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?

Drobo for network storage?

Drobo initially didn’t impress me to much, but after watching a demo I’m somewhat impressed. The positives:

  • The hotswapping, RAID-like (but not RAID) redundancy is awesome. That’s perfect for backup/bulk storage purposes.
  • Transfer isn’t bad (Up to read 22MB/s write 20MB/s)
  • Power consumption idles at about 12 watts which isn’t bad.
  • Adding storage capacity is really easy.

There are some downsides:

  • No Linux support. Which stinks if you were to hook it up to an old PC running Linux and use Samba. You could of course use a Mac.
  • Pretty expensive $499 isn’t cheap for a glorified drive enclosure. You still need a host, and drives.

Of course for true backup you need to offsite your data, but you can do that through standard means, and using Amazon’s S3. So your covered there.

The downfall of this product is the lack of a 10/100 Ethernet port. It would likely have been pretty cheap (lets face it network devices are pretty cheap these days) and would have removed the need for a PC. You could of course hook it up to a Access Point such as the Airport Extreme… but you don’t get the greatest level of control with these.

Ideally a real cheapo Linux machine (Intel Celeron, 1GB RAM, 80GB HD) with a Drobo would be an awesome backup solution. You could then use MRTG to graph network/data storage usage, manage usage, quota’s or whatever else you wanted to do. Even a media server. Backup some data with S3? No problem. Could even setup something like BackupPC to backup entire PC’s.

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.

USB Keychain Madness

USB Flash drives stink. They are either really poorly designed (causing them to break quickly) or to expensive to be practical in to carry on you.

I want the following:

  • USB 2.0 with actual fast transfer (not all are fast)
  • Between 2GB – 4GB capacity
  • Rugged – this means a cap that doesn’t fall off and get lost quick, the ability to attach to your keys (or thin enough to fit in your wallet), and solid construction that you could step on without any fear at all of cracking.
  • Small Footprint – some are a little wide which can make them hard to use in some situations where USB ports are close together.
  • < $100 Price tag

For a 3 years now I’ve had a “JumpDrive Secure” 512MB. It’s served me well, but I need more speed, and more capacity than this one offers. So I need to move up. It’s rugged, but the cap isn’t that great (the only reason I didn’t lose it is because it was in my backpack for most of the 3 years). It’s also rather wide. It’s about time to retire it and look for something more appropriate. I avoid mine lately because it’s either too slow or small, or it just doesn’t fit.

So far the contenders are:
Lexar JumpDrive Sport – this drive has a nice rubber cap that surrounds the entire thing, and attaches to a keychain. That’s pretty secure looking. It’s also available in 2GB.

JumpDrive Lightning – this drive is stainless steel! And fast! The downside is it’s price tag. It’s a bit on the expensive side, and the cap must not be that secure, because you can buy a kit of 3 replacements for a few dollars. Loose caps aren’t cool.

Corsair Voyager – 2GB and 4GB are actually really cheap, and it’s rubberized! But on the downside, the loop for the keychain is only rubber (no metal reinforcement according to Ars Technica’s review). And it’s a bit bulky. Again, loose cap.

Apacer Steno – reasonable price, and a pretty innovative design to help you never loose the cap! On the downside performance isn’t that great, and it’s just plastic.

SanDisk Cruzer Titanium – a little on the expensive side, but strong (rated up to 2000lbs.) and no cap to use (it just slides out). On the downside it’s a little on the expensive side.

OCZ Ultra Slim Mini-Kart – insanely small! Fits in your wallet and surprisingly affordable. But how durable can this be? Especially in your wallet.

Right now I’m leaning towards the SanDisk Cruzer Titanium because of it’s size, performance, and strength. Not to mention the cap free design.