 20+ MB/s, but that dropped steadily until it levelled off around 6.1 MB/s.

    Far from scientific, yes, but I wonder a)why the inconsistencies, and b)how these results compare with other products.

    db

    • by Bryan Ischo (893) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:14AM (#23774587) Homepage
      Probably at first the copy was just being buffered into memory. Linux buffers copies and then flushes the buffered data to disk later, when the drive is otherwise idle, to improve overall system performance. Once you filled the cache, you had to wait to write more data into it until some of it was flushed to make room. And thus, once the cache is filled, any more writes happen at the actual speed of the device, instead of the speed to copy to memory.

      That's one theory. There may be other reasons.

      In terms of how these results compare to other products, I think they are "pretty good". Not the best, but significantly better than average.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LarsG (31008)

        There may be other reasons.
        Some usbkeys cheat, they use a small buffer of fast flash. Small writes go fast, but sustained speed isn't so hot.
        • by JOrgePeixoto (853808) on Friday June 13, 2008 @01:21AM (#23775009) Journal

          Some usbkeys cheat, they use a small buffer of fast flash. Small writes go fast, but sustained speed isn't so hot.
          Don't abuse the word cheat, or any other poor word for that matter. A cache seems to be an actually useful feature for a pen drive, as opposed to a "cheat". A cheat would be something that gave false high numbers.
          • by TeknoHog (164938)

            Seconded. Most hard drives "cheat" with a RAM buffer, so why not flash drives?

            I find the idea of using faster flash as a buffer strange, though. I understand that a huge RAM buffer doesn't make sense in a kind of device that's often improperly unmounted. But a small, specialized area of flash would wear out much faster than the rest of the drive.

          • by geekoid (135745)
            They cheat in the sense that they create a small buffer to get fast writes and then use that number in marketing, implying that's the speed you should always expect.

            Technically, it's not a cheat and it is a useful way to do things.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:14AM (#23774589)
    Always, when possible, submit a link to the print version. It's faster, on one page, and gets rid of those annoying frames, ads, etc. that litter most tech Web sites these days.
    • Always, when possible, submit a link to the print version.
      Unless it's Ars Technica, which charges an annual fee for access to the print version.
  • by Bryan Ischo (893) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:22AM (#23774653) Homepage
    My biggest beef with flash drives thus far is with the flimsy construction. I have owned three flash drives. The first was a 64 byte drive back in the day when that was sizeable. I think it was an Iomega drive. It was really tiny which is why I liked it. But after only about a dozen gentle insertions (no jokes please), it developed a crack in the housing which soon threatened to cause the whole device to fall apart. Iomega was kind enough to replace it for free (it was still under warrantly, less than 6 months old) with a 128 Megabyte version. That was drive #2. I think I lost that one.

    My next drive was a Patriot 2 GB flash drive. It lasted maybe 50 insertions before the usb connector "pushed in" and became so loose that it could no longer be inserted properly into a USB port. I ended up snapping the outer housing off and now it's just a little tiny PCB with chips on it and a USB connector at the end. Works fine but I wouldn't take it anywhere remotely hostile. I keep it next to my computer.

    So what is the point of this long story? That flash drives tend to have really cheap construction (in my experience) that doesn't hold up to much use, let alone much abuse. In the case of the Patriot I'm not surprised because it was a really cheap unit. But the Iomega was not.

    I don't doubt that th expensive ruggedized flash drives can take much, much more abuse. But they represent like 1% of the market. Most drives are these really flimsily constructed things that fall apart when you look at them the wrong way.
    • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:25AM (#23774667) Homepage

      My biggest beef with flash drives thus far is with the flimsy construction. I have owned three flash drives. The first was a 64 byte drive back in the day when that was sizeable.
      Umm, when was that exactly? 1955? :)
      • by Bryan Ischo (893) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:49AM (#23774821) Homepage
        Whoops, typo :) But your response was funny.

        This does remind me of what a geek I am though. I think I must be the only person in the world who often daydreams (when I have the time and inclination to daydream) that I've gone back in time and taken some piece of modern computer equipment to shock and amaze people from the early days of computing.

