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PRACTICAL STOCKING STUFFERS:
Fast Flash Drives and Memory Cards

Posted December 23rd, 2005, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

It occurred to me that if you are looking for a useful "stocking stuffer" gift for a friend or family member, one of the most practical is to give them a small, fast, high-capacity flash or "jump" drive. As we have indicated in previous articles, not all flash drives are created equal. Transfer speeds vary wildly.

By the way, we finally got our hands on the Extreme III Compact Flash card. It's the highest rated CF card in terms