PC Doctor Review – The Big USB Flash Memory Test

I get asked a lot about what I think is "best". Best printer. Best video adaptor. Best hard drive. Recently I've been asked (and noticed a lot of search engine redirects to this site) which I think is the best USB flash memory device on the market - there's only one way to be sure and that's to do a test!

Over the last couple of days I've been testing several USB 2.0 flash memory devices that have been sent to me for review.  These are fast becoming the most popular way of carrying and storing files.  All the convenience of a floppy disk with the added advantage of high capacity and fast read/write speeds.

The Devices
I tested five USB flash memory devices.

All these devices are USB 2.0 compliant.  USB 2.0 has a maximum raw data transfer rate of 480Mbps, 40 times faster than USB 1.1, which had a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 12Mbps. 

However, these are theoretical maximums.  I was interested in seeing what kind of results, especially read speeds, I could get in the real world.
USB 2.0 logo

The Test
For the tests I used HD Tach RW version 3.0.1.0 from Simpli Software, Inc. This give a good indication of the read speed that users can expect when accessing the device.

Each device was tested three time, on the same machine (running Windows XP SP2), using the same USB 2.0 port.  Each time the best result was taken (although the variation in results was negligible).  To keep these tests as close to real-world conditions as possible no special alterations were made to the system (although for the duration of the test user input was kept to a minimum and no changes were made to the system between testing different products).

The Results
Below I'll present the results in two forms:

  • Textually (average read speed in Mb/s)
  • Graphically (screen shot of the test results - click on the thumbnail for a full screen image)

Creative MuVo TX FM 256 Mb
The slowest of the bunch.  Not surprising given that this isn't marketed as portable memory but as a music player.  

The average read speed was 3.4 Mb/s.

Crucial Gizmo! 512 Mb - OVERALL WINNER!
This Gizmo! came in at just under twice as fast as the Creative MuVo TX FM.  The speed wasn't all that impressive but overall a very solid, reliable device. I really like the miniature design of this device - it's not pretentious and doesn't try to make style the selling point. It's small yet well made and robust.
The average read speed was 6.5 Mb/s.

disgo 1 Gb
The largest capacity device I had to test.  This one is fast.  Very fast!  The fastest of the bunch in fact (although the read speed profile does show a very odd drop in the read speed).  This is a fast, reliable device that boasts fantastic capacity.

The average read speed was 20.4 Mb/s.

One very odd thing about the speed profile for the disgo is the huge drop in speed between about 600 Mb and 1 Gb displayed.  I ran this test several times and even repeated it on another system but this drop was always present and as yet unexplained.  One possibility is that one of the memory chips used in the device is slower than the rest.  

SanDisk Cruzer Titanium 512 Mb
The SanDisk Cruzer Titanium came in a little slower than the disgo.  However, the real advantage of the Cruzer Titanium is the robust outer casing constructed of titanium alloy.  Also unique is the retractable USB connector and cool blue LED indicator that lights up when it's in use. This might be a little slower than the disgo device but it's a lot tougher!

The average read speed was 16.0 Mb/s.

Conclusion
The speed winner has to be the disgo 1 Gb device with an average read speed of 20.4 Mb/s.  However, I am concerned by the drop in speed that the device experiences in the latter part of the test.  This was reliably repeatable and as such has to be put down to the device rather than a testing issue. I'm also not sure about the build quality of the disgo - I've owned a few of these and the end caps have a habit of falling off and exposing the circuitry.

For robust construction, the SanDisk Cruzer Titanium is the clear winner.  the 4 Mb/s decrease in read speed is more than made up for in robustness and this is designed for a tough life in a pocket along with items like keys and a pocket knife. However, I did experience problems with the Cruzer connected to some systems where it wasn't being properly detected by Windows XP. I have not been able to get to the bottom of this problem.

But capacity and speed are only part of the equation. One thing that I've found with both the ScanDisk Cruzer and the disgo is that they are bigger than a standard USB plug and this can make fitting them in to some USB ports a major pain, especially on laptops but it's even a problem with some hubs. The last thing I want to be doing is shuffling around USB devices because I want to connect a USB flash device. This is why my recommendation got for the Crucial Gizmo! It's small size makes is perfect for all tyeps of USB port, no matter what you have connected around it. It's also fast enough for most tasks. Build quality is excellent and it's more than capable of surviving life in a pocket with keys and loose change.

OVERALL WINNER - Crucial Gizmo!

However, I do have to close by saying that here I tested a number of devices and all were capable and performed well.  No device failed (or has failed since) and all are well built and reliable.  The main criteria that most use to judge which device to get is price and capacity.

My thanks to Creative Technology Ltd, Crucial/Micron Technology, Inc, disgo/Clever Stuff Ltd, Novatech Ltd and SanDisk Corporation for making this test possible.

Crucial Gizmo! USB Flash Drives