        For example, I'll daydream that I've taken my laptop (which is now a few years old and not impressive to anybody, but with 768 MB of RAM, a 40 GB disk, and 1.4 Ghz Pentium M, would have blown the socks off of a computer enthusiast from, say, 1969) back in time and am showing it off to a group of scientists like at say that famous "mother of all demos" where the mouse and graphical interface were first demoed.

        Can you imagine showing up and being like, hey check this out. That 64 KB PDP-11 that you have running your demo is cool and all. But let me show you my computer, which has 768 MILLION bytes of RAM! And a 1400x1050 32 bit color flat panel LCD display! With built-in keyboard!

        It's not that I would lord it over anyone. But it's fun (for me) to daydream about the conversations you'd have with someone from 1969, explaining to them the advances of modern technology and how they are used in our world.

        Anyway, your comment reminded me of that, because although a 2 GB flash drive today is totally ho-hum, if you could sneak one of those back in time to the 1970's, you'd have something that governments would probably go to war over :) Of course you'd have to take the USB 2.0 spec back with you too ...

        Like I said, I am a total geek ...
        • by hughk (248126) on Friday June 13, 2008 @02:07AM (#23775153) Journal

          And they would say

          You need how many megs to say "Hello World"?

          ...and I look at the ledger system for the bank where I'm working which uses 3270 sessions. Yes, even though the documentation refers to this as a GUI, hello 1972, your character mode VDU [wikipedia.org] is still haunting us.

          • by reddburn (1109121)

            And they would say
            And the colored girls go, "Do do do, do do, do do do do do do do do do do do."
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by frehe (6916)

          This does remind me of what a geek I am though. I think I must be the only person in the world who often daydreams (when I have the time and inclination to daydream) that I've gone back in time and taken some piece of modern computer equipment to shock and amaze people from the early days of computing.

          I have those fantasies too. I also figure that if you went far enough back in time, they would build a bridge out of you, or burn you, in about two seconds after you announce: "Behold filthy peasants; the calculator from the future!" ;-D Recommended reading on the subject:

          Ghost Of Christmas Future Taunts Children With Visions Of PlayStation 5
          The Onion
          December 18, 2002 Issue 38-47

          http://www.theonion.com/content/node/27607

        • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Friday June 13, 2008 @07:23AM (#23776499)
          --And typically, one of the cooler Star Wars games.


          (And yes, I too have wandered down that sunny Day Dream avenue from time to time.)

          You have to be about seven or eight years old, about six months after Star Wars came out and the best computer game available is "Pong" which takes up an entire counsel unit and is still pretty cool. Anyway, you have to show up one day at your friend's house or at school; some place where there's a handful of kids but no adults, and you have to have a modern laptop with you. You explain that it's a new Star Wars toy that they're testing but which hasn't "come out" yet, and that your Dad managed to bring one of the test units home from "the office". Nobody's sure if he really let you have it or if you're going to get in trouble when he finds out. Either way, that's incidental, because everybody is jostling to see what the heck it is you have on the table. It looks like it might have actually been IN a Star Wars film, that's for sure.

          Then you crack open the lid and power it up, and muck around with the interface for a while. This should be sufficient to blow your audience away since things like GUI's and mouse pointers haven't been invented yet. --Flat screens which have better color and resolution than any TV set around are also new; just the sort of thing you'd expect a really expensive Star Wars toy to have. You might also want to pull the luminescent CD out of the Star Wars game package and put it in the extending CD tray. --Because Walkman-size consumer electronics have also not been invented, so just the size of the mechanics should also blow your friends away. Not to mention the Buck Rogers CD, (I still think the CD is a dead giveaway that we're all actually living in a low budget sci-fi movie of the week, but anyway. . .)

          Then you start playing the Star Wars game. Music, sound effects, interface, it all looks better even than the best coin-op video game at the mall. A LOT better. You play this for about five or ten minutes, letting your friends have short tries before you suddenly have to go home because your Dad called and you need to bring the game back. And then it is never seen again. Until thirty years later, that is. --The stories which will circulate will not be taken seriously by parents, and yet a handful of kids will be jazzed beyond belief and will be scoping out Department Store Catalogs for the rest of their natural childhoods.

