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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

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 five new models from Geil (David 100), Kingmax (Super Stick), Kingston (DataTraveller Elite and DataTraveller U3 Smart) and OCZ (Rally) and added them to our previous roundup, so we are comparing nine 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. Models from Geil and OCZ use dual channel technology and should achieve a performance higher than other models (let’s see if this is true or not).

David 100 from Geil also has a side slider that retracts the USB connector, protecting it from breaking when the unit is transported, see Figure 1. While this is a good idea, in our experience we had trouble breaking the USB drive while it was connected on the computer, not while it was transported.

Geil David 100Figure 1: David 100 from Geil.

Kingmax model, as far as we know, is the smallest USB flash drive in the world and really waterproof. It is so small that it is almost the size of a paper clip. It is not only small, but also very thin.

Kingmax Super StickFigure 2: Super Stick from Kingmax.

Corsair Flash Voyager is also waterproof, but you remember what happened to it after a while. Since Kingmax model uses a different kind of connector, we think it won’t have the same fate of our Flash Voyager. In fact, Kingmax model is the only model that seems to be really unbreakable for us.

While Kingston DataTraveller 2.0 is a regular USB flash drive, DataTraveller Elite features a built-in hardware-based encryption engine (128-bit AES), being a terrific product if you want to carry very confidential data. You need to use Kingston’s encryption software, TravelerSafe+, to encrypt your data. If you don’t use it, DataTraveller Elite will behave just like a regular USB flash drive.

DataTraveller U3 Smart also brings something different: it is considered a “smart drive”, using U3 technology (see https://www.u3.com). This technology allows you to carry the necessary software to work with your files automatically in the drive, so when opening your files in a different computer, you will be able to work with them even if your software of choice isn’t installed on that computer. Really cool.

Kingston DataTraveller U3 SmartFigure 3: DataTraveller U3 Smart from Kingston.

Let’s now see the performance of the selected USB flash drives. To read more about the other models, read our September 2005 USB Flash Drive Roundup.

[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only different device was the USB Drive being tested.

Hardware Configuration

  • Motherboard: DFI LAN Party 925X-T2 (Intel 925X, Sep. 20th, 2004 BIOS)
  • CPU: Pentium 4 3.4 GHz LGA 775
  • Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT
  • Memory: Two 512 MB DDR2-533 CM2X512-4200 CL4 from Corsair memory modules
  • Hard Drive: Maxtor DiamondMax 9 Plus (40 GB, ATA-133)
  • Screen resolution: [email protected] Hz

Software Configuration

  • Windows XP Professional installed using NTFS
  • Service Pack 2
  • Direct X 9.0c
  • Intel inf driver version: 6.0.1.1002
  • NVIDIA video driver version: 78.01

Used Software

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.

[nextpage title=”Results: HD Tach 3″]

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).

USB Flash Drive Roundup

David 100 from Geil was the fastest USB flash drive in our roundup. On HD Tach 3 it was 7.87% faster than OCZ Rally 512 MB, 22.55% faster than OCZ Rally 2 GB, 50.00% faster than Corsair Flash Voyager 512 MB, 95.92% faster than Kingston DataTraveller U3 Smart 1 GB and 150.43% faster than Kingston DataTraveller Elite 2 GB. Really impressive. It was a pity that Kingmax Super Stick got very low results.

USB Flash Drive Roundup

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. The problem here was Super Stick from Kingmax, with a lousy 68.9 ms access time. We repeated this test three times, with the same results. Ouch.

[nextpage title=”Results: Sandra”]

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.

USB Flash Drive Roundup

In Sandra Geil David 100 also has achieved the best reading performance, amazingly beating OCZ’s rally. It was 25.22% faster than OCZ Rally 2 GB, 30.91% faster than OCZ Rally 512 MB, 51.58% faster than Kingston DataTraveller Elite 2 GB, 92.00% faster than Corsair Flash Voyager 512 MB and 161.82% faster than Kingston DataTraveller U3 Smart 1 GB.

USB Flash Drive Roundup

As for writing performance, OCZ Rally 2 GB achieved the best result, being 40.00% faster than Geil David 100 256 MB, 75% faster than OCZ Rally 512 MB and Corsair Flash Voyager 512 MB and over 133% faster than other models we reviewed. Here two models from Kingston – Kingston DataTraveller U3 Smart 1 GB and Kingston DataTraveller 2.0 512 MB – achieved the worst results.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

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, and the only two worth mentioning are Geil and OCZ.

Geil achieved what we thought it was impossible: they developed a USB flash drive faster than OCZ’s Rally. So we are giving David 100 256 MB our “Golden Award” seal, and the same seal goes to Rally 512 MB and Rally 2 GB from OCZ, since both have a performance far higher than the average.

Hardware Secrets Golden AwardFigure 4: Geil David 100 and OCZ Rally were awarded with our Golden Award.

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. Corsair, Kingston and Kingmax provide really different features. Corsair, like we have already exposed on our previous roundup, came with this all-rubber cover to make the product shockproof and waterproof on its Flash Voyager. Its performance was better than the average but not as great as Geil’s and OCZ’s, so we kept our “Silver Award” for Corsair Flash Voyager.

Hardware Secrets Silver AwardFigure 5: Corsair Flash Voyager was awarded with our Silver Award.

Kingston provides a built-in hardware-based encryption engine on DataTraveller Elite and U3 technology on DataTraveller U3 Smart, while Kingmax provides the world’s smalled (and thinner) USB flash drive. It is really a pity that these devices don’t have a performance as great as Geil’s, OCZ’s and Corsair’s.

If you aren’t a performance geek and are looking for specific features found on those models, they can be a very good choice for you.