Why you should stick to expensive USB flash drives

I am very fond of portable software. While it’s great topic on its own I also want to cover external media. Portable is not much use sitting on local drive without means to accompany you.

Flash drive is obviously plan A for carrying portable software. It’s good to have plan B (also it’s geek to have plans C, D and E like me) but flash drive comes first. Buying cheap one is bad plan. Read on for my reasoning.

Hard truths about flash drives

  • They are not reliable. All that marketing about decades of life and millions of write cycle is total crap. I had not had a flash drive that reached one year of usage alive. Cheap ones don’t survive month with load I put on them.
  • They are not created equal. Difference in specs between different drives can be up to ten times. You should choose very carefully to get good and reliable one.

Advantages of expensive flash drives

  • Casing and internal materials. It’s hard to make people spend money for something they can’t see and touch. Manufacturers use solid stuff with these – good rubber or metal. The tougher it is the longer it will last.
  • Electronics and storage. Expensive drives get best available. Common read/write speeds for cheap flash drives is 10/3 MB/s. For decent drives 20/20 is good but  there are better ones.

In the beginning difference was because of using single-level cells (SLC) or multi-level cells (MLC). SLC are much faster and expensive. MLC came later and popularized flash drives by dropping prices. I heard that SLC are no longer used at all but it’s hard to confirm – manufacturers rarely release such details.

So even expensive drive is going to die sooner or later. But it will live longer and serve you much better and faster. So which one you could go for? I am going to showcase three excellent drives I had used.

Apacer Handy Steno HT203 200x

flashdrive_apacer_ht203
  • thin design, easy to plug in and out;
  • metal frame inside;
  • can’t loose cap;
  • comes with nice dock station.

http://usa.apacer.com/us/products/Handy_Steno_HT203_200X.htm

Corsair Flash Voyager GT

flashdrive_corsair_voyager
  • rubber casing makes it resistant to water and falling (but not to blows – no hard frame inside);
  • wicked fast;
  • comes with cable (nice) and strap (ugly).

http://www.corsair.com/products/voyager.aspx

SanDisk Extreme Ducati Edition

flashdrive_sandisk_ducati
  • metal casing and geek looks;
  • retractable connector;
  • comes with file recovery software (at least they are honest :) ) and strap (semi-ugly).

http://www.sandisk.com/Products/Catalog(1355)-SanDisk_Extreme_Ducati_Edition_USB_Flash_Drive.aspx

What flash drive are you using now? Are you satisfied with it? Would you buy cheaper or more expensive one next time? Tell me in the comments.

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13 Comments

  • I love the ‘Ducati’ one. I very seldom use a flash disk but I have to agree, you only get what you pay for. The same thing is true about the flash disks (cf disks) used in cameras. Here I had to learn the hard way. Paying a little more is far better than losing tons of photos.

  • @Lyndi

    Ducati is one I bought recently. Awesome electronics inside but bit bulky. People mistake it for lighter.

    Same rules indeed apply to flash cards, only there is no casing issue for them.

  • I have 2 Kingston’s DataTraveler and I’m very happy with it. Decent read and write speeds and very reliable storage. I find it very resistant to falls or even water (I’ve already forgot one in my pocket and it survived the washing machine and the dryer) and it’s doing pretty well with my intense usage.
    There are a lot more people I know uses DataTravelers and they survive pretty nicely. The only DT I know that died was one plugged to a short-circuited motherboard.

    About the Flash cards, I rely on Kingston ones too, and the quality is just as great as the USB flash drives (I’ve never put one of those into the washing machine, though).

  • @Delirium

    Yep, Kingston is well known brand as well. Unfortunately they have only one high-speed model (as far as I know) – DataTraveler HyperX. It is extremely rare and hard to buy where I live so I wasn’t able to check it out.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. :)

  • Rarst, i have never used flash drive. Any type of data transfer i want. i take hard drive :)

  • @Nihar

    I have external hard drive as well. But it’s pretty expensive toy and I don’t like idea using it with all those PCs at work (and elsewhere) that usually have cheap motherboards with questionable power and USB quality.

    I can buy one or two flash drives each year when they die because of that but buying hard drives that often would suck. :)

  • My 640gb external should last me a few days lol.

    I know what you mean though. I don’t have a J.O.B. and I would only use it with computers I knew could handle it.

    BTW, only $150 :)

  • @Dennis Edell

    3.5″ are bulky and require external power. I don’t like to mess with that. I have IDE/SATA to USB adapter in case I need to transfer something large on 3.5″ drive but I won’t use it daily.

    Thanks for visiting and comment. :)

  • i agree, i like to have top of the line versions of these things, with the reliability i need on mine it is worth it.

  • Specs are a poor guide to storage performance. Manufacturers quote only a single figure for performance for large file sizes and continuous files – where they get the highest figures – whereas the weaknesses are in small file sizes and random read/writes.

    This may not matter if you’re recording video, but it’s a bottleneck for operating system use – to speed up windows, in a router or in a mobile phone – and there are significant differences in performance.

    Since high speeds on large files is partly at the expense of small file performance this can be why a highly-spec’ed drive can perform disappointingly in practice.

    It would be good to see some real figures from CrystalDiskMark.

  • Unless manufacturers start quoting the specifications in full, how do we know if the higher price is just a lesser quality product being sold at a rip-off price? We need manufacturers to give us the details so that we can make an educated choice.

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