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USB Flash Drive Life Varies Up To 10 Times

timothy posted more than 6 years ago | from the that's-worse-then-the-spread-for-people dept.

Data Storage 192

Lucas123 writes "Differences in the type of memory and I/O controllers used in USB drives can make one device perform two or three times faster and last 10 times longer than another, even if both sport the USB 2.0 logo, according to a Computerworld story. While a slow USB drive may be fine for moving a few dozen megabytes of files around, when you get into larger data transfers, that's when bandwidth contrictions become noticeable. In 2009, controller manufacturers are expected to begin shipping drives with dual- and even four-channel controllers, which will increase speeds even for slower drives."

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First Comment. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23774341)

Informative. Mod Up!

Re:First Comment. (1, Offtopic)

DimmO (1179765) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774371)

I would, but since i've posted on this page, I can't.

Re:First Comment. (-1, Offtopic)

CDMA_Demo (841347) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774513)

all war is deception

Re:First Comment. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23774779)

all war is deception
but I thought all war was a decepticon?

Re:First Comment. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23775261)

No idea what that is, but it sure sounds superior!

FS (4, Insightful)

Psychotria (953670) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774363)

I assume the article is talking about flash drives. Are there any filesystems designed to specifically target these drives? The drives probably don't include any fault-tolerance, but a filesystem could, in theory.

Re:FS (4, Informative)

Chlorus (1146335) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774381)

I assume the article is talking about flash drives. Are there any filesystems designed to specifically target these drives? The drives probably don't include any fault-tolerance, but a filesystem could, in theory.
There's exFAT, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ExFAT [wikipedia.org] , but there's no free software implementation as of yet.

Re:FS (5, Funny)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774757)

here's exFAT, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ExFAT [wikipedia.org] , but there's no free software implementation as of yet.
It comes with Vista SP1, which is a free download.

Re:FS (2)

ElliotLee (713376) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775497)

Wow, that's good to know. A file system suited especially for flash drives! Why isn't there an open source implementation?

Re:FS (4, Informative)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775659)

exFAT isn't 'designed for USB flash devices'. Filesystems in fact don't need to be 'designed for USB flash devices' because those devices (assuming they last more than a couple of days) do wear levelling under the filesystem layer. It's a hacked up version of FAT that works past on drives bigger than 2TB or files bigger than 4GB. Since it's non back compatible and Microsoft have a new found business model of IP licensing I suspect there won't be any third party implementations. Curently there isn't a spec published for exFAT and it would be easier to patent some key part of a new filesystem than one which is back compatible with FAT.

Mind you it's still free in the sense that you don't pay for it. I'm just annoyed by people using "free software" as a synonym of the business model they favour and expect everyone to know what they mean. Microsoft could claim according to the dictionary that exFAT is free and they'd be right. The FSF doesn't own the word and can't define it. But the exFAT specification is not published (the Sun version of Open Systems) and even if it were the standard would most likely not be an open one in the sense that you don't need a license to implement it (the PC industry criteria for an Open System). Maybe it will be of course, I haven't heard a statement from Microsoft on exFAT openness and licensing.

Re:FS (5, Informative)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774399)

Yes, [wikipedia.org] there is [wikipedia.org] . But those are designed for raw access to the flash medium. The drive's controller provides a facade of having a whatever you formatted it as.

Re:FS (2, Insightful)

the_womble (580291) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774555)

I assume the article is talking about flash drives.
Yes, the article specifically says flash drives. The summary does not.

One would have thought that the editors of a technology website would know that a USB drive is not necessarily flash - oops, sorry this is Slashdot.

Re:FS (0, Redundant)

Nullav (1053766) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775183)

You mean those USB tape drives we've all been hearing so much about? I know this is RTFA, but at least RTFA before you try to correct someone on TFA.

Re:FS (1)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775877)

There are USB hard drives, you know.

Re:FS (3, Informative)

the_womble (580291) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775891)

You mean those USB tape drives we've all been hearing so much about?

I mean USB hard drives. You may not have heard of them, but they exist. I use one.

You evidently did not RTFA. The first sentence is:

Most USB 2.0 flash drives look the same, but that doesn't mean they perform the same.

The summary does not use the word flash, at all.

I was not saying "RTFA", I was saying: 1) Your assumption is correct
2) The summary should have made it clear so you did not need to make an assumption.

I assume the idiot who modded my comment flamebait also misread it the same way you did. Did you bother reading my comment and the parent properly before replying?

Re:FS (1)

matt_martin (159394) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774911)

Its very likely that any modern flash drive has error correction built in, if that is what you mean by "fault-tolerance".

Re:FS (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774975)

I don't think that has a lot to do with it. It's probably power levels/quality and amount of time spent accessing it that kills the silicon layer of drives. Crappy ones can have tiny surges and have to constantly re-read and stuff so yeah I suppose a file system could filter out bad sectors and stuff on the computer side after it reads it just once but I still think it's a power quality thing.

