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Data Storage Technology

USB Flash Drive Round-up 348

Adam writes "Ars has published a massive USB 2.0 Hi-speed Flash drive roundup, with 10 USB 2.0 flash drives that they've tested on three OSes. They rate the drives by performance, durability, and features/accessories (including the crappy software that no one uses). Definitely a good read for anyone who has recently sat on their USB thumbdrive!"
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USB Flash Drive Round-up

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  • bootable (Score:5, Informative)

    by qewl ( 671495 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @01:29PM (#12323494)
    Still, the most important feature is that it's bootable. (And some still aren't) I love having Feather Linux on a keychain. The Cruzer Mini has done me well.
    • BIOS upgrades? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tepples ( 727027 )

      Still, the most important feature is that it's bootable. (And some still aren't)

      Are BIOS upgrades generally available for those older mainboards that have USB ports but no ability to boot from USB storage? For instance, I use a Dell Dimension 4100 computer manufactured in fall of 2000.

      • Re:BIOS upgrades? (Score:3, Informative)

        by DigiShaman ( 671371 )
        Yes, most newer PCs should have a BIOS option to either boot from USB or "Other Device". Once set, then you just need to change the boot priority order. Make sure that "USB" or "Other Device" is set to boot BEFORE the hard drive.

        If you do not have this option, you might want look into updating your BIOS by getting the latest firmware from Dell. If your PC is customer built, head over to the Motherboard manufacture.
    • I understand that older PCs don't boot from USB - so no surprise there. But why are some of the the USB sticks bootable and some not? Aren't they all implementing the same standards, and just adding their features on top (like crypto drivers or whatever)?
  • Most people? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 23, 2005 @01:30PM (#12323502)
    From TFA:

    Previously, most people had no idea what a Flash drive was, but now you can be sure to find most people with even a basic Flash drive in their pocket or purse.

    Uh, no. Whoever wrote this must make a living pickpocketing or mugging geeks only.
    • Re:Most people? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by vitamine73 ( 818599 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @01:55PM (#12323686)
      I do not believe the vast majority of undergraduate biology students to whom I teach are be geeks. Most of them carry these things in their pocket or backpack! Previously, the only people I knew that had one where geeks!

      If you use multiple computers to do your day's work, this is certainly an affordable and practical solution.. and people in this situation are doing it!

      • The commenters point was that it is probably not true that most people have a flash drive these days, and I have to agree with that. A sampling of only undergrad bio students isn't a very good sampling of the US population as a whole (which is what I'd be lead to believe by the statement in the article). If you think that over 50% of US citizens have a flash drive, you're badly mistaken. I'm constantly in meetings of 20 or more people (with many geeks present) and when someone asks to borrow a flash driv
    • Re:Most people? (Score:4, Informative)

      by aslate ( 675607 ) <planetexpress@noSpAM.gmail.com> on Saturday April 23, 2005 @01:59PM (#12323709) Homepage
      We've been selling USB drives at school as part of a Young Enterprise company. We're taking orders from teachers that know nothing about computers, students in the lower years that don't know much, the school secretaries, my mum has one. These things are pretty much replacing the floppy as a means of easy, cheap and compatable removable storage.
      • Re:Most people? (Score:4, Informative)

        by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @04:13PM (#12324471)
        These things are pretty much replacing the floppy as a means of easy, cheap and compatable removable storage.

        Great, but that doesn't have any bearing on the statement that "most" people have them. How many people carried around floppies? If everyone with a floppy or CD on them right now was counted with all the people with flash drives, it still wouldn't be half the US.

        Now, if someone were to say that half of all people with USB-capable computers had external USB storage, then that would be believable, even if it wasn't true yet. But half of all people? That just absurd.
    • The college I attend dropped support for floppies at the beginning of the year (some machines have floppy drives still but if they break they won't be replaced, and new machines probably won't have them), and as a result everyone carries USB flash drives (all machines have USB ports on the front of the case).

