USB Flash Drives: Speed Vs. Capacity

This roundup includes products released within one year preceding the publication date of this article. The product selection consists solely of review units made available to Tom’s Guide by vendors. While the products listed here do not constitute a comprehensive listing of all products in the category, they do represent a broad range of what is available to consumers in this category. We will quickly update this roundup with new products as they become available to Tom’s Guide, and soon add data relating to product specifications and test dates. In other words, these roundups are a work in progress. Please check back frequently to see what’s new.

Over the last ten years, USB flash drives have changed the way we think about storing and transporting important information. Starting with the first 8 MB commercial drives from IBM in 2000, all the way to the mammoth 128 GB keys available from Patriot and Kingston in the present, flash drives are now a preferred method of document and media storage. And with your average 4 GB flash drive going for about ten to fifteen dollars, anyone who needs a flash drive can grab one with little hesitation regarding price.

Using a USB flash drive means no more carrying files and papers around, and no more scratched disks. Flash drives (also known as USB keys and “thumb” drives) are here, and everybody's using them, both for work and for fun. But how do you pick the best one? When it comes to the enormous selection of drives available, are they really all alike?

In this latest roundup, we have chosen five different flash drives to help you make your choice. That choice will depend heavily on which you believe is more important: storage capacity or overall speed.

Speed vs. capacity: you'll need to choose

Write speeds differ considerably from model to model; the 64 GB Patriot XPorter Magnum topped out at 14 MB/sec,, while the 4 GB Buffalo Technology Firestix Type S came close to 20 MB/sec., and the OCZ Rally 2 Turbo almost 30 MB/sec. Read speeds for all the tested drives came in around 20 MB/sec., with no major differences between units.

Looks and extra features come first

Certain brands place more importance on the “originality” of their drives, such as the chunky look of the Corsair Survivor 32 GB or the Corsair Flash Voyager Mini 4 GB’s being waterproof. Manufacturers try to outdo each other when creating new flash drives, and are using visual design more and more as a way of making their drives stand out from the rest of the pack.

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  • kelfen
    for capacity I honestly take a hard drive put it in a case that converts it to a usb and bamb much cheaper means to a much larger usb.
  • kelfen
    capacity
  • GoOakland
    I like the OCZ ATV of all the flashdrives on the market. They are just as fast as the Rally and are practically indestructable. They also come with somewhere to put the cap...the Rally's only problem. The ATV may look ugly from a picture standpoint but once in hand you will fall in love with how rugged it feels. In the end, the ATV is just like the Rally but with the various benefits of being rugged
  • kato128
    Why are they testing 4gb flash drives? Who actually buys one that small these days and cares about performance? Feels like I've stepped back into 05. Can we get reviews on more 32GB+ models? Capacity is key with these things and while I can't speak for everyone, I know I want to see which 64 and 128gb drives are quickest.
  • belardo
    I actually use 1-2GB drives, they hold enough... and if/when lost or destroyed - its not much data. With that said.

    My favorite USB Flash Drive is Sony. They cost a bit more, but there is NO cap to lose and its slide-design is excellent. I've used some sliders by PNY which you have to FIGHT to keep open when inserting into a PC... and on others, even if the CAP does fit onto the key, I lose them.

    But the Sony Microvaults work great. Its worth it.
    They look great, work great. You push in the click-button and it pops open and stick it into the USB port. When you pull the stick out, it snaps shut. Check out the link below!

    Here: http://newsweaver.co.uk/catalusltd/e_article001105279.cfm

    BTW: The 2~4GB models currently include Michael Jackson's Thriller Album + modern remixes + Music videos (500mb) for $2 more than the empty packaging (discontinued) - they are DRM free.

    PS: I just washed mine 2 hrs ago... this time it didn't go into the dryer. Still works, like the ones that have been dried. :)

    This the BAD thing about thumb-Drives that we didn't have problems with FLoppies or CDRs... leaving them in our pockets :)
  • pelican3
    Agree with earlier comments, who is going to spend on a 4GB drive in 2009, regardless of performance? Needs to be 16 GB to get consideration.
    How about including eSATA sticks for comparison/testing. I have OCZ Throttle and its great, USB or eSATA, direct to laptop. eSATA loads quicker and seems to read n write quicker too. Is this limited by flash structure? or USB speed? Maybe Win drivers?
    Can we beat up on manufacturers who make USB caps that fall off and get lost in the first days of ownership. I have OCZ ATV, which is great but have now drilled the cap and the case and attached with thin parachute cord. Its the only stick I have with a cap now.
  • spanner_razor
    At the end of the day it's all well and good to compare drives accross the board but you have to do it based on what site you prefer really. If they don't stock it then it's not an option, I went for the OCZ Diesel 16GB which has fairly impressive write and read speeds at 30 and 15 though drives have moved on a bit since then and the cap issue as raised by Belardo is a good point.
  • jacobdrj
    Speed Vs. Capacity Vs. RELIABILITY:
    2 facts hold true: Drives advertised as particularly LARGE or FAST tend to be UNRELIABLE. Just take a gander at newegg's reviews of 'turbo' drives and 'ultra high capacity' drives. They tend to have data corruption issues from 'pushing the envelope'.
  • apmyhr
    Don't dismiss 4GB drives. They are great for mounting Vista or Windows 7 ISO images to let you install in a fraction of the time. I could see myself grabing a few just for that purpose.
  • apmyhr
    I use to love flash drives because I was too lazy to transfer files with CD's or floppies. But now I'm getting too lazy even for flash drives. I mostly use file sync tools like Live Mesh to transfer all my documents now.
  • dconnors
    Usually, my philosophy is "bigger is better". However, smaller USB drives still serve a purpose. If you are using a flash drive for work and nothing else (spreadsheets, backing up emails, docs, etc.), a 16 or 32 GB+ flash drive is overkill. Only when you get into transferring large media files and backing up things like .isos, etc does a larger USB drive really serve a purpose.

    Personally, I have a few different small USB drives that I consider to be "disposable", meaning if they are lost, damaged, or god forbid stolen, I wouldn't completely freak out. All of these disposable drives are 2 and 4 GB models, and are easily replaceable (as in they don't hit the wallet too hard).
  • bobw
    I miss the easy-to-use write protect switches. Memorex had them on their old thumb drives. Malware can't infect it if it's write protected.
  • Anonymous
    And what about the security/privacy features in some USB drives? Like Verbatim's Store 'n' Go Pro? Does anyone have any experiences to share on those? How much do they slow file I/O?
  • maxcue
    It would be great if they could squeeze an HD radio into one; that would help put a nail in the coffin of the last great analog medium: broadcast radio. Yet how many products include HD radio? Mostly higher-end receivers as far as I know.
  • dconnors
    maxcueIt would be great if they could squeeze an HD radio into one; that would help put a nail in the coffin of the last great analog medium: broadcast radio. Yet how many products include HD radio? Mostly higher-end receivers as far as I know.


    I think Insignia (best buys brand) is the only company who offers a handheld HD radio right now. Other than that, its in car decks, receivers, stuff like that.
  • Anonymous
    This is the fastest drive on the market period. The write speeds spoil you. You can never go back. Too bad it is so expensive though.