          I had a friend who came back from Japan once with a fold-up robot toy which was lightyears ahead of anything our Western toy makers had ever produced. It was one of the coolest days of my entire life. I just picture that day times ten.


          -FL

        • by zdzichu (100333)
          I think I must be the only person in the world who often daydreams (when I have the time and inclination to daydream) that I've gone back in time and taken some piece of modern computer equipment to shock and amaze people from the early days of computing.

          No, you aren't the only person in the world with such daydreams. Good to know I'm not only one, either :)
        • 1980s (Score:3, Interesting)

          by kbahey (102895)
          I can't speak for the 1970s, but I started developing for mainframes in the 1980s.

          The mainframe I first worked on did NOT have a card reader, which was odd at the time for the series (NCR Criterion V-series). It had 1MB of memory per CPU, and the two hosts shared a bank of 6 disks, each 500MB (total of 3 GB).

          Now, my laptop has a CPU with dual cores, 1GB of memory, and 160GB of disk. Oh, and my cell phone has a microSD card with 2GB on it that is less than my thumbnail size.

          Apache with PHP and few PHP script
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by InlawBiker (1124825)
      I think you get what you pay for. I bought one of those dirt-cheap 256m sticks a long while back. It's a flimsy piece of plastic, but I expected that. But guess what, it still works.

      Now I use a 2gb Kingston DataTraveler. It's very solidly built. I use it all the time and carry it with me always. I think it was about $20 last year. They're probably giving them away with a Happy Meal these days. I'm just waiting for the day I lose the little cap.

      You can certainly buy very well-built models designed fo
      • by reddburn (1109121)

        I think you get what you pay for. I bought one of those dirt-cheap 256m sticks a long while back. It's a flimsy piece of plastic, but I expected that. But guess what, it still works.
        I bought a 1 GB drive at a drugstore on my way to the airport for a conference about 2 years ago. It was dirt cheap, I keep it on me, and it's still fine.
    • by compro01 (777531)
      i've only had 1 flash drive fail on me, and it was one of those gizmo ones (the tiny half USB connector ones) and i'm pretty sure it's just that the (exposed) contacts are just screwed from living the rough life in my pocketes for a year and some.

      my other 4 drives are a 512MB lexar (had for 3 years), a 1GB retail plus (walmart brand. casing split, but a little electrical tape has held it fine for the past 2 years), a 2GB memorex (small drive, but with a full usb connector. my newest one, to replace the gi
    • by mcrbids (148650)
      So what is the point of this long story? That flash drives tend to have really cheap construction (in my experience) that doesn't hold up to much use, let alone much abuse. In the case of the Patriot I'm not surprised because it was a really cheap unit. But the Iomega was not.

      Wow. I don't have your experience at ALL. I have a 1 GB nameless thumb drive I bought at Office Depot a couple years ago for about $90, when 64 MB drives were still the norm. It's been a road-warrior for almost 3 years without a hitch.
      • by Bryan Ischo (893)
        No, I swear, I am pretty gentle with them. Maybe I have had especially bad luck and you have had especially good luck?

        For the 64 MB drive, I could tell after it cracked that there was a flaw in the design. It's hard to describe, but there was an activity LED window that acted in part as a clip for the cap, and it was the stress on this thing from snapping the cap on and off a dozen times or so that cracked the plastic case. It was the kind of thing that I could see happening to pretty much everyone who u
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:26AM (#23774675) Homepage Journal
    durability has a lot more to do with drive lifetime than the durability of the flash components. I have had 3 memory sticks die, and none of them have been because the flash wore out. One I managed to kick and separated the flash part from the USB connector(which was a bitch to get out of my mac pro), another the USB connector became very flakey right after I bought the thing, it would sometimes read, sometimes not, and the other just stopped working(ok, theoretically that could have been due to flash wear, but the thing was less than a year old). In my opinion, if reliability is a chief concern, get one of the small plastic ones. My little red iMation drive has took lots of abuse, and because it is so small, the odds of a collision are significantly reduced.
    • by knarf (34928)
      Open the drive, look at the solder connections to the USB plug. You'll probably find they have come loose as solder joints are not really up to much physical abuse. Resolder them with a fine-tipped 15W iron (to be bought for a few $local_currency_units at the hardware store) and, for good measure, glue down the metal shield of the USB connector. Your USB gadget will probably work again, and keep working for a long time. If it doesn't, rinse and repeat. If you really want to make sure these things don't happ
    • I have yet to have these kind of results from any of my technology.