Re:FS (2)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775715)

Actually according to TFA(I know. But hey,I got bored.) the reason they are slower is the use of MLC(multi level cell) VS SLC(single level cell),problem is almost nobody actually makes SLC anymore since it is about 4 times as expensive to make. And I don't know about you,but considering the speed that flash sizes are increasing IMHO it would be nuts to spend all the extra cash on a SLC when you will have outgrown it before making back the extra cash. It also mentions that you only really see the benefit of SLC in writing very small(byte size) files. That in large files they are pretty much the same. Who uses flash drives for files that tiny,when you can just email it to yourself or shoot it through your network? But that is my 02c,YMMV

Re:FS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23775459)

There are specialist suppliers of virtual flash file systems that resolve the slow write problem of flash; whilst also preventing excessive wear in a busy server. Take a look at managedflash.com for instance.

Re:FS (1)

Proud_to_be_Pinoy (826330) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775601)

has anyone ever successfully tried to setup a RAID system using flash drives? it shouldn't really be that hard on linux since the flashdrives just get mounted as regular devices, right?

What does speed have to do with life? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23774377)

And why are they mixing the two? It just confuses things.

Re:What does speed have to do with life? (1)

Slimee (1246598) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774439)

Because they're trying to increase both of them...you know, kill two birds with one stone.

Everyone in this day and age wants things to be done faster, and I'm sure all of us /.ers would love having flash drives that are a bit more reliable and don't just randomly die out on you when you need it the most.

Re:What does speed have to do with life? (3, Insightful)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774445)

While technically you are correct, you can assume that both will be affected by how good your engineers are. Well engineered drives will be both fast and have efficient wear-leveling. Poorly engineered drives will be slow and have terrible wear-leveling.

Re:What does speed have to do with life? (4, Informative)

LarsG (31008) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774713)

Because SLC is both faster and more durable than MLC?

That's easy (4, Funny)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775109)

Well, that's easy. See, if you have a painfully slow drive, you use it less. So it'll last you for decades ;)

Re:That's easy (2, Funny)

beav007 (746004) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775461)

I was using my USB drive last night, and noticed that it went fast for a while, slowed down for a stretch, and then sped up again. I'm guessing that this means it will only happen 9 more times and I'll be set. Is there a market for USB drives that have been pre run in?

For sale: 4GB USB flash drive. Run in on linux - no viruses! Full logs of run in period, including all of the 10 variances.

Careful! Some sellers sell flash devices as run in when they have only had 5 or 6 variances! We give you the logs to prove it!

Our flash drives are guaranteed not to vary in speed for the life of the drive!

Brand: Generic
Capacity: 2Gb
Condition: As new

ZOMG HUMOURSPLOSION! &#$73(*&$#PC9LOAD4LETTER@#*&$ No Carrier

Last time I do that.... (0, Troll)

Statecraftsman (718862) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774459)

I finally RTFA and it tells me to pay more for stuff!

MARKETING! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23774461)

Why is it every other media we have speed-ratings and benchmarks and reviews? With USB thumb-drives you can't tell virtually anything when purchasing one other than what color it is.

I want to know SOMETHING like 133x is defined for CompactFlash to give a basic idea of the speed of the device. I'm willing to accept some fudging around but not prepared to find out my new 32-gig flash-drive is 10 times SLOWER than my old 2-gig one. How has this situation persisted this long in a performance-obsessed technical field?

Re:MARKETING! (0, Troll)

bane2571 (1024309) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774999)

Simple, thumb drives aren't for technical people, I'd assume anyone that cares about transferring data has a portable HDD that pushes 300+ GB. Thumb drives are for easy theft of office documents and quick trading of porn images.

Re:MARKETING! (2, Insightful)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775095)

"Why is it every other media we have speed-ratings and benchmarks and reviews? With USB thumb-drives you can't tell virtually anything when purchasing one other than what color it is."

USB thumb drives are like floppy disks, I think no one really cares that much about reliability since most transfers are done via network or CD/DVD/etc, or external storage (portable hard drive).

Re:MARKETING! (2, Informative)

Nursie (632944) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775999)

Well look for the ones from reputable companies that sell themselves on speed.

Like Corsair, OCZ or Patriot sticks. If you do your research on the net first then you'll be ok. It's when you walk into a store and they have a selection af candy coloured novelty thumb drives, that's when you're going to get shafted.

Personally I like the Patriot Xporter XT, I use it as a main disk on my NSLU2 debian box. It's not quite as quick as a normal HDD, but it's not bad. Corsair's voyager range are the defacto standard on fast, high capacity USB sticks right now though.

I thought everyone knew this (1, Interesting)

kriston (7886) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774497)

Someone asked me about this very thing last week.
I thought everyone knew that you get what you pay for, both speed and durability.
I have found also that the drives marked ReadyBoost usually mean they're among the faster drives.

Re:I thought everyone knew this (5, Insightful)

Schlemphfer (556732) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774921)

>I thought everyone knew that you get what you pay for, both speed and durability.

Sure, you get what you pay for. But the problem here is that these drives don't indicate on the packaging whether they use SLC or MLC memory, or whether they offer more than one channel.