      Mugging or pickpocketing people for usb flash drives would be stupid - they cost what, about £12 for 128MB now? I'm in Britain so if you want mug/pickpocket people it would be for mobile phones
      • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @03:18PM (#12324171) Journal
        Mobile phones used to be expensive and interesting, as well as useful for drug dealers who wanted to call Colombia for free, so they'd get stolen, especially if you left them visible in your car. But these days, at least in the US, nobody bothers them any more. Cell phones are cheap enough to make that you tend to get them free when you sign up for an overpriced cellular plan, or kids who can't afford that can get prepaid phones in the 7-11, so there's essentially no resale market except for the good ones (where you can also buy extremely cheap long-distance phone cards.) Perhaps the fact that the US is mostly not GSM affects that as well - you usually need to register the phone itself with the cellular company, so it's traceable, as opposed to simply popping your SIM card into a better phone. Since the crime has stopped paying, it's just not worth the trouble.
  • by dattaway ( 3088 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @01:30PM (#12323504) Homepage Journal
    With the new flash readers as stock on most new computers, these may be unpopular by next year.
    • by Bastian ( 66383 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @01:56PM (#12323691)
      With the new flash readers as stock on most new computers, these may be unpopular by next year.

      Only among that miniscule segment of the population that only has to deal with computers made in the past year, year and a half and are only made by manufacturers that include a certain feature set.

      But seeing as how a USB key is a heck of a lot cheaper than buying a new computer or a flash drive for all my friends, I think I'll stick with that.
    • With the new flash readers as stock on most new computers, these may be unpopular by next year.

      Is there one flash standard that ALL computers will take, or will there be diversity? Flash, Secure Disk, XD card, or Sony Memorystick?? If there is diversity, it does not really give people confidence that 1 floppy can be taken anywhere and read.

      Sony has been putting their Memory Stick readers on all their laptops. It is on my laptop. But I never use it because it is the only Sony I own.

      We need an industry

      • If the computer industry would have kept this technology up to date ... we would have a floppy that is 46 megs

        We had 120mb floppies years ago (google for 'LS120').

        They didn't take off, because at that time CDROM and CDRW were just taking hold and people couldn't see the point.
    • With the new flash readers as stock on most new computers, these may be unpopular by next year.

      Yes, because unlike USB Mass Storage, which can be accessed out-of-the-box by any computer with a fairly recent OS and a USB port, my CompactFlash will work beautifully on my friend's PC that has a xD-MMC/SD-MemoryStick1/2 reader! Also, his MemoryStick works great in my MMC/SD-xD-CF combo.. NOT.

      Meanwhile, my frickin' car radio has got a USB port to play MP3s. It also has an MMC/SD slot (but no xD, MemoryStick
      • What model of car radio is that? I need to upgrade my car radio, and I never new that ones with USB ports existed! :) Can it play CDs too?

        I'm thinking of getting a Creative NuVo TX FM 1GB, it would be pretty cool to be able to click it in place for long trips :)
    • Most notebooks have USB jacks, but ones with flash readers are pretty rare.
    • by mrsev ( 664367 ) <mrsev@nOSPaM.spymac.com> on Saturday April 23, 2005 @03:28PM (#12324227)
      Are you on crack? You say "out of style faster than the floppy"

      I assume that you are talking about the floppy disc that I have been using since the end of the 80s and still occasionay use.

      By your argument the usb drive will last ONLY 20 years!
    • Now that most people are on the net and send email around instead of bothering with floppies, we'd finally gotten rid of the floppy-based virus as a relevant threat. But USB sticks are starting to bring it back. It's not as serious a problem as it used to be, since most people have anti-virus software, and most people move more bits around by email even if they have USB sticks, but it's non-zero, and it'll get worse as virus writers rediscover the opportunities. Good Times Ahead!
  • by selderrr ( 523988 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @01:32PM (#12323526) Journal
    i bought one, and I'm not really happy with it : if you attach the drive at your keychain, you can NOT insert the drive in a USB port without the keys : the litlle cord is FIXED on the drive ! This is very annoying, since I have quite a bunch of keys (10+.. hey, there's a poll suggestion) and the whole mess tends to get tangled between the KVM cables.