      I have a 128mb Kingston thumb drive that is still trucking right along.

      I run into people in my office who are constantly having problems along these lines - and here is what I found:

      1. They are impatient. If one key press or mouse click will do - then 50 will do better.

      2. They think computers and associated peripherals are built like a tank...they are not. They seem very confused and angry when dropping their notebook computer, or forcefu
  • by Bryan Ischo (893) on Friday June 13, 2008 @12:32AM (#23774703) Homepage
    I installed Arch Linux on a cheap 2 GB Patriot flash drive. It boots pretty quickly and overall performance seems good, even for a cheap drive. However I don't do hugely disk intensive tasks with it.

    One annoying thing I have noticed is that programs will periodically completely freeze up and I'll look over and notice that the activity light on the drive is flashing. A common experience is that Firefox will be completely unresponsive, not even redrawing itself when a window that was obscuring it is moved, until the drive stops flashing, and then Firefox will instantly come back to life.

    My theory is that the kernel is caching writes to the drive and then at some random point decides it's time to flush the write cache to disk. I think that any program that tries to write any files while the kernel is flushing the cache gets put into a wait state by the kernel until the cache flush is complete and then whatever write the program was attempting, gets written into the cache, ready to be flushed again on the next cache flush.

    Furthermore, I theorize that for normal hard disk drives, the write speed is sufficient to keep "ahead" of cache flushes so that the cache never really "fills up" and no programs ever get waited in this way.

    But that for slowish flash drives like mine, the kernel doesn't compensate for the slow write speed of the flash (because the kernel doesn't even realize that it's writing to flash?) and so it lets enough data buffer up that it has to frantically try to flush it all when the cache has filled up. Or perhaps, that the kernel just tries to flush too much at once, not realizing how slow the flush is going to be due to the underlying speed of the device.

    I also theorize that this problem could be solved by having the kernel flush the cache more aggressively, and in smaller increments. If the flash drive were kept continually busy flushing small chunks of write cache, then a) the write cache would not be as likely to fill up, and b) no individual write would monopolize the device for such a long period of time becase the writes are all smaller.

    Writing all of this makes me realize that the root cause may be that programs are trying to *read* from the device while a write cache flush is happening, and since the device can only do one operation (read or write) at a time, the long duration of the cache flush operation is blocking a program from reading the drive. Furthermore, if what the program is trying to read is a demand-paged part of its text segment, then it makes perfect sense that the whole process would be blocked by the kernel while the text segment piece waits to be loaded.

    Am I even close to the mark on this one?

    If so, I am sure there are Linux kernel experts who can tell me what values to write into what /proc filesystem entries to turn more aggressive write cache flushing on. I can't keep up with the /proc filesystem because it changes so frequently, so I don't even bother to try to stay abreast of how to do things with the Linux kernel in this way anymore ...
    • Firefox will be completely unresponsive, not even redrawing itself when a window that was obscuring it is moved, until the drive stops flashing, and then Firefox will instantly come back to life.
      I run FF3 RC1 portable in Windows xp from my dual channel flash driver (fast?) and I experience the same thing just as you have described it. I turned off caching and cookies in FF's options and I found that the unresponsive pauses immediately became shorter and less frequent, although they are still occurring.

      db

      • by Bryan Ischo (893)
        Are you saying that you run Windows XP from a flash drive?

        Do tell how, please! I spent an entire day doing nothing but trying to install Windows XP on a flash drive, and eventually gave up, defeated.

        I found some great howto's for installing Windows XP to a flash drive, but they required that you be able to modify the Windows installation CD-ROM using some shareware programs that can change files on an ISO copy of the CD without altering the structure of the CD, such that you can just change some files, wri
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by clarkn0va (807617)
          Sorry, my wording was ambiguous. I'm running FF portable from the flash drive, in Windows xp Pro, which is running from the hard drive. Good luck though ;)

          db

        • I have to ask though, what do you have against using shareware?

