Dinky Data (Flash Drives Test)

By Vishal Kansagra Published Date
01 - Jan - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Jan - 2007
Dinky Data (Flash Drives Test)

They're called "pen drives," "thumb drives," "data vaults," and "Flash drives"-of which the last is the technically correct name. Small and more rugged than any other popular media, they're particularly useful for people who keep transferring data between different machines. You can even carry your office with you thanks to the newer U3 drives, which allow you to use any application without installing it on a computer. What's more, you can install a Linux distro onto your Flash drive and use it off the drive itself.

Most Flash drives offer password protection, and for the paranoid, some even have biometric scanners. You can also use one as a key to lock or unlock your computer.

We classified the Flash drives based on their capacity-512 MB, 1 GB, 2 GB, and 4 GB. While there are drives ranging from 256 MB to 16 GB available in the market, the price difference between 256 MB and 512 MB is negligible, so look for nothing less than 512 MB.

512 MB Drives
We received ten 512 MB drives-two from SanDisk and one each from A-DATA, iball, intex, Kingston, Odyssey, TECH-COM, Transcend and Zion. They don't have particularly fancy features, but are useful for those who want to carry documents and pictures around with them.

Though at the bottom of the drive pyramid, some of these drives came with decent features-the SanDisk Cruzer Micro 512 MB, for example, was the only drive in this category to support U3. Its cousin, the Cruzer Profile 512 MB, comes with a biometric scanner so your critical data is protected. While most drives come with a software CD that allows you to set a password or set partition sizes using a rudimentary interface, the Transcend drive comes with a good software package and decent interface that includes features like secure zip, PC lock, data backup, auto login, and e-mail sync.

A-DATA Oriental Elite

Blazing fast and looks good too!

The SanDisk Cruzer Mini comes with the U3 versions of Avast!, Skype (with one month of free voice mail), SignupShield Passwords, and its own PC synchronisation software-standard features on all their drives. The Intex 512 MB also doubles up as an SD card.  
Build Quality And Bundle
With its chewing-gum-like looks, Kingston's DataTraveler Mini MB was the cutest of the lot. A-DATA's Oriental Elite has a beautiful design and allows you to change faceplates (two are provided with the drive). It also includes a USB extension cable. The SanDisk Cruzer Profile 512 MB has rugged build quality and small rubber strips at the bottom to protect it from scratches. The Cruzer Micro's retracting USB connector is good for people who tend to lose their drive's cap, but is also a veritable dust-trap.

Since these drives will mostly be used to carry documents and presentations, data transfer speed is critical. The A-DATA Oriental Elite 512 MB was the fastest of the lot and took little more than 11 seconds to transfer 50 MB of files, which included documents, spreadsheets, pictures, MP3s, and executables.

ScandiskCruzer Profile 512MB

As secure as it gets
The TECH-COM 512 MB took a decent 27.6 seconds. Thoguh it took just 30 seconds for the A-DATA Oriental Elite to transfer a sequential file to its full capacity. The Zion followed closely with a time of 50.3 seconds. The SanDisk Cruzer Micro took a somewhat sluggish 76 seconds. 

In Sum
The A-DATA Oriental Elite takes Gold not only for its speed, but also thanks to a decent package bundle. Both the Cruzer Micro and the Profile from SanDisk put up a decent performance and have a good bundle. The Silver-winning Cruzer Profile, with its biometric scanner, is highly recommended for those who deal with sensitive data. Special mention goes to the Zion drive-though it lost out on features, it's quite fast and costs around 30 per cent less than most other Flash drives in this category.

1 GB Drives

This category witnessed a total of 22 drives fighting for top spot-five from PQI, three each from SanDisk, Transcend and UMAX, two from Corsair, and one each from Gigabyte, iball, Lexar, Odyssey,  Transcend and Zion. These drives let you do more than just carry your documents around-you can even pack a DivX movie along with your other data. They tend to be slower than their 512 MB counterparts, however, as there is a trade-off between speed and capacity.

How We Tested 
Our test bed used an Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme E6800 on an ECS PX1 Extreme Motherboard with 1 GB of Kingston HyperX DDR2 RAM. The hard drive was clean-formatted before loading Windows XP, and all the latest drivers for the motherboard and USB ports were loaded. To maintain a standard environment, we installed only the required benchmarking utilities and the files we used in our tests.

