The Best USB Flash Drive

I’ve always been pretty compulsive about the hardware I buy. Several times I’ve documented it on this blog, most recently keyboards, in the past flash drives.

I’m now revisiting flash drives as my current one, a SanDisk Cruzer Titanium is 4+ years old and tiny by today’s standards (2GB). It’s also not exactly speedy. Here’s why I choose the one I did back in 2006:

  • It’s made with “Liquidmetal”, which is insanely tough and can be driven over by a car.
  • Retractable means no cap to loose
  • Reasonable size for what it offers.
  • SanDisk is generally pretty reliable.

Now my needs are generally unchanged. Keep in mind I keep my main flash drive in my backpack which I carry with me most of the time. Last year my travel had me doing 40,916.4 miles. Cheap plastic is out of the question. Same goes for a cap. I use it virtually every day so memory quality is important too.

So my requirements are roughly:

  • Rugged.
  • No cap! Why they aren’t all retractable is beyond me.
  • Reasonable read/write performance.
  • Small size.
  • 8GB+ capacity.
  • Good memory quality. I use it regularly.
  • Did I mention rugged?

SanDisk at least until recently still sells the Cruzer Titanium though it’s no longer using Liquidmetal, and overall is cheaper in quality based on all the reviews I’ve seen. Presumably since Apple now has exclusive rights to Liquidmetal in electronics, it was discontinued. Availability is also limited as well making this not a viable upgrade.

IronKey is way to expensive for what it is, but I like the rugged hardware with the exception of having a cap. Seriously, why aren’t they all retractable? Lexar has the JumpDrive SAFE lineup but it’s got pretty much the same problems. I don’t need the security stuff from either, so it’s not worth it.

Corsair has the affordable Voyager series, but “rugged” to me means more than a rubberized coating on a plastic drive. They also have a Survivor series but that doesn’t really work for me either due to it being fat and somewhat heavy which puts stress on USB ports. That’s also a pain to carry. Being water resistant to 200M is nice, but for practical purposes not really necessary. On the plus side, it’s rather affordable.

So far the leader is the Corsair Survivor. I can’t believe I’m the only one who requires a more rugged flash drive than the typical $5 plastic toys commonly found. I don’t want to be replacing it every few weeks, and want to rely on it. Anyone else in this group? Suggestions?

Apple’s Liquidmetal

Apple has gained an exclusive license to Liquidmetal for consumer electronics. Liquidmetal Technologies will still be able to sell to other sectors, just not consumer electronics according to The Baltimore Sun.

The technology itself is pretty interesting. I have a SanDisk Cruzer Titanium I purchased back in 2006. Despite being used pretty much every day and being thrown around constantly, it’s 100% intact with a few very superficial blemishes on its finish. It’s extremely durable, small and light. I’m sure they’ve had advancements since then that are even better.

I suspect this is not the end of the Aluminum era for Apple products. I think the Liquidmetal licensing will be used mainly for the iPod, iPhone, iPad lineup. Perhaps it will extend as far as the MacBook Air. That’s where Apple is really in need of stronger lighter materials. I suspect the cost of Liquid Metal for a 15-17″ MacBook Pro just wouldn’t make sense. Same goes for the Mac Pro.

USB Keychain Madness Results

Sandisk Cruzer Titanium

A few weeks ago I noted that I’m looking for a USB Flash Drive that’s good enough to sit on even a keychain if I desired. I looked at about 100 models available and compared/contrasted them all quite a bit. In the end the Sandisk Cruzer Titanium 2GB won. It came yesterday giving me a little time last night, and today to really check it out.

Construction

It’s really strong. At the point where I have no doubt it could be stepped on with no ill consequences other than a scratch if there’s some sand or other sharp matter on the floor. The retractable functionality is smooth and locks in place well. Very little wiggle room. The finish looks great, very professional looking. No question it stands out among it’s cheap plastic competitors.

It came with a lanyard that could be attached to the keyring on the back corner of the device as well as a metal belt clip that can be hooked on (surprisingly secure). The one flaw I did note is the really small ring that your keychain would connect to is rather thin and feels a little weak. I’ll likely take the small ring from the next free keychain with a thicker one. So that’s not a fatal flaw.

The real winner is the solid construction, and the slide action instead of using a cap. It makes this a really durable product with no cap to loose.

Performance

Not much else to say about it, but fast. Very fast. Read/Write are both very good so I’ve got no complaints in this department.

Software

Not even sure why this is something worth mentioning (I did buy a hardware not software). The drive comes with “U3” which is SanDisk’s attempt at a portable application suite (where your app and all data go with you). This is rather flawed for a few reasons:

  • You need admin access to run U3 itself, making it pointless in some situations and not something to rely on.
  • Somewhat limited availability of applications designed for U3.
  • Seems a little buggy.
  • No good if your a cross platform person.

Ultimately I decided after about an hour to ditch it. Most of the applications I want to carry with me are available through PortableApps.com. The advantage here is that I don’t need any admin access rights on a system, and can install a Mac version in parallel to the PC version on the drive (Mac version not included). I wouldn’t mind if they made Avast as a Portable app, rather than only available via U3. That’s really the only application U3 had that I wouldn’t mind having. I do have ClamAV though.

Also came with a month of free voicemail from Skype.

Conclusion

U3 is a little buggy, just not worth while for me personally. Perhaps for someone else it’s perfect. The hardware is what I really was interested in, and it seems to be pretty much perfect. It’s really solid and no cap to loose.