          It can't be an objection to its freeness (as in beer) or you wouldn't use linux.

          It can't be an objection to its restrictiveness, or you wouldn't be using (or attempting to use) Windows.

          And it can't be that the shareware license prevents that specific use of the software, because doesn't the Windows EULA stipulate against running Windows from virtual machines, mobile devices or while enjoying ice cream? Ok, just kidding about the virtual machi

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Bryan Ischo (893)
            I guess for me it's a perception thing. I honestly perceive shareware as a whole as being the lowest quality software. Well I guess the lowest is probably "free software projects that never really went anywhere and were quickly abandoned". But aside from those, which are easy to avoid, I have found that shareware often doesn't have the quality that comes from professional software development by people who get paid to make the software good, nor does it have the quality that comes from free software deve
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by aaronbeekay (1080685)
          From my limited experience trying to do what you're talking about, it's a royal PITA and not fun to attempt. For me, though, the PITA was trying to get XP to work with USB *and* the EFI on my MacBook Pro-- it was just so much work that I eventually gave up and did it a different way.

          You're talking about writing an ISO filesystem with free-software tools, though-- that shouldn't be too hard to do. Assuming that you're OK with using Microsoft's cabextract tools to get inside the install files you need to m
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Bryan Ischo (893)
            I used all of the techniques you described (cabextract, mkisofs, etc). The problem I *think* was experiencing is that the Windows installation CD-ROM also includes an El Torito boot sector, which has to be duplicated correctly in the modified disk that you create with mkisofs. And mkisofs has support for El Torito, but I couldn't figure out how to extract the boot sector from the CD-ROM drive in such a way that I could re-write it with mkisofs and have it be able to actually boot the CD-ROM. I tried usin
            • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

              by aaronbeekay (1080685)
              Ah. I think you went a bit more in-depth than I did. I suppose that's good-- it gives me the reassurance that if I had tried just a little bit longer, I still would have failed. :]

              If you ever attack it again, I'd look at WinClone for some insight. It's a piece of Mac software ostensibly dedicated to cloning NTFS partitions, but it includes a lot of helpful output on exactly which bits it's setting to make the durn thing bootable. Maybe you've already gone through that-- and maybe it's not applicable at a
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by ArtemaOne (1300025)
          I'd recommend 8GB or higher compact flash, plus a CF to IDE or SATA adapter, easy to find on most sites like Newegg. It'll show up as a normal hard drive, and easy to install XP on.
    • Could Firefox's fsync() problem be related?

      http://shaver.off.net/diary/2008/05/25/fsyncers-and-curveballs/ [off.net]
    • by mollymoo (202721) on Friday June 13, 2008 @09:40AM (#23778109) Journal

      I installed Arch Linux on a cheap 2 GB Patriot flash drive. It boots pretty quickly and overall performance seems good, even for a cheap drive. However I don't do hugely disk intensive tasks with it.

      One annoying thing I have noticed is that programs will periodically completely freeze up and I'll look over and notice that the activity light on the drive is flashing. A common experience is that Firefox will be completely unresponsive, not even redrawing itself when a window that was obscuring it is moved, until the drive stops flashing, and then Firefox will instantly come back to life.

      I touched on this in an earlier post, but I experienced the same thing and tracked it down to the CFQ IO scheduler. I never got round to making a clean test case so never submitted the bug to the kernel. My wild-ass guess is that it's assuming reads and writes take equal time when they don't with flash, which confuses its notion of "fairness". It's a pity CFQ doesn't seem to work well with flash, as it has some tasty features like being able to ionice your backup process so foreground tasks get priority. It's not just me who things CFQ aint great for flash - the default kernel on an Eee PC doesn't even have it compiled in, despite CFQ being the default scheduler for the kernel version they use (it's still the default now, you're almost certainly using it).

      The IO scheduler operates at the block device level, below the page cache daemon, so in theory even when dumping cache it shouldn't starve your reads and writes out. That's pretty much the point of having a clever IO scheduler - not having to wait for a 5 GB IO to finish before you get to read the 100 byte file you're blocking on. Mostly that's what Linux's schedulers do. But CFQ with a flash drive? Not so much.

