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USB Thumb Drive Vs. Hard Drive

USB Thumb Drive Vs. Hard Drive

It won’t be long before 64 GB USB thumb drives hit the mainstream, seeing as 32 GB drives have been around for many months. Naturally, the introduction of 128 GB USB flash drives can’t be far behind. However, flash drives have not only gotten larger in terms of capacity, they’ve also undergone an amazing miniaturization resulting in USB flash thumb drives that are actually much smaller than a thumb. We decided to compare one of the smallest models to an equivalent hard drive that we found in our hardware catacombs.

The current generation of flash-based USB thumb drives has reached capacities that were available roughly 10 years ago in the hard drive space. And while the good old desktop hard drive has improved in capacity by 100 times and performance around 12 times in the unchanged 3.5” form factor, USB flash drives have become faster and smaller while at least doubling capacity every year. But have flash-based storage devices also reached the same level of performance? Or are they even faster?

Performance Considerations

Comparing an old 3.5” hard drive and a modern USB thumb drive is actually not so far off, as the maximum bandwidth of a decade-old 3.5” UltraATA hard drive is equivalent to the maximum throughput of USB 2.0 used today. Hard drives employed UltraATA/33 interfaces in 1997/1998, which let them reach a theoretical bandwidth of 33 MB/s, while staying around 30 MB/s in real life due to protocol overhead. USB 2.0, which has a gross bandwidth of 480 Mbit/s, actually achieves slightly more than 30 MB/s.

We are sure that the access times of the USB flash drive will be a lot quicker than those of the hard drive, but it’ll be interesting to look at the throughput.

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  • 1 Hide
    tygrus , 11 September 2008 14:53
    Future ideas.
    Compare ~$120 budget upgrade of old 10GB ATA33 HDD with:
    a) current PATA drive (also test with short stroked to 32GB);
    b) current SATA drive + card .. (similar performance as PATA. cost dif?);
    c) best capacity MLC USB FLASH within budget;
    d) best speed 16GB USB FLASH within budget;
    e) like above but with CF card and adapter (IDE or SATA).
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , 11 September 2008 17:27
    How long did it take you to conclude that "Super Talent Pico C 8 GB USB thumb drives should be used as storage devices for occasional use". You are truly pioneers for discovering this.

  • 0 Hide
    goozaymunanos , 11 September 2008 20:10
    what a waste of time..
  • 1 Hide
    hixy , 11 September 2008 22:49
    interesting..... my write function to my brain has been severely compromised by reading this
  • 0 Hide
    kalten , 12 September 2008 00:03
    Guys - why slag off something that actually shows how far the static stroage devices have come? The fact that the USB pen is better was not really in question, it was an exercise in finding out how much better and 'if' there were areas that it fell short on taht it shouldn't...lighten up folks!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 12 September 2008 05:24
    Doubling every year results in EXPONENTIAL growth not LINEAR.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 12 September 2008 23:56
    Why to rant at an article that doesn't promise illumination, just what it says on title
    Whining championship anywhere?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 14 September 2008 15:06
    This test is plain STUPID !!! should i go on reading xbitlabs ???
    WTF was this people ??? Even a 4 year old can state that a new stick can "defeat" the 1k year old hard drive.
    Please test something much more interesting next time.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 22 September 2008 14:42

    doubling every year results in GEOMETRIC growth, not linear and NOT exponential!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 24 September 2008 20:49
    A little stupid, the persistant whining that is.

    It was an interesting article, I suppose this can be taken as 'proof' rather than just 'taken' that pen drives are not for extensive use.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 30 September 2008 20:30
    What about data warranty? I would prefer stocking my pictures on an old hard drive rather than on a USB device, Just like CD-DVD they loose data over time.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 8 October 2008 06:03
    I too was largely aware of the conclusions, but was interested to read on the specifics, and where we stood now. My thanks to you Patrick/Achim. I don't understand the whining (some people have time to whine, but not enough to write their own interesting articles. nuff said...)