    if you buy a drive : make sure you can unplug it from whatever it is attached to. But make sure that the drive itself doesn't unplug too easily : I lost my previous drive cause the click-'n-hold system wore off and it would unplug at the slightest pull
  • Obligatory (Score:4, Funny)

    by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @01:33PM (#12323531) Homepage
    They seem to have neglected this flash drive that comes with a free MP3 player [apple.com].
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @01:41PM (#12323582)
    FYI, the photos taken with the flash-drive/camera were right on the Charles River, for the most part. The first building is (I believe) the Biogen building right by Alliston Mass Pike exit. The Trader Joe's happens to be in the same parking lot as (ahem) a Microcenter computer store (gee, wonder where everything was bought..) The red building is right near/behind the Central Square T stop. The last photo looks to be taken right after pulling out of the parking lot of the Microcenter/TJ's.

    I opened that page up accidentally in Safari instead of Firefox, and man, now I remember why I installed Flashblock [mozdev.org]. Ow. Ow. OW OW OW. 3/4 of the page is flash advertisements!

    • first building is (I believe) the Biogen building right by Alliston Mass Pike exit.

      The faux industrial building by the Allston exit of I90 is a Genzyme production facility, not associated with Biogen. All of Biogen's local offices are located around Kendall/Tech Square area (I'm former Biogen IT contractor).

      FWIW, Ars was started by a bunch of Harvard folks, so the Cambridge/Boston backdrops aren't suprising. All of these are on or within a few block of Memorial Drive, which runs along the Charles River

  • What's with OS X? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 23, 2005 @01:44PM (#12323607)
    Any idea why the OSX test yielded results 5MB/s slower than Windows?

    • The same reason firewire is slower on Windows than Mac OS X. I think it has to due with the USB2.0 drivers Apple wrote. For whatever reason (IO streamlining, CPU time, who knows) they made it run a bit slower. The transfer speed to total capacity ratio is high enough that it doesn't really matter though.
  • by licamell ( 778753 ) * on Saturday April 23, 2005 @01:45PM (#12323614)
    The PQI stick is absolutely amazing. I have one and leave it in the cargo pocket of whatever pants I'm wearing and hardly remember it's there until it's needed. My roomate also has one (he actually got me mine for this past Christmas) and he has put his through the wash twice already and it still works perfectly.

    One thing that's weird in the review is they act so shocked that the I-Stick can be so small and still be so good... but have they ever opened up any other USB thumb drive? Most have what looks like a I-Stick inside them. The case broke off my cruzer titanium (yeah, its titanium, but the part that holds the two halfs together definitely was not!) and I used to carry around the inside piece after that which was about the size of the I-Stick, but of course was not as strong of plastic and couldn't survive like the I-stick has.

    Just my $0.02
    • why are the called thumb drives?
      I the UK, they're generally called "pen drives" (prolly cuz a lot of them have a pen clip on them for putting in your shirt pocket) or just "usb memory sticks" or simpley "usb drives"

      I'm trying to figure out why they would be called "thumb drives" but it's not coming to me...
    • Unlike probably everyone else here, I've had my PQI Intelligent Stick for quite a long time - almost 3 years now (it's the purple USB 1.1 model, 128MB).

      In my opinion, the form factor is brilliant, and being able to keep it in your wallet is indispensable. It will literally always be near you, you don't ever think about it, unlike having to pick up and check the charge on your mobile phone, MP3 player, etc.

      However, due to having it with you all the time, and its small form factor, I reckon it's more suscep
  • I use it all the time, very unobtrusive and handy, my only worry is that I'll lose it admist a shuffle of papers, or down a crack in a desk. Also, the wallet caddy broke quickly, because I don't take my wallet out of my pocket before I sit down. I think the caddy counts as another one of those afterthoughts.

    I taped one into the PCMCIA slot filler for my laptop, it's kind of a neat place to hide it.
    • Now that seems like a useful idea. replace the stupid wallet card with a PCMCIA device that holds two, connects them and acts as some sort of hardware RAID.
  • It seems like the FA didn't conider the fact that some USB drives simply *don't fit* in some USB ports. I think it's one of the most annoying thing about those little things.
  • I have one of the Bonzai drives with remove SD card. It is slow, it is bulky. But its nice to be able to pull the memory out of my camera or Sharp Zaurus, plug it into the Bonzai and sync to the PC. It saves battery life on the camera or PDA for sure.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Definitely a good read for anyone who has recently sat on their USB thumbdrive!

