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USB Flash Drive Round-Up: Corsair, OCZ and Kingston
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Date: May 01, 2007
Section:Storage
Author: Shane Unrein
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Introduction

USB flash drives are a dime a dozen these days, right? Well, they are a little more expensive than that, but how cool is it that you can get 1GB of storage capacity that's smaller than a pack of gum for like $20-30?  Pretty soon you'll see these great little gadgets in vending machines for a dollar, especially considering that everybody and their mama sells them. When there are so many different offerings from so many companies for the same basic product, you could just buy the first one you come across. That path will fail to earn you any geek cred, though, so we recommend doing a little research and decide what you want in a flash drive (biggest capacity, best security, smallest dimensions, etc). We also recommend sticking with reputable brands, like Kingston, Corsair and OCZ.

Admittedly, flash drives had gotten kind of boring, but when they started hitting 4GB and bigger, they piqued our interest again. Now, you can get 8GB and 16GB flash drives, so we were interested to see what the market has been cooking up these days. In this USB flash drive roundup, we will take a closer look at the features and performance of a 4GB OCZ Rally2, a 16GB OCZ Mega-Kart, a 1GB Kingston DataTraveler ReadyFlash, and an 8GB Corsair Voyager GT.

All of these drives, except the OCZ Mega-Kart, have the typical USB flash drive form factor that you are probably already familiar with (think of a 5-piece pack of gum). The OCZ Mega-Kart deviates from this shape and instead tries to look like a thick credit card. Additionally, the OCZ Mega-Kart is the only one of the four drives that doesn't boast support for Windows Vista's ReadyBoost feature, which is supposed to boost performance, especially in low memory situations, by using the flash drive as cache. The main area that ReadyBoost provides improved performance is when starting applications. With ReadyBoost, applications often start up more quickly, especially if you only have 512MB or 1GB of system memory. 

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OCZ Ralley 2

We are going to start with the OCZ Rally2. As the name suggests, this drive is a new iteration of OCZ's Rally. We have been carrying a 2GB Rally around for over a year now and have been quite happy with it. We are pleased to see that Rally2 features an aluminum chassis like the original Rally.
 

OCZ Rally2
Specifications and Features
Specifications
High Speed USB 2.0 Certified
True Plug and Play (Compatible with MAC OS X)
Dual Channel Technology
Available in 512MB, 1GB, 2GB and 4GB capacities
Dimensions: 2 5/8"(L) x 5/8"(W)
Transfer Speed: Up to 28MB/s (read), 15MB/s (write)
Features
Aluminum Chassis
Orange LED Status Light
Lifetime Warranty
Accessories
Lanyard
USB extension cable

While both the new Rally2 and the original Rally feature a black aluminum shell, that is about where their design similarities end. The new Rally2 is actually a flatter black than the Rally, and the Rally2's ends are rounded for a sleeker appearance. The Rally2, like the Rally and most other flash drives, ships in one of those nearly-impossible-to-open blister packs that we all love to hate.

Once you finally open the package, you will find the Rally2 drive, a lanyard and a USB extension cable. The lanyard is for wearing your geek bling (the Rally2 in this case) around your neck if you so desire. The USB extension cable is included for those of you who aren't fortunate enough to have front USB ports on your PCs. You simply plug the cable into a rear USB port, and then put the cable somewhere that is convenient for you when you need to connect the Rally2. That way, you don't have to crawl around to the back of your PC every time.

As you can see in the picture above, the Rally2 is the same basic shape as many other USB flash drives on the market -- about as long as a 5-stick pack of gum but not quite as wide. It fits quite nicely in a jean pocket.

When OCZ first introduced the Rally, the company also introduced its "Dual Channel Technology" for its line of flash drives. The technology was developed to maximize performance. Like the Rally, the Rally2 also features OCZ's Dual Channel Technology. We'll see how much that helps the performance when we test the transfer rate of the Rally2. In addition to the Dual Channel Technology, the Rally2 features a lifetime warranty and an orange LED status light. We like that the LED is orange, but it's a tad too bright in our opinion. This is of course a point of personal preference though. 