So let's say the crappy variety of 4 GB USB drives currently go for $25, and the better, faster variety will never sell at that price. Right now, you have no way of knowing whether that 4 GB drive going for $50 is made with the faster, more durable SLC memory, or whether the drive is simply overpriced.

You can therefore spend $50 for a drive and not get what you paid for. And the only way to safeguard yourself is to waste time researching your drive -- something you shouldn't have to do, since this info ought to be published as part of the drive's specifications.

Re:I thought everyone knew this (5, Informative)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775723)

Mod parent up! This is the heart of the problem right there: manufacturers don't write whether the USB drive (or SD card, or any other Flash RAM device) uses SLC or MLC Flash RAM. But that's the main difference. SLC Flash will survive 100.000 write/erase cycles, MLC only about 5000. That's a HUGE difference. Especially if you use the USB drive to host an OS that likes logging a lot. Each log write implies the whole Flash RAM block (usually 128 KB) to be erased and then written to.

Logging is the Flash RAM killer.

And Kingston and Sandisk should start putting "SLC" or "MLC" on their products, so we techies know whether they are worth the double price.

As with many things in life... (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 6 years ago | (#23776007)

... a bit of research on the internet, before you go out to purchase these things, will save you a lot of time, money and disappointment.

Also, buying a reputable brand (Corsair and OCZ are generally good).

Holy crap! (4, Funny)

tedrlord (95173) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774523)

So, wait. Are you telling me that better quality products will perform better and last longer? You've blown my mind here! My whole worldview will need to be adjusted.

Re: Holy crap! (1, Funny)

CDMA_Demo (841347) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774559)

so, what GP is saying is, a circle is round because its a circle.

Re: Holy crap! (1)

morethanapapercert (749527) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774865)

And let us not forget the complete and utter lack of corners...

Re: Holy crap! (0)

JOrgePeixoto (853808) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774951)

Haha, very funny.
The point is that people normally assume that pen drives are largely equivalent (other than capacity), while they vary very much in speed and vary wildly in durability (although the article claims the most users wont notice any difference in durability).

Flash MP3 player (1)

Aphoxema (1088507) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774561)

Speaking of flash drives dying, does anyone know of an MP3/whatever player that can use USB flash drives but is not INTEGRATED into one?

Re:Flash MP3 player (1)

Wescotte (732385) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774655)

Many smart phones/mp3 players support removable media via microSD cards.

Re:Flash MP3 player (1)

dattaway (3088) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774711)

The cheap $20 mp3/SD players on ebay work well. The only feature they have is to play mp3's. They are light enough to fit in your shirt pocket and can be dropped and abused. Search ebay for SD-MMC-MP3-Player-USB-2-0 to see the one I got

Re:Flash MP3 player (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23774729)

That would be the BenQ joybee 130, ostensibly the best MP3 player EVER made - even when pitted against everything that Apple has ever done. You could record from the Mic or from FM radio right onto the removable SD card if you wanted to. No software needed, the player looked like a removable flash drive when you plugged it into your computer's USB port.

Unfortunately, the BenQ executives spent all of the profits from the Joybee 130 on crack cocaine, smoked it all over a weekend, and discontinued that amazing product. You can sometimes still find one on Ebay, but beware sellers claiming "as-is, I don't know what this thing does..." since they probably dropped it in the shower or something.

Man, why is slas

Re:Flash MP3 player (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774797)

Does it support SDHC, i.e. SD cards greater than 4GB?

Re:Flash MP3 player (5, Interesting)

EEPROMS (889169) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774919)

Cowon A3, it supports more media formats than any MP3 player out (ogg, flak, mkv) there and you can read directly from a USB thumb drives. As a MP3 player the Cowon A3's audio quality blows the iPOD right out of the water, even has a 10 channel equaliser built in.

Re:Flash MP3 player (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23775741)

Are you kidding? Even my cheap Trio Machspeed MP3 player blows the iPod (any iPod) out of the water! Both in ease of use, and sound quality! Plus it uses a standard AAA battery (I use AAA NiMH rechargeables in it) and for the price, if it lasts a year, I will be happy with it.

(CR)Apple used its PR department to somehow get some easily duped people into thinking that their crappy, overpriced iPod is some kind of status symbol. Same with their crappy, overpriced iPhone.

Re:Flash MP3 player (1)

ledow (319597) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775179)

Probably not what you want specifically but may be useful for other people:

A while ago I gave my girlfriend a little portable "CD player" that also plays direct from SD cards and USB drives, plays MP3 CD's, radio, etc. for about £40 (probably a lot cheaper by now). Runs off batteries or mains.
Was one of the best buys I've made, especially given that the £40 was in vouchers that we'd won on a competition.

Dual Channel is already available (5, Interesting)

clarkn0va (807617) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774571)

I recently bought one of these [ncix.com] . hdparm said it's reading at 26 MB/s. Then it said it was reading at 17 MB/s. Not sure why the variance.

Then I copied a 700 MB file onto it from a local hard drive in gnome, which reported initially that it was transferring at 20+ MB/s, but that dropped steadily until it levelled off around 6.1 MB/s.