      You can change the IO scheduler and tune it at runtime, which is very handy indeed. This shouldn't cause data loss, and I've not had any problems.

      I'll assume your flash drive is /dev/sda, change sda as appropriate.

      To see which IO scheduler you're currently using and those available in your kernel:

      $ cat /sys/block/sda/queue/scheduler
      noop anticipatory deadline [cfq]

      That shows I have all four schedulers available and CFQ is currently in use. To change it, just echo the name of the new one to that file:

      $ echo deadline > /sys/block/sda/queue/scheduler
      $ cat /sys/block/sda/queue/scheduler
      noop anticipatory [deadline] cfq

      I found the deadline scheduler had much better interactive performance that CFQ when booting from a flash drive.

      Changing the scheduler as detailed above needs to be done after every boot and for every device. If you want to use a particular scheduler as the kernel default for all devices, either choose it at kernel compile time or pass the "elevator" parameter to your kernel in your bootloader config. For example, "elevator=deadline" makes the deadline scheduler the default. If you use grub, tag that on the end of the kernel line in /boot/grub/menu.lst.

      There are tuning "knobs" for each scheduler. Read the docs in /linux/source/Documentation/block for the gory details. I tuned my system to use the deadline scheduler, group IOs less (no head seek penalty) and prioritise reads over writes (things regularly block on reads but less so on writes, which can be cached anyway - remember we're working below the level of the cache). Read the docs to understand the gory details - note that these tunables are for the deadline scheduler, they're different for different schedulers. They're not very scientifically selected and not exhaustively benchmarked so you may be able to do better. The numbers for expire are in milliseconds. This lot will dispatch IOs individually (instead of in groups of 16), do 10 reads for every write, prioritise a read a

  • by EEPROMS (889169) on Friday June 13, 2008 @01:12AM (#23774949)
    I have always wondered why no one has mad a USB thumb drive with a flexible/swivel neck. Ive seen a few laptops with the USB sockets damaged after a user has connected the thumb drive then forgotten about it and then knocked it (thus cold soldering the laptops USB socket).
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Revenger75 (1246176)
      I worried about the same thing, but what actually prompted me into action was my laziness. (ironic, huh?) Under my desk, I have a full size tower with the USB ports on center of the top of the case instead of out front. I almost have to get on the floor in order to figure out where the port is located. (It is protected by a cover that also houses a firewire and earphone jacks) So instead of taking five minutes to find the port each time, I just dug out a foot long USB cable extender. Using the extension,
    • by CCFreak2K (930973)
      My father has USB flash media bundled with a tiny (~2 inches) cable for that kind of thing.
  • by PhotoGuy (189467) on Friday June 13, 2008 @05:55AM (#23776025) Homepage
    When 8G flash drives suddenly dropped in price lately, I could choose between a Kingston and an I-Forget-The-Noname-Brand-Offhand at a local small retailer. I picked the Kingston. Installing Linux on it, something seemed terribly off. Reads were fast, but writes were deathly slow. I took it back and swapped with the noname brand, which was a bit smaller physically, and *much* faster in operation.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by NotQuiteReal (608241)
      Heres a few random tests on some flash drives I have:

      a) Sony Tiny 2GB: 6.2 MB/sec
      b) SanDisk Cruzer 2GB: 7.1 MB/sec
      c) Patriot Xporter 2G: 14.2 MB/sec
      d) Patriot Xporter 8G: 11.7 MB/sec
      e) PQI 4GB: 1.5 MB/sec

      a & b seem like "typical" drives. c was supposed to be fast, and it is! I liked it so much I bought d. Drive e was a big mistake - impulse buy without knowing the specs. It is too slow to use (45 minutes to fill it up.)

      Alas, the Patriot 2GB just went in under RMA yesterday. It wa

  • TFA was really interesting. I never had the faintest idea that there was such a watershed in flash memory. Always thought the differences were incremental.

    I know that compact flash for cameras varies in price and performance. The purportedly good ones get marketed as Ultra, High-Speed, etc. Interesting to note that there is a technical difference as dramatic as SLC vs MLC that could be cited, but I never recall it being touted as a selling point for high-end cards. One might not care so much about a thum

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