Test Methodology
All the storage devices we tested were evaluated on the basis of their scores in three primary areas, namely Features, Performance, and Price. To help in our calculations, we assigned a relevant weightage (refer table for the breakup) to these parameters.

The parameters included are:
We looked at the various inbuilt characteristics such as U3 or password protection. We also observed the build quality, with primary importance given to the sturdiness of the product. We gave extra points for any security features such as biometric protection, and also for any useful software in the package.

To gauge performance, we conducted two types of tests-synthetic and real-world. For the synthetic tests, we used the HD Tach 3 benchmarking suite to assess theoretical read and write speeds, as well as the average access time. Due to the varying storage capacities of the models, we also carried out an additional test, where the thumb drive was filled to capacity with both sequential (a single large file) as well as assorted data. We observed the time taken for each transfer, and then calculated the actual data transfer rate in terms of megabytes transferred per second.

Transcend JetFlash 150 1 GB

Fast and fully-loaded

The Corsair Readout 1 GB has an external display that shows you the drive label and the free space available-no more plugging it in to check! The display does not require any external power, and stays on for a good one year.

The PQI CoolDrive U339S, SanDisk Cruzer Micro and Cruzer Titanium are U3 drives (see box U3). While all of them have PC synchronisation features, PQI's software lets you select the sync direction-from PC to drive or from drive to PC. The Lexar JumpDrive FireFly comes loaded with Google software for Windows-including Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer, Google Desktop, and Picasa.

Build Quality And Bundle

The Corsair Flash Voyager, with its rubber and water-resistant exterior, was the toughest of the lot-it bounced back safely every time we tossed it around. The PQI CoolDrives-true to their names-look cool and have decent build quality.

Corsair Flash Voyager 1 GB

Built like a mini-truck!

The SanDisk Cruzer Titanium has very good build quality, and retains the retracting USB connector found on the SanDisk Cruzer Mini. Most drives came with a lanyard cord and some with a USB extension cable-real handy when your PC is placed under the table-but the Transcend JetFlash 130 was different, with two different coloured caps.

Since these drives have larger capacities, they can easily accommodate a single DivX movie (roughly 700 MB). The Transcend JetFlash 150 took just a minute to transfer a 700 MB video file. The Zion was at its heels, and took 64.8 seconds for the same task. These drives took less than a third of the category average of 192 seconds. The full-capacity assorted file test took 82.9 seconds to complete on the Transcend JetFlash 150m and a close 91.7 on the Zion. The Corsair Flash Voyager took a little more than two minutes to complete the task. Considering the average time of 274 seconds, these scores are really impressive. If you are looking for sheer performance, the Transcend JetFlash 150 and the Zion are the drives for you.

In Sum
The Transcend JetFlash 150 gets Gold for its blazing speed and feature-rich bundle. The Corsair Flash Voyager claims the Silver for decent performance, rugged build quality, and a good software bundle. Once again, Zion just misses the Silver for lack of accessories and software.

2 GB Drives

Nine drives turned up in this category: SanDisk sent in three, and Corsair, iball, Lexar, TECH-COM, Transcend, and Zion sent in one each. This category is for those who use pen drives to transfer large amounts of data such as MP3s, movie clips, and games. Speeds fall again because of increased storage space.

There's nothing different about the drives' bundled software-it was similar to what came with the 1 GB drives. Since these drives are a bit expensive, some more value-added software wouldn't have disappointed.

Build Quality And Bundle
The Corsair Flash Voyager comes up tops again with its superior build quality. The SanDisk Cruzer Titan is built well, is quite sturdy, but its metallic lustre may fall prey to dust and rough use. Its retracting USB connector can act as a dust trap in dusty environments.

The Zion led the way, taking 89.7 seconds to transfer a 700 MB video file. This is a little more than the fastest 1 GB drive. The SanDisk Cruzer follows at 91.5 seconds.