Far from scientific, yes, but I wonder a)why the inconsistencies, and b)how these results compare with other products.

db

Re:Dual Channel is already available (5, Insightful)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774587)

Probably at first the copy was just being buffered into memory. Linux buffers copies and then flushes the buffered data to disk later, when the drive is otherwise idle, to improve overall system performance. Once you filled the cache, you had to wait to write more data into it until some of it was flushed to make room. And thus, once the cache is filled, any more writes happen at the actual speed of the device, instead of the speed to copy to memory.

That's one theory. There may be other reasons.

In terms of how these results compare to other products, I think they are "pretty good". Not the best, but significantly better than average.

Re:Dual Channel is already available (3, Insightful)

LarsG (31008) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774773)

There may be other reasons.
Some usbkeys cheat, they use a small buffer of fast flash. Small writes go fast, but sustained speed isn't so hot.

Re:Dual Channel is already available (5, Insightful)

JOrgePeixoto (853808) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775009)

Some usbkeys cheat, they use a small buffer of fast flash. Small writes go fast, but sustained speed isn't so hot.
Don't abuse the word cheat, or any other poor word for that matter. A cache seems to be an actually useful feature for a pen drive, as opposed to a "cheat". A cheat would be something that gave false high numbers.

Re:Dual Channel is already available (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 6 years ago | (#23776013)

Seconded. Most hard drives "cheat" with a RAM buffer, so why not flash drives?

I find the idea of using faster flash as a buffer strange, though. I understand that a huge RAM buffer doesn't make sense in a kind of device that's often improperly unmounted. But a small, specialized area of flash would wear out much faster than the rest of the drive.

Re:Dual Channel is already available (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23775357)

And this is "4, Interesting". Dear God. Can't you use a stopwatch and do a division? Pardillo.

Proposed rule for Slashdot submissions: (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23774589)

Always, when possible, submit a link to the print version. It's faster, on one page, and gets rid of those annoying frames, ads, etc. that litter most tech Web sites these days.

Flimsy construction (4, Insightful)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774653)

My biggest beef with flash drives thus far is with the flimsy construction. I have owned three flash drives. The first was a 64 byte drive back in the day when that was sizeable. I think it was an Iomega drive. It was really tiny which is why I liked it. But after only about a dozen gentle insertions (no jokes please), it developed a crack in the housing which soon threatened to cause the whole device to fall apart. Iomega was kind enough to replace it for free (it was still under warrantly, less than 6 months old) with a 128 Megabyte version. That was drive #2. I think I lost that one.

My next drive was a Patriot 2 GB flash drive. It lasted maybe 50 insertions before the usb connector "pushed in" and became so loose that it could no longer be inserted properly into a USB port. I ended up snapping the outer housing off and now it's just a little tiny PCB with chips on it and a USB connector at the end. Works fine but I wouldn't take it anywhere remotely hostile. I keep it next to my computer.

So what is the point of this long story? That flash drives tend to have really cheap construction (in my experience) that doesn't hold up to much use, let alone much abuse. In the case of the Patriot I'm not surprised because it was a really cheap unit. But the Iomega was not.

I don't doubt that th expensive ruggedized flash drives can take much, much more abuse. But they represent like 1% of the market. Most drives are these really flimsily constructed things that fall apart when you look at them the wrong way.

Re:Flimsy construction (5, Funny)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774667)

My biggest beef with flash drives thus far is with the flimsy construction. I have owned three flash drives. The first was a 64 byte drive back in the day when that was sizeable.
Umm, when was that exactly? 1955? :)

Re:Flimsy construction (5, Interesting)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774821)

Whoops, typo :) But your response was funny.

This does remind me of what a geek I am though. I think I must be the only person in the world who often daydreams (when I have the time and inclination to daydream) that I've gone back in time and taken some piece of modern computer equipment to shock and amaze people from the early days of computing.

For example, I'll daydream that I've taken my laptop (which is now a few years old and not impressive to anybody, but with 768 MB of RAM, a 40 GB disk, and 1.4 Ghz Pentium M, would have blown the socks off of a computer enthusiast from, say, 1969) back in time and am showing it off to a group of scientists like at say that famous "mother of all demos" where the mouse and graphical interface were first demoed.

Can you imagine showing up and being like, hey check this out. That 64 KB PDP-11 that you have running your demo is cool and all. But let me show you my computer, which has 768 MILLION bytes of RAM! And a 1400x1050 32 bit color flat panel LCD display! With built-in keyboard!

It's not that I would lord it over anyone. But it's fun (for me) to daydream about the conversations you'd have with someone from 1969, explaining to them the advances of modern technology and how they are used in our world.

Anyway, your comment reminded me of that, because although a 2 GB flash drive today is totally ho-hum, if you could sneak one of those back in time to the 1970's, you'd have something that governments would probably go to war over :) Of course you'd have to take the USB 2.0 spec back with you too ...

Like I said, I am a total geek ...

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

Al_Lapalme (698542) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774985)

OMG! Your post has brought tears to my eyes! I too daydream of similar things-- but I never ever thought about posting that fact online!

I go the opposite way though- usually bringing a historical figure to the present to show them all the great things their scientific/technological contributions have acheived.