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OCZ Mega-Kart Specs & Features

 

We were quite excited to take a look at the OCZ Mega-Kart because of its relatively small size and large capacity. Although we prefer the form factor of a regular USB flash drive (like the aforementioned Rally2), we were still geeked (so to speak) about checking out a 16GB storage device that is barely larger than a couple of credit cards stacked on top of each other.

OCZ Mega-Kart
Specifications and Features
Specifications
High Speed USB 2.0 Certified
Dimensions: 84mm x 53mm x 4mm (L x W x H)
True Plug and Play (Compatible with MAC OS X)
Available in 8GB and 16GB capacities
Compatible with: Windows: 98/98SE/Me/2000/XP
Linux: Kernel 2.4 or later
Mac: OS 9.0 or later
Features
LED Status Light
1 Year Warranty

OCZ claims that the Mega-Kart is thin enough to fit in your wallet, but we would advise against it since we wouldn't want you to sit on it and risk breaking it. It could, of course, fit easily in your pocket, purse or bag. As we mentioned before, blister packs aren't our favorite packaging, but that is how the Mega-Kart ships. We do like that it's not much bigger than our BlockBuster membership card.

  

Another cool thing about the Mega-Kart is that it has a small USB cable built in. When you flip it over, you get a better idea of how the cable works. It pops out, and the short cable is revealed.



The design is pretty clever and works rather well. The cable and USB connector stay securely locked in place when not needed. The only down-side of the design is that the Mega-Kart hangs awkwardly from a USB port once it's plugged in. Many people won't be bothered by this, but we did raise an eyebrow or two after plugging it in each time.  It's just not what we expected or are used to.  That said, the design could also afford some flexibility in tight squeeze situations.

Like the Rally2, the Mega-Kart features an orange LED status light, but this one is a bit more tame. Unlike the Rally2, the Mega-Kart does not offer a lifetime warranty. Instead, the Mega-Kart is warrantied for only one year. We aren't sure why the warranty is so much shorter for the Mega-Kart, but we'd like OCZ to consider upping the warranty a bit.

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Kingston DataTraveler ReadyFlash Specs & Features

 

Kingston's DataTraveler line has been around for several years now. We have seen some of the DataTraveler drives of the past perform quite well, so we were looking forward to testing the ReadyFlash drive. Although the ReadyFlash is obviously designed with Windows ReadyBoost in mind, we were interested in more than just saving one or two seconds when opening applications, which is why we decided to test this drive just like the others in this round-up. On the performance results page, you will see just how well this drive performs.

Kingston DataTraveler ReadyFlash
Specifications and Features
Capacities 1GB, 2GB
Dimensions 2.67" x 0.829" x 0.355" (67.7mm x 20.8mm x 9.0mm)
Operating Temperatures 0° C to 60° C (32° F to 140° F)
Storage Temperatures -20° C to 85° C (-4° F to 185° F)
ReadyBoost Performance Exceeds the minimum Microsoft ReadyBoost performance requirements for USB drives of: 5 MB/sec throughput for random 4k reads across the entire device, 3 MB/sec throughput for random 512k writes
Convenient pocket-sized for easy transportability
Simple just plug into a USB 2.0 port
Guaranteed five-year warranty
OS Compatibility (File Transfer)
Windows Vista, 2000 SP3 (and above), Win XP SP1 (and above)
Mac OS 10.x and above
Linux 2.4 and above

By now, it should come as no surprise that the Kingston DataTraveler ReadyFlash comes packaged in a plastic blister pack like most other flash drives on the market. Kingston includes a small lanyard with a ring attached so that the ReadyFlash drive can be added to a keychain.

  

Unlike all the other drives in this round-up, which are mostly black, the Kingston ReadyFlash is silver. Its chassis is plastic and features black rigid sides for better grip. The cap is really secure, which makes it somewhat of a hassle to remove. We assume this will loosen over time.

The ReadyFlash's blue status LED looks great with its silver body. Additionally, we were pleased to see Kingston include a five-year warranty with this drive. This warranty isn't as good as the OCZ Rally2's lifetime warranty obviously, but it sure beats the one-year warranty of OCZ's Mega-Kart.