    I think the only thing good for someone who did that would be a first aid kit...


  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @02:01PM (#12323723)
    For the most part, all of these units are the same with only minor variation in features and performance.

    What I am looking for is a usb thumbdrive/fob/whatever that has strong anti-tamper security features. I'm talking about on the level of FIPS 140 Level 4 which, among other things, means that it probably encrypts all of its contents and if it detects an attempt to physically get at its innards, it erases the data. Note that levels 1 through 3 are all pretty much the same, but level 4 is a big leap up in protection from level 3.

    I need this to store all my drug deal accounts receivables,
    and to keep my wife and her electron tunnelling microscope from finding my pr0n.

  • Everyone is becoming a geek.
  • SD USB (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TummyX ( 84871 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @02:07PM (#12323770)
    I'd rather have one of these [deviceforge.com].
  • by RonBurk ( 543988 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @02:08PM (#12323775) Homepage Journal
    I've long followed and tried to predict the struggle to replace the floppy as the standard for removable media. Finally, I realized that there will be no standard for removable media -- the standard that matters is the interface for removable media, and that prize goes to USB 2.0.

    Once there was an interface standard that supported the basic "something that looks like a disk drive" concept, the war was essentially over. Who cares if different people choose flash, or miniature disk, or anything else that might come along? So long as they can all plug into that USB port and behave pretty much the same to your host computer's software, there's no reason to mind that a single removable media format is not king.

    What's left for the USB media revolution is its use in bricks and mortar commerce. In the B&M scene, they are constantly trying to create schemes to get you to carry a device (e.g., smartcards) to let them "touch" your data. The information benefits for the B&M store are clear, and the example of store cards ("10% off if you have your QFC card!") shows that they can offer rewards to induce the information sharing.

    But who wants to carry 15 different magstripe cards for 15 different stores? The answer is in those little USB devices that more and more people have in their pocket. What's needed is an open standard for sharing data on a USB device -- a standard that lets the customer control what the merchant can store on the card, and what information the customer is willing to share with that merchant.

    Consider the following scenario. I walk into a store I've never visited before. They tell me that if I sign up for an "affinity card", I'll get 30% off today's purchase. But now, instead of spending 15 minutes filling out a lengthy form of personal information, I just plug in my disk on key. Up comes a list of personal profiles I've created. I pick the one I'm willing to share with the store, select how much device storage I'm willing to let the store have on my USB device, punch a button, and I'm done!. When I return that store, I can just plug my pocket USB device into their socket to qualify for discounts.

    You can already purchase password database applications designed to run from USB disks. These let you walk up to your Internet cafe machine, plug in your USB disk, and gain access to all your many encrypted passwords for logging into various web sites. There's no reason the same sort of thing can't be extended to "logging in" to B&M stores.

    • by Mattintosh ( 758112 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @02:51PM (#12324025)
      And while you're futzing around picking out how to limit what they can get to, they dump the memory of the thing and start parsing.

      Remember, USB only works where there's a host controller. That host has to be trusted. If it's not, your data is screwed.

      A Firewire (IEEE-1394) keychain drive would be much more secure for what you're describing, since the keychain drive would be in a point-to-point communication mode with that untrusted store machine. It wouldn't rely on an untrusted host that might force it to do what you didn't ask it to do. I'm surprised nobody's made a Firewire keychain drive already. It would be a faster and more secure (though a bit less universal) alternative to USB-based drives.
    • Up comes a list of personal profiles I've created. I pick the one I'm willing to share with the store, select how much device storage I'm willing to let the store have on my USB device, punch a button, and I'm done!

      Just curious - what colour is the sky in your world?

    • The first part of your comment about USB winning the war for portable storage by providing a default interface makes enormous sense.

      The second part of your comment also makes enormous sense. However, it suffers from the chicken and egg problem. Until many people carry around a USB keychain drive, this just won't be viable.