My name is Al, and I too am a total geek.

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775031)

Well I guess I am not alone after all! Indeed I have daydreamed in 'the reverse direction' too :)

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

kipman725 (1248126) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775567)

and I day dream about having an opertunity to have been around in the early days of computing programing on things like the PDP machines. I get a little of the cramming code into very limited machines with embeded programing but... even there things are moving towards high level inefffeciant langauges. I like stuff like line counting and adding NOP's in to sycronise bits of the system...

Re:Flimsy construction (4, Interesting)

hughk (248126) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775153)

And they would say

You need how many megs to say "Hello World"?

...and I look at the ledger system for the bank where I'm working which uses 3270 sessions. Yes, even though the documentation refers to this as a GUI, hello 1972, your character mode VDU [wikipedia.org] is still haunting us.

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

ElliotLee (713376) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775519)

So how about thinking ahead to the future then.. What if one of those folks in the 2030's visited us today?

Re:Flimsy construction (2, Funny)

g0dsp33d (849253) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775879)

They would tell us that we were wrong and 640k is enough.

Re:Flimsy construction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23775527)

I think I must be the only person in the world who often daydreams (when I have the time and inclination to daydream) that I've gone back in time and taken some piece of modern computer equipment to shock and amaze people from the early days of computing.

Yeah, there are like no movies about that sort of thing, so you must be the only one dreaming it.

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

ellenbee (978615) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775847)

I daydream about this all the time too lol.

Re:Flimsy construction (2, Insightful)

InlawBiker (1124825) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774715)

I think you get what you pay for. I bought one of those dirt-cheap 256m sticks a long while back. It's a flimsy piece of plastic, but I expected that. But guess what, it still works.

Now I use a 2gb Kingston DataTraveler. It's very solidly built. I use it all the time and carry it with me always. I think it was about $20 last year. They're probably giving them away with a Happy Meal these days. I'm just waiting for the day I lose the little cap.

You can certainly buy very well-built models designed for travel. If you have to carry important data around with you I think the good ones are worth the extra dough.

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774721)

i've only had 1 flash drive fail on me, and it was one of those gizmo ones (the tiny half USB connector ones) and i'm pretty sure it's just that the (exposed) contacts are just screwed from living the rough life in my pocketes for a year and some.

my other 4 drives are a 512MB lexar (had for 3 years), a 1GB retail plus (walmart brand. casing split, but a little electrical tape has held it fine for the past 2 years), a 2GB memorex (small drive, but with a full usb connector. my newest one, to replace the gizmo), and a 4GB sandisk cruzer (the retracting connector one. no problem with inserting it so far.).

Re:Flimsy construction (5, Funny)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774823)

a 1GB retail plus (walmart brand. casing split, but a little electrical tape has held it fine for the past 2 years).
Yeah, but women won't fuck you if they see you have a thumb drive like that. I have an Ferrari brand drive. Cost $800 duty free but boy it's got me some tail.

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

kipman725 (1248126) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775577)

I have had and OCZ drive mechanicly fail after the case failed due to sitting on it (one of the rearly rearly small ones). I have also had 2 free memory sticks (256mb) fail on me. However this 128mb creative muvo mp3 player still works fine.

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

LarsG (31008) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774839)

Rugged flash drives are only "like 1% of the market" because people for some reason seem to be unwilling to spend a few $ more.

Out of curiosity, what is the price difference between the cheapest x GB stick and a similar size rugged drive like a Corsair Flash Voyager? In my neck of the wood it is literally just a few $.

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775057)

You are definitely correct in that, but I think that also many consumers don't even realize that the devices may not be very durable and thus that ruggedized versions are necessary for even moderately used devices to maintain their integrity. Of course, I don't believe that even if people did know the difference, that they'd buy the more expensive unit, because people are so willing to put up with anything as long as it's dirt cheap. I've been known to make this same mistake myself from time to time.

In terms of how much more ruggedized versions cost, I agree with you, it's not much more. However, it is at least 10% more I believe, and for many people, that is a cost difference that needs justification. And unless they understand the benefits of ruggedization, many will not choose to pay more.

I have found that the good performance flash is what really costs. Like, 3x the price or more, for the highest performance drives, over the cheapest ones. If I were to buy another flash drive, based on my experience with the ones that I have, I would find that to be a worthwhile expense though and would gladly pay $100 for 8 GB of the fastest flash versus $30 for 8 GB of the standard mediocre stuff.

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

Tano (1265926) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775301)

Actually, i think the reason why people don't always invest in better quality flash drives is the progress of the technology.

If you think about it, what's the point in investing in a 4GB ultra-mega-top-of-the-line-ruggedized drive, when at the same, or lower price even, you can buy a 16GB or 32GB normal drive, that usually lasts the same, and behaves almost the same...

Maybe people would be more willing to invest in a top of the line flash drive if they could upgrade the innards - no need for compatibility with other companies, or self service, or anything.

Just, whenever the technology is improved, allow your customers to get the drive to the store, and replace the chips from the 4GB they bought to the 16GB or 32GB that appeared - at a lower price, as you don't change the housing, and for most high-end drives, that is most of the cost.
Of course, the drives would need to be redesigned a bit, to allow easy replacing of the chips, but i don't think it would be that difficult...