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Corsair Voyager GT Specs & Features

 

Have you broken or water-logged your precious flash drives in the past?  If so, Corsair has the flash drive for you -- the ruggedized Voyager GT. We didn't even know we needed a rugged flash drive until Corsair released the original Voyager a couple years ago. Users and reviewers have shown that the Voyager drives can withstand quite a bit of torture, including being run over by a car, being boiled, and being run through a wash cycle in a pair of jeans. While that does intrigue us, our interest was piqued when we learned that Corsair hand picks the NAND flash that is used in the Voyager GT to maximize performance.

Corsair Voyager GT
Specifications and Features
Specifications
Plug & Play functionality in Windows XP, 2000, ME; Linux 2.4 & later; Mac OS 9, X & later
Read speed: up to 34MB/s
Write speed: up to 28MB/s
Capacity: 8GB (2GB & 4GB also available)
Dimensions: 8" L x 5.75" W x 1.5" D
Weight: 0.176 lbs
Interface: High Speed USB 2.0 (compatible USB 1.1)
Features
Based on Corsair's award-winning Flash Voyager design
Enclosed in the Corsair proprietary all-rubber Flash Voyager housing
Rugged, stylish, compact, reliable, and water-resistant
Blue LED indicator light
Includes the True Crypt security application allowing for a virtual encrypted drive using AES-256 encryption
Security application allows you to create a password-protected partition
Windows ReadyBoost compliant
10-year warranty
MSRP: $119.99 (8GB, at launch / Feb 2007)
Accessories
Lanyard
USB extension cable

Corsair designed the Voyager GT with performance in mind, but it maintained all the ruggedness of the original Voyager. What this ruggedness equates to is a Corsair proprietary all-rubber housing that encloses the entire drive (except for the USB connector of course). Even the cap is made completely of rubber. For consistency's sake, we'll mention that this drive, the fourth and final in our round-up, also comes in a not-so-friendly blister pack.

The Voyager GT definitely seems rugged when you hold and inspect it. We were surprised by its weight for a flash drive; it feels strangely "heavy" (at less than three ounces, it's definitely not heavy per se, just relative to some other flash drives). We assume this 8GB Voyager GT's weight is due to all the rubber in the rugged design and the fact that this thing packs in 8GB of flash memory. Speaking of all that rubber, the housing actually is kind of fat for a flash drive, which means you either can't or won't want to plug this drive into a USB port adjacent to an already occupied one. It simple won't fit (easily or at all) if the two ports are right next to each other. Also, we noticed that the rubber housing likes to pick up lint from your pockets.

Of all the drives in this round-up, the Voyager GT comes with the most extras, which include a lanyard for wearing the drive around your neck, a USB extension cable, and a security application for encryption and password protecting a partition. The Voyager GT also features the second best warranty in the group at 10 years. Additionally, the status LED for this drive is a cool blue.

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Performance Testing

 

Over the past couple of years, we've used flash drives quite regularly, both for personal and business reasons. During that time, we stumbled across some rather slow drives. As you can imagine, trying to leave work at 5:00, and being stuck waiting for a flash drive data transfer to finish, your patience runs out rather quickly. For this reason, we were anxious to see how fast these four flash drives can read and write data. We tested the drives using SiSoftware Sandra's Removable Storage test and then by transferring data to and from the drives while timing the transfers.

Preliminary Benchmarks with SiSoft Sandra XI - Removable Storage Test
Synthetic Testing

The Sandra test measures performance in operations per minute rather than megabytes per second. Different file sizes are tested, and then the results are graphed. In the test result below, the 8GB Corsair Voyager GT is the red line; the 1GB Kingston DataTraveler ReadyFlash is the orange line; the 4GB OCZ Rally2 is the green line; and the blue line is the 16GB OCZ Mega-Kart.

As you can see, the Corsair Voyager GT completely outperforms all of the other drives in this test. The Kingston DataTraveler ReadyFlash comes in at a close second, while the OCZ Rally2 follows in third place. Finally, we see the OCZ Mega-Kart far behind in last place. The Mega-Kart is obviously designed more for capacity than performance.

Data Transfer Testing
Real-World Testing

High Sandra scores don't matter if real-world performance doesn't add up.  For that reason, we performed a set of read and write tests with all four drives. We created three different sets of files: 1) 97MB of NVIDIA driver files, 2) a 579MB 3DMark06 installer, and 3) 950MB of pictures, videos, MP3s and WMAs. We transferred the file sets to each drive to test their write performance, and then we transferred the file sets to our test machine (the Alienware Area-51 7500) to test their read performance. We performed each test three times on each drive and averaged the results.

We took the transfer time results and translated those into transfer rates (MB/s). Then, we graphed the results for easy comparison. Check them out below.

All of the drives, except the OCZ Mega-Kart, post really good read speeds in the first test. The Corsair Voyager GT backs up its Sandra dominance with some real-world dominance as it takes first place in both the read and write transfer rates. Just as they did in Sandra, the Kingston ReadyFlash and the OCZ Rally2 take second and third place, respectively. The OCZ Mega-Kart performs quite dismally for some reason, but it redeems itself in the next test.

Once again, the Corsair Voyager GT completely dominates this test. Rugged and fast; we like the combo! Somehow the OCZ Mega-Kart improves quite a bit from the previous test. Evidently, it is faster with one big file than it is with a bunch of smaller files even if the group of smaller files is much smaller overall than the one big file. The OCZ Rally2 and Kingston ReadyFlash perform pretty well too, but this time the Rally2 beats the ReadyFlash in the read test.

The results of this test fall in line with the Sandra and 97MB transfer tests: the Corsair Voyager GT takes first, followed by the Kingston ReadyFlash, then the OCZ Rally2 and finally the OCZ Mega-Kart. Note that the Corsair Voyager GT maintained a read speed of over 30MB/s in all three tests. Perhaps more manufacturers will take a lead-in from Corsair and start hand-picking their NAND flash now.

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Performance Summary & Conclusion

 

Performance Summary: The performance seen in this flash drive round-up can be summed up fairly easily. The best performance hands down was offered by the 8GB Corsair Voyager GT. Corsair claims to have built the Voyager GT with performance in mind, and the results substantiate that claim. The 1GB Kingston DataTraveler ReadyFlash and OCZ Rally2 also perform well, with the ReadyFlash outpacing the Rally2 more often than not. We were a little surprised that the Rally2 didn't perform a little better. On the other hand, we didn't know what to expect of the OCZ Mega-Kart, but we were left wishing it could transfer data faster than it did.

Kingston's DataTraveler:
Transfer rates aren't the only thing to think about when buying a USB flash drive. Each of the drives in our round-up offer something different. If you want a simple and inexpensive way to boost application startup performance in Windows Vista via ReadyBoost, we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Kingston DataTraveler ReadyFlash drive (1GB is around $20, 2GB is about $27). Not all drives support ReadyBoost, so it makes sense to buy one that is specifically designed for that purpose.

OCZ's Rally2:
If you are like most people and aren't hopping on the Windows Vista bandwagon just yet, then ReadyBoost support doesn't mean much to you. Speed, price and large capacity are probably more important to you. In that case, it's easy for us to recommend the 4GB OCZ Rally2, which can be had for as little as $52 according to our PriceGrabber price search engine. Four gigabytes is more than enough storage for most people. Plus, the Rally2's aluminum housing will help protect it for years to come, and it looks really cool. That lifetime warranty is a big plus as well.

OCZ's Mega-Kart:
When it comes to large capacity in a small package, the 16GB OCZ Mega-Kart is an obvious option. If patience isn't one of your strong points, though, we recommend looking at other options besides the Mega-Kart. While we like the Mega-Kart's credit card-sized housing and large capacity, we were left wanting more when it came to its tranfer speed, especially considering that it costs almost $170 after $30 rebate at several online stores.

Corsair's Voyager GT:
If you want one of the best all-around drives on the market, look towards the Corsair Voyager GT. Simply put, the 8GB Corsair Voyager GT is one of the best flash drives we've ever had the pleasure of using. It's blazingly fast, rugged, feature-rich, and offers a whopping 8GB of storage space. Often times, the larger flash drives are slower, but that is definitely not the case with the Voyager GT. It is by far the fastest drive in this round-up, and we recommend it wholeheartedly if you can live with its slightly plump, rugged housing. At around $95, it's not the cheapest 8GB flash drive, but you get what you pay for. We'd love to see Corsair release non-rugged flash drives that are this fast and perhaps even a bit less expensive.


 

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