I got sick and tired of all my old, slow-as-molasses USB flash drives. Turned out you can’t really find fast USB Flash drives in Finnish stores so I placed an order for a bunch of supposedly-fast USB memory sticks with a Swedish company. The shipment arrived today and I decided to benchmark the lot. (updated 6.8.09)

Here’s what DHL dropped on my lap:

OCZ Rally2 Dual Channel 32GB


OCZ ATV 16GB

pny
PNY Attaché Optima 16GB

patriot
Patriot Xporter XT 8GB
Patriot Xporter XT 16GB
Patriot Xporter XT 32GB

Of these, Patriots and OCZ ATV have a somewhat sticky rubber surface, while OCZ Rally2 and PNY are regular hard plastic. Rally2 has a nice matte finish. PNY has a very shiny and downright cheap look to it – especially its swivelling head action feels extremely nasty.

Copying a file from local HDD to USB flash drive isn’t the most accurate performance test in existence. A quick googling came up with Check Flash, a freeware application for testing USB flash drives. I selected Temporary file access, Write and read test with small pattern set, One full pass and clicked the start button. Uh-oh! It claims the run will take almost two hours. Forget that – I’m not doing research for a magazine article here!

Let’s see… Flash Memory Toolkit v1.20. Ah, this is way more convenient.


File benchmarks:


This calculates the read and write rates of files of various lengths to the Flash drive based on the amount of time the operation took.

Patriot Xporter XT 8GB (FAT32)
8gb_patriotxt_fat32_file1

Patriot Xporter XT 16GB (FAT32)
16gb_patriotxt_fat32_file

PNY Attaché Optima 16GB (FAT32)
16gb_pny_attacheoptima_fat32_file

OCZ ATV 16GB (FAT32)
16gb_ocz_atv_fat32_file

Patriot Xporter XT 32GB (FAT32)
32gb_patriotxt_fat32_file

OCZ Rally2 Dual Channel 32GB (FAT32)
32gb_ocz_rally2_fat32_file


Low-level Read/Write benchmarks:


This measures the read and write performance of the Flash drive.

Patriot Xporter XT 8GB (FAT32)
8gb_patriotxt_fat32_rw1

Patriot Xporter XT 16GB (FAT32)
16gb_patriotxt_fat32_rw

PNY Attaché Optima 16GB (FAT32)
16gb_pny_attacheoptima_fat32_rw

OCZ ATV 16GB (FAT32)
16gb_ocz_atv_fat32_rw

Patriot Xporter XT 32GB (FAT32)
32gb_patriotxt_fat32_rw

OCZ Rally2 Dual Channel 32GB (FAT32)
32gb_ocz_rally2_fat32_rw


FAT32 vs. NTFS:

All these sticks come formatted in FAT32 by default. I read on a forum somewhere that USB Flash drives are faster if they’re formatted in NTFS file system. Windows Vista allows NTFS formatting of USB Flash drives so I decided to do a quick test to verify the claim. Unfortunately it takes several minutes to fully format a 16GB USB flash drive… (By the way, do you ever feel cheated when the label claims 16 GB, but once you try to format the Flash drive Windows reports its capacity as 14,9 GB?)

Patriot Xporter XT 8GB (FAT32)
8gb_patriotxt_fat32_file1

Patriot Xporter XT 8GB (NTFS)
8gb_patriotxt_ntfs_file1

Patriot Xporter XT 8GB (FAT32)
8gb_patriotxt_fat32_rw1

Patriot Xporter XT 8GB (NTFS)
8gb_patriotxt_ntfs_rw1

While the File Benchmark shows a slight improvement in write performance (and a slight decrease in read performance in general) with NTFS, the Low-level Benchmark shows no discernible difference in average and maximum speeds. The original forum post claimed the difference between FAT32 and NTFS is clearly felt when the Flash drive is used for Windows Vista ReadyBoost. I’ll update the post if I find some free time to test that assertion.


Windows Vista ReadyBoost

By reading a few articles I learned that Vista, which can use a USB Flash drive to speed up the system, does a speed test for the inserted Flash drive to decide whether the drive is fast enough to work as a ReadyBoost device. The requirements are 2.5 MB/sec on 4KB random reads and 1.75 MB/sec on 512KB random writes. Vista actually saves the results of these tests in registry and I dug them out.

Patriot XT 8GB (NTFS): Read 5969 KB/s – Write 5709 KB/s
Patriot XT 16GB (NTFS): Read 5594 KB/s – Write 5197 KB/s
OCZ ATV (NTFS): Read 6826 KB/s – Write 2666 KB/s
OCZ Rally2 (NTFS): Read 6464 KB/s – Write 3517 KB/s
PNY Attaché Optima (NTFS): Read 5614 KB/s – 3138 KB/s

The results were quite surprising, I’d say. Based on Flash Memory Toolkit’s Low-level Benchmarks I really expected the OCZ Rally2 to be the fastest of the bunch. Instead it would appear it’s the Patriot XT which is best suited for ReadyBoost, despite its rather poor performance in Low-level Benchmarks.

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