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

maglor_83 (856254) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775127)

I don't buy them because I keep getting free drives from various sources. If one breaks, its no big deal, cos I have a handful of others just sitting around anyway.

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775171)

So what is the point of this long story? That flash drives tend to have really cheap construction (in my experience) that doesn't hold up to much use, let alone much abuse. In the case of the Patriot I'm not surprised because it was a really cheap unit. But the Iomega was not.

Wow. I don't have your experience at ALL. I have a 1 GB nameless thumb drive I bought at Office Depot a couple years ago for about $90, when 64 MB drives were still the norm. It's been a road-warrior for almost 3 years without a hitch. Since I've used it anywhere from 1x/week to daily the entire time, I wasn't too upset with the little metal ring that attaches it to the necklace gave way just the other day. A metal clip broke, but the flash drive still works fine despite years of swinging and flicking idly while I walk...

Do you insert your flash drives with a hammer?

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775367)

No, I swear, I am pretty gentle with them. Maybe I have had especially bad luck and you have had especially good luck?

For the 64 MB drive, I could tell after it cracked that there was a flaw in the design. It's hard to describe, but there was an activity LED window that acted in part as a clip for the cap, and it was the stress on this thing from snapping the cap on and off a dozen times or so that cracked the plastic case. It was the kind of thing that I could see happening to pretty much everyone who used one of these drives (which otherwise never left my drawer and certainly was not abused), and thus I was not surprised when the company so quickly and easily agreed to replace it. I got the feeling that they'd had alot of similar calls.

The Patriot is just a cheap piece of crap. It's just a tiny PCB, USB connector, and two halves of a plastic case snapped on. It was easy to snap the halves apart once the PCB got pushed in too far and ended up floating free inside the case. I could see how simply it was put together and it did not surprise me that it had basically no durability.

I get the feeling that most cheap USB devices are like the Patriot. And I would not be surprised if many, many of them break in similar ways. Hence my post. However, I am also not surprised that there are some diamonds in the rough like your flash drive.

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

AMD-lover (759977) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775329)

64 bytes? Wow! What did you put on there?

Re:Flimsy construction (0, Offtopic)

dotgain (630123) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775551)

Midget porn

Re:Flimsy construction (1)

priegog (1291820) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775515)

I'm going to have to disagree completely with you. I've only owned 2 drives, but these were CHEAP-ass drives gotten off eBy from chinese sellers who apparently take them off the assembly line or something (no other explanation why they are so cheap). Anyways, even tho they aren't the greatest performers speedwise (4MB/s write 6 read). They are tough. Like, surviving getting machine washed tough. Like being carried around everywhere with me for 2 years (with all kinds of little accidents and crushings) tough. But of course, this particular drive I'm talking about (a 2GB) has a metallic (aluminium?) housing, so that might help too. I'm sorry but you seem to have had the worst possible luck with drives and that is that. Either that or you pick those encased in soft plastics.

In my experience(anecdotal of course) physical (3, Insightful)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774675)

durability has a lot more to do with drive lifetime than the durability of the flash components. I have had 3 memory sticks die, and none of them have been because the flash wore out. One I managed to kick and separated the flash part from the USB connector(which was a bitch to get out of my mac pro), another the USB connector became very flakey right after I bought the thing, it would sometimes read, sometimes not, and the other just stopped working(ok, theoretically that could have been due to flash wear, but the thing was less than a year old). In my opinion, if reliability is a chief concern, get one of the small plastic ones. My little red iMation drive has took lots of abuse, and because it is so small, the odds of a collision are significantly reduced.

Re:In my experience(anecdotal of course) physical (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23775969)

Fine, go back to the always-reliable floppy disks!

Re:In my experience(anecdotal of course) physical (1)

knarf (34928) | more than 6 years ago | (#23776027)

Open the drive, look at the solder connections to the USB plug. You'll probably find they have come loose as solder joints are not really up to much physical abuse. Resolder them with a fine-tipped 15W iron (to be bought for a few $local_currency_units at the hardware store) and, for good measure, glue down the metal shield of the USB connector. Your USB gadget will probably work again, and keep working for a long time. If it doesn't, rinse and repeat. If you really want to make sure these things don't happen just use and USB extension cord and plug the thing into that.

Linux runs pretty well on my cheap flash drive (5, Insightful)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774703)

I installed Arch Linux on a cheap 2 GB Patriot flash drive. It boots pretty quickly and overall performance seems good, even for a cheap drive. However I don't do hugely disk intensive tasks with it.

One annoying thing I have noticed is that programs will periodically completely freeze up and I'll look over and notice that the activity light on the drive is flashing. A common experience is that Firefox will be completely unresponsive, not even redrawing itself when a window that was obscuring it is moved, until the drive stops flashing, and then Firefox will instantly come back to life.

My theory is that the kernel is caching writes to the drive and then at some random point decides it's time to flush the write cache to disk. I think that any program that tries to write any files while the kernel is flushing the cache gets put into a wait state by the kernel until the cache flush is complete and then whatever write the program was attempting, gets written into the cache, ready to be flushed again on the next cache flush.

