Are all USB drives created equal?

Considering USB flash drives have been with us for some time, you would not be alone thinking that one USB flash drive is pretty much as good as another.

For the most part, price seems to distinguish USB drives in capacity (commonly 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 & 64GB) and build quality/ design (titanium vs plastic or super large vs tiny and discrete or “unique”).

What many people don’t take into account is that speed is also often a factor when it comes to USB drives.

Need for Speed

For the most part, USB drives will generally have a faster read speed (the speed in which files are copied from the USB drive or media is played from USB drive) than a write speed (the speed in which files are copied to or created on the USB drive). It is interesting however to note how, even on drives at a similar price point, this speed can vary.

We took some standard flash drives (and sought out some cheaper better rated drives) to conduct a small test. We used a standard USB 2.0 port on a dual core system running Windows XP. We used Check Flash for our tests.

Kingston DataTraveler 101 (from $19)

Read 4.27 MB/s
Write 2.07 MB/s

The Kingston Data Travellor 101 has been popping up virtually everywhere lately, possibly due to its cheap price.

Instead of either a retractable USB mechanism or a cap, Kingston have elected the most useless swing arm to protect the USB connection.

Out of all the drives we tested, this was the worst performing drive of the bunch. It was extremely slow to do anything with and iBrothers are currently considering, being so close to Christmas, giving theirs away as gifts to people we don’t like.

Sandisk Cruzer 8GB (from $24)

Read 16.35 MB/s
Write 4.78 MB/s

Coming in second slowest (but completely annihilating the Data Travellor 101) was the Sandisk Cruzer 8GB.

This drive performed at about how we expect a generic drive to perform. Neither fast nor slow, it does the job.

The retractable USB mechanism is a nice touch.

Sandisk Cruzer Blade 8GB (from $19.95)

Read  16.42 MB/s
Write 4.76 MB/s

iBrothers recalls the time when we first spotted the 4GB version of this drive for $13 at Officeworks and proceeded to get incredibly girly at the price tag and the physical size (this thing is pretty small).

Like the standard Cruzer, speeds are what you would expect and this drive does nothing in the real world that warrants getting too excited about it.

The USB connection is not retractable and there is no cap either.

It is worth noting that one of the 4GB sticks did survive a trip through the washing machine in Leo’s pants and is still working. Make of that what you will.

Corsair Voyager Mini 8GB (from $25)

Read 19.19 MB/s
Write 6.79 MB/s

With a better read speed than the Sandisk offerings, this drive sits again in the middle of the bunch.

What is impressive about this drive is that it is advertised as “water resistant” and has a 10 year warranty.

Worth noting too is the retractable USB mechanism (no cap) which is generally a better design when adding to a key ring.

As for speed, there is little to really say about it other than if you are really wanting to stick to the $20 price bracket it’s one of the better ones around.

Kingston DataTraveler G2 16GB (from $48)

Read 21.65 MB/s
Write 8.09 MB/s

Considering the age of this drive, iBrothers was reasonably impressed with its overall speed. We had initially used some of the 8GB variety to run Ubuntu Linux on (as in, the USB stick ran the operating system) and generally it worked well.

Of note, this is the only 16GB USB drive in the round up and the price point reflects it.

The retractable USB connection is also handy.

Patriot XPorter XT Boost  8GB (from $29)

Read 29.34 MB/s
Write 10.10 MB/s

The fastest drive we could find on a budget, the Patriot Xporter XT is also the largest physical drive of the bunch.

The rubber cap just begs to be lost which is a downfall however, for the price point you are not really going to find much faster out there.

Conclusion

What is most striking about this rather small roundup is that for about a $10 variance, the speed of the drive varies.

For the average Joe out there, the Corsair voyager mini offers the best balance of price, capacity and performance. The size and design of the unit makes it a great addition to a keyring.

If you are looking to run embedded operating systems or just really need the increased read speed, the Xporter is a great choice for the price.

Be cautious when buying drives off eBay

With the price of drives locally, iBrothers does often wonder why people are still tempted to buy USB drives from eBay considering that there are many which are fakes.

A fake drive is a drive of low capacity that has been “programmed” to display a higher capacity when connected to a computer. You know it’s a fake when you realise that, while the drive may say it is 16GB in capacity, it will not actually hold 16GB of data.

For more information about what to look for,  click here.

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