Corsair Flash Voyager 2 GB

Tough and comes with a good software bundle

The Transcend JetFlash V30 took a never-ending 529 seconds to transfer the same amount of data! The Zion handled the full-capacity assorted file transfer in just four minutes. The closest competitor was the Corsair Flash Voyager at 266.7 seconds. Lexar posted the lowest score of 764.7 seconds-almost 13 minutes-to transfer 2 GB of data.

U3 is a new standard formed by leading Flash drive manufacturers to provide customers with the ability to carry their favourite software and applications along on their drives. If you need to use a particular software on a PC where you don't have Administrator rights, this feature can come in quite handy. The U3 interface lets you manage your data, install and uninstall software, and search for new U3 software over the internet.
Though U3 has its uses, it can be irritating for some: the U3 menu pops up every time you plug in the drive. As of now, the feature only works with Windows XP, so people using other operating systems won't be able to take advantage of it.

In Sum
Our Gold winner, the Corsair Flash Voyager, is fast, has sturdy build quality, and offers a good software bundle.

SanDisk Cruzer Titanium 2 GB

Excellent Build

To top it off, Corsair offers a 10-year warranty and over-the-counter replacement, no questions asked. Our Silver winner is the Cruzer Titanium; the Zion lost out because of its lacklustre bundle, but we still recommend it to those who want a decent, fast drive with a good storage capacity.

If a computer is too sluggish, you can increase the amount of RAM on it to improve the performance. Increased system memory means that applications need not access the hard drive too often. But RAM is expensive, and your computer won't support RAM beyond a point.
To take care of such a situation, Windows Vista will introduce a new feature called ReadyBoost that will allow you to use a Flash drive as swap drive. Vista uses the Flash drive as a cache while transferring the data from a hard drive to the CPU in case the RAM is found insufficient. It uses an optimised algorithm that reduces the number of read/write cycles, so your drive won't wear out easily. Windows Vista RC2 does show a marked performance increase, and we expect this to get better by the time the final version is released

download this Table of FlashDrives

4 GB Drives
We received five drives under this category-two from SanDisk and one each from Kingston, TECH-COM, and Transcend. This category is for those who want to carry a Flash drive instead of a DVD.

Kingston DataTraveler 4 GB

Superior performance
With its storage capacity coming quite close to that of a DVD, these drives can very well carry your HD movies. This category is not for those on a budget though-if you don't mind the slower speeds and larger size, you're much better off with a portable hard drive; you'll get much more storage at a lower price.

Transcend JetFlash 8 GB

With a whopping 8 GB of storage space, the Transcend JetFlash 8 GB sounds really good. The drive is quite fast: it took just 56.4 seconds to transfer a 700 MB video file.
The drive is a good bit bigger than the other drives (it was the biggest we tested), but the build quality is strictly average. When you look at the price tag, though, you might start looking elsewhere-it costs an atrocious Rs 9,500. For that kind of money, you could invest in an 80 GB external drive, or if you don't mind carrying some extra weight and cables, use a regular 400 GB SATA drive with an external casing to build your own backup behemoth!

Due to their lower market share and a very niche user segment, the feature set of this category is mediocre. The SanDisk Cruzer Micro was the only U3 drive, and came with the earlier-mentioned software bundle.

Build Quality And Bundle
The Kingston is the best-looking drive in this category, with a nice matte finish that will make scratches less visible. Most of us tend to misplace Flash drive caps, and SanDisk has provided two extra caps with the drive.

Typically, higher capacity drives don't offer much speed, but the Kingston took less than a minute to transfer the 700 MB video-faster than even the fastest 1 GB drive.

SanDisk Cruzer Micro 4 GB

Fast with a good software bundle

The SanDisk Cruzer Mini lagged a bit, taking 84.3 seconds. The slowest of the lot were the TECH-COM and Transcend JetFlash V30, taking almost three minutes. The full-capacity assorted file saw the SanDisk Cruzer Micro taking just 272.4 seconds, with Kingston following at 282 seconds. Transcend sat the race out at a leisurely 17 minutes!

In Sum
Kingston takes Gold for its vastly superior performance and build quality. The SanDisk Cruzer Micro wins the Silver for the balance it strikes between speed and software bundle. We must note that there is not much difference in the prices of these drives, but when it comes to performance, things are different.