Furthermore, I theorize that for normal hard disk drives, the write speed is sufficient to keep "ahead" of cache flushes so that the cache never really "fills up" and no programs ever get waited in this way.

But that for slowish flash drives like mine, the kernel doesn't compensate for the slow write speed of the flash (because the kernel doesn't even realize that it's writing to flash?) and so it lets enough data buffer up that it has to frantically try to flush it all when the cache has filled up. Or perhaps, that the kernel just tries to flush too much at once, not realizing how slow the flush is going to be due to the underlying speed of the device.

I also theorize that this problem could be solved by having the kernel flush the cache more aggressively, and in smaller increments. If the flash drive were kept continually busy flushing small chunks of write cache, then a) the write cache would not be as likely to fill up, and b) no individual write would monopolize the device for such a long period of time becase the writes are all smaller.

Writing all of this makes me realize that the root cause may be that programs are trying to *read* from the device while a write cache flush is happening, and since the device can only do one operation (read or write) at a time, the long duration of the cache flush operation is blocking a program from reading the drive. Furthermore, if what the program is trying to read is a demand-paged part of its text segment, then it makes perfect sense that the whole process would be blocked by the kernel while the text segment piece waits to be loaded.

Am I even close to the mark on this one?

If so, I am sure there are Linux kernel experts who can tell me what values to write into what /proc filesystem entries to turn more aggressive write cache flushing on. I can't keep up with the /proc filesystem because it changes so frequently, so I don't even bother to try to stay abreast of how to do things with the Linux kernel in this way anymore ...

Pauses when running from flash drive (3, Informative)

clarkn0va (807617) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774767)

Firefox will be completely unresponsive, not even redrawing itself when a window that was obscuring it is moved, until the drive stops flashing, and then Firefox will instantly come back to life.
I run FF3 RC1 portable in Windows xp from my dual channel flash driver (fast?) and I experience the same thing just as you have described it. I turned off caching and cookies in FF's options and I found that the unresponsive pauses immediately became shorter and less frequent, although they are still occurring.

db

Re:Pauses when running from flash drive (1)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774857)

Are you saying that you run Windows XP from a flash drive?

Do tell how, please! I spent an entire day doing nothing but trying to install Windows XP on a flash drive, and eventually gave up, defeated.

I found some great howto's for installing Windows XP to a flash drive, but they required that you be able to modify the Windows installation CD-ROM using some shareware programs that can change files on an ISO copy of the CD without altering the structure of the CD, such that you can just change some files, write the ISO back out, and you've got essentially the same Windows XP installation CD, but with some minor changes in .ini files that allow installing to flash.

Unfortunately, I refused to use any shareware programs for the purpose, and instead tried to use equivalent freeware Linux software for doing this. But it didn't work - the Windows installation CD was not bootable after I changed the files and re-wrote the ISO file, and I think it's because the tools I was using modified the ISO in such a way to put files in different places on the disk than the Windows boot loader on the disk was looking for them at.

Anyway, I gave up, after trying many many different things except to follow the instructions exactly, which like I said, would have required shareware (and on Windows no less), which I refuse to use.

If you have any advice, it would be greatly appreciated.

Re:Pauses when running from flash drive (2, Interesting)

clarkn0va (807617) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775007)

Sorry, my wording was ambiguous. I'm running FF portable from the flash drive, in Windows xp Pro, which is running from the hard drive. Good luck though ;)

db

Windows from a flash drive (1, Insightful)

clarkn0va (807617) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775043)

I have to ask though, what do you have against using shareware?

It can't be an objection to its freeness (as in beer) or you wouldn't use linux.

It can't be an objection to its restrictiveness, or you wouldn't be using (or attempting to use) Windows.

And it can't be that the shareware license prevents that specific use of the software, because doesn't the Windows EULA stipulate against running Windows from virtual machines, mobile devices or while enjoying ice cream? Ok, just kidding about the virtual machine, I believe that restriction came about with Vista.

db

Re:Windows from a flash drive (2, Insightful)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775119)

I guess for me it's a perception thing. I honestly perceive shareware as a whole as being the lowest quality software. Well I guess the lowest is probably "free software projects that never really went anywhere and were quickly abandoned". But aside from those, which are easy to avoid, I have found that shareware often doesn't have the quality that comes from professional software development by people who get paid to make the software good, nor does it have the quality that comes from free software development by people who do what they do out of love and a desire to be proud of what they have accomplished.

I feel like shareware is mostly produced by people who want to make money off of software but aren't good enough to make their product professional, or in love with their project enough to do it for free.

I know that there are counterexamples to this, but the experiences I have had with shareware in the past have time and again reinforced my opinions in this area.

I much prefer free software over commercial software, and really appreciate people who write software for free and have 'donate' links on their web site. When I find software like this I know that I can both use the software and not pay money if I think it's not worth it, even if I use the software extensively for lack of a better option, but also have the option to donate money if I think the software is particularly good and I am especially appreciative of it (which I have done on numerous occasions).

If I had known that my attempts to use free software to duplicate the steps required to install Windows XP on my flash drive would have been such a miserable and time consuming failure (not due to the shortcomings of the free software involved, but simply because it was not intended for the purposes that I was using it for), I definitely would have just ponied up the cash for the shareware up front. But by the end of a completely wasted day, I didn't even want to do that anymore because I had already sunk more time into the problem than the solution was worth to me.

Re:Pauses when running from flash drive (2, Informative)

aaronbeekay (1080685) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775047)

From my limited experience trying to do what you're talking about, it's a royal PITA and not fun to attempt. For me, though, the PITA was trying to get XP to work with USB *and* the EFI on my MacBook Pro-- it was just so much work that I eventually gave up and did it a different way.

You're talking about writing an ISO filesystem with free-software tools, though-- that shouldn't be too hard to do. Assuming that you're OK with using Microsoft's cabextract tools to get inside the install files you need to modify, you can use makeisofs (or mkisofs, something along those lines) and roll it up that way. That's not the hard part.

Good luck to you.

Re:Pauses when running from flash drive (2, Informative)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775155)

I used all of the techniques you described (cabextract, mkisofs, etc). The problem I *think* was experiencing is that the Windows installation CD-ROM also includes an El Torito boot sector, which has to be duplicated correctly in the modified disk that you create with mkisofs. And mkisofs has support for El Torito, but I couldn't figure out how to extract the boot sector from the CD-ROM drive in such a way that I could re-write it with mkisofs and have it be able to actually boot the CD-ROM. I tried using other techniques to boot the Windows install CD-ROM that I created (since it wouldn't boot itself because of the aforementioned boot sector problems), such as booting from another media and running the install CD-ROM's install process from, but they always failed at a certain point when I attempted to select the NTFS partition on the flash drive for installation to. I tried a bunch of different things, based on guesses on what was going on, and nothing worked.

It's a tricky enough process that I think that you really do have to do *exactly* the steps that the howto's tell you to do, using the exact same software in the exact same way, or else some bit or other ends up not being exactly correct on the install CD that you create and it just doesn't work. I imagine that the people that came up with the howto must have gone through many, many attempts before they finally found a set of magical incantations that worked. And without using that exact same set, I essentially have to iterate in the same way to find my own set of magical incantations. And I just didn't have the time or energy for that. After trying the obvious stuff, I just gave up.
 

Re:Pauses when running from flash drive (2, Informative)

aaronbeekay (1080685) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775191)

Ah. I think you went a bit more in-depth than I did. I suppose that's good-- it gives me the reassurance that if I had tried just a little bit longer, I still would have failed. :]

If you ever attack it again, I'd look at WinClone for some insight. It's a piece of Mac software ostensibly dedicated to cloning NTFS partitions, but it includes a lot of helpful output on exactly which bits it's setting to make the durn thing bootable. Maybe you've already gone through that-- and maybe it's not applicable at all-- but I remember seeing it and thinking "oh, hey, that's a good place to learn about Windows boot sectors". Pretty good FAQ on the site, too.

Thumb Drive with flexible neck (5, Interesting)

EEPROMS (889169) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774949)

I have always wondered why no one has mad a USB thumb drive with a flexible/swivel neck. Ive seen a few laptops with the USB sockets damaged after a user has connected the thumb drive then forgotten about it and then knocked it (thus cold soldering the laptops USB socket).

Re:Thumb Drive with flexible neck (2, Interesting)

Revenger75 (1246176) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775131)

I worried about the same thing, but what actually prompted me into action was my laziness. (ironic, huh?) Under my desk, I have a full size tower with the USB ports on center of the top of the case instead of out front. I almost have to get on the floor in order to figure out where the port is located. (It is protected by a cover that also houses a firewire and earphone jacks) So instead of taking five minutes to find the port each time, I just dug out a foot long USB cable extender. Using the extension, I can have the port laying on my desk. That works great and solves all my problems.

Re:Thumb Drive with flexible neck (1)

EEPROMS (889169) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775175)

I do the same at home but when you are out an about with a laptop carrying extra cables is a pain.

Re:Thumb Drive with flexible neck (3, Insightful)

shawb (16347) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775377)

Get a short piece of cable and duck tape it to the thumb drive.

It's not the speed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23774959)

It's not the speed that matters, it's how you use it.... or something like that.

*cough* typo (1)

HairyNevus (992803) | more than 6 years ago | (#23774995)

conStrictions

Stop the presses! (0)

ElGanzoLoco (642888) | more than 6 years ago | (#23775141)

Crappy products perform less, break more than good ones!

News at 11!

Brand name is no guarantee (4, Interesting)

PhotoGuy (189467) | more than 6 years ago | (#23776025)

When 8G flash drives suddenly dropped in price lately, I could choose between a Kingston and an I-Forget-The-Noname-Brand-Offhand at a local small retailer. I picked the Kingston. Installing Linux on it, something seemed terribly off. Reads were fast, but writes were deathly slow. I took it back and swapped with the noname brand, which was a bit smaller physically, and *much* faster in operation.
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