Be Wary Of Cheap USB 3.0 Flash Drives

Be Wary Of Cheap USB 3.0 Flash Drives

There are exceptions to the rule that you always “get what you pay for”. Indeed, there’s nothing better than getting a good deal on a quality product. As the prices on flash drives drop, opportunities to snag a bargain are everywhere, but just because a drive is marked as “USB 3.0” doesn’t mean it’ll perform any better than an older 2.0 device.

The USB 3.0 standard has a maximum transfer speed of 640MB/s, excessively speedier than its progenitor, USB 2.0, which can muster a theoretical 60MB/s. Of course, due to operating system, micro-controller and driver overhead, you’ll be lucky to attain anywhere near this sort of performance on a thumb drive.

There’s also the matter of the flash chips used in the drive itself, with some providing better read and write speeds than others. Even drives from the same manufacturer can vary wildly.

Take for instance, SanDisk’s “Ultra” series of USB 3.0 gadgets that have been on sale in various places recently, compared to the slightly more expensive “Ultra Fit” models. There’s a noticeable difference in their maximum speeds, but it’s the minimums that tell the real story:

Benchmarks sourced from USB UserBenchmark

Yes, you can get a 16GB Ultra for $10 right now, but an Ultra Fit is only a couple of bucks more expensive.

So next time you see a cheap deal on a USB 3.0 drive, hit up USB UserBenchmark first. It used to be the case that having a slow USB thumb drive wasn’t a big deal (hey, I have gigs of storage in my pocket, woohoo!), but with high quality media hitting 1GB or more, the last thing you want to do is wait around while you “quickly” copy a few files to take with you, only to have “quickly” replaced with “slower than molasses”.


  • The other thing to watch out for is whether the ‘plug’ end is encased in metal.

    I bought a brand name USB 3.0 stick that had a plastic rather than metal ‘plug’, and quickly found my wireless mouse stop working. Turns out the reason the plugs are metal is to shield interference being created by the stick. And the USB 3.0 spec specifies that the plugs should be metal for this reason.

    Despite this Lexar produce multiple USB 3.0 sticks that are all plastic. Be warned.

  • I bought a 16GB SanDisk Ultra. In fact, it’s right next to the laptop I’m typing this on. For some shits and giggles, I thought – why can’t I run a Windows To Go workspace from this drive? I have a 64GB mSATA drive in a USB3 mount, and that runs Win8.1 like a charm. Quick to boot, runs well.
    Why can’t I do it with my $10 Ultra? Well. I got it to boot by creating a Virtual Hard Disk (since USB thumb drives can’t have more than 1 partition in Windows) and making the drive mount the VHD at boot.
    Well, it’s fucking slow. System setup took over half an hour longer than my mSATA drive. Took me 10 mins to open IE and download Chrome. GPU drivers installed, system begins to run a little better (still slow though).

    This is on a i5-4670K and 8GB of RAM.

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