      However, most people already carry around a cellphone. And if a cellphone could contain some flash storage, and have an interface any store could read, your idea could catch on quic

  • Poorly Written (Score:2, Interesting)

    by yakofdeath ( 835581 )
    Previously, most people had no idea what a Flash drive was, but now you can be sure to find most people with even a basic Flash drive in their pocket or purse.

    I thought this article was fairly informative, but their writing sure could use a little work.
  • Why is it that none of them have write-protect AND are bootable? Both of those are pretty high features on any geek list.
    • Am I missing something? I was under the impression that a "bootable" drive was a drive that was formatted to be bootable AND the computer has to support booting from USB.

      As for write protection, I have a Memorex traveldrive that has a write-protect switch, that i never really bothered to use :P

  • Heh ... (Score:3, Funny)

    by B3ryllium ( 571199 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @02:29PM (#12323897) Homepage
    Definitely a good read for anyone who has recently sat on their USB thumbdrive!

    Shouldn't that be called a "Bumdrive" now?

    In all seriousness, though, I've been trying to find reviews on the Creative Labs MuVo TX FM 1GB. I'm very interested in getting one, but I want to hear if anyone's encountered issues with it. Tom's Hardware had a glowing review of the MuVo TX (non-FM), and their only gripe seemed to be the lack of an FM radio.

    Anyone here own one? Seen a review? Heck, *written* a review? Link me please :)
  • Write cycle limits (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    That article didn't discuss my main concern about USB Flash drives - longevity. Flash memory used to be quite limited in the number of write cycles per block. What is the limit on these modern devices? One hundred thousand, one million, or what? And which devices (if any) have the write-leveling that you sometimes hear about, and is it built into the USB drive?
    • I'd say the problem right now is in testing such large drives. There's so much storage space, it may be difficult to tell when the drive is having trouble with a particular block, especially if the MTBF [wikipedia.org] is larger than it used to be.
  • Sandisk (Score:3, Funny)

    by LittleLebowskiUrbanA ( 619114 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @02:42PM (#12323973) Homepage Journal
    Washed and dried in my pants pocket and didn't lose any data or have any problems. Can't get any better than that.
  • Wha? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by switcha ( 551514 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @02:55PM (#12324054)
    Previously, most people had no idea what a Flash drive was, but now you can be sure to find most people with even a basic Flash drive in their pocket or purse.


    As long we're operating on anecdote, in my office of about two dozen folks, two have a Flash drive. If you add iPods in the mix (as a easy file transport device) we go to five people. I wouldn't say most people quite yet.

  • RTFC! (the "C" is for Comments, or rather Ars' discussion section for this article)

    Comment by Deffexor (Ars Audio/Visual Moderator):
    The problem with including the iPod Shuffle in the review was that we then would have had to include a bunch of other USB based Audio players in the review. Then to make matters worse, we would have had to benchmark/test the audio players, etc. This article is already 12 pages and I wasn't going to push it beyond that...

    The good news is that I'm planning a portable audio pla
    • If they're going to focus on USB2, why include a single 1.1 drive? The fact that it has a very bad built-in camera seems a poor excuse to waste space on it.
    • Although Corsair [corsairmemory.com] does claim that the Flash Voyager is water resistant (nobody claims "waterproof" anymore), the reviewer didn't consult the product literature. He just saw the rubber case and said, "Hey, let's see what happens if I drop it in a glass of water!" Not very bright.
    • Its pretty sad that none of the file management software reviewed appears t
  • by ChrisCampbell47 ( 181542 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @03:22PM (#12324189)
    I wonder why the Iomega Micro Mini drives [iomega.com] were not included in the review. If you include the PQI's somewhat necessary enclosure, the Iomega model is smaller than the PQI and a better form factor (can't lose the Iomega's swivel cover). As far as I know this is the smallest drive on the market right now, and they're priced to move. Still I'm looking forward to more models that use the low profile USB jack like the PQI.
  • by Doppler00 ( 534739 ) on Saturday April 23, 2005 @03:25PM (#12324204) Homepage Journal
    I noticed that newer drives are not including the write protection switch. Can anyone explain why that was ever useful? I'd figure that people would be more prone to accidently write protect their drive and not know why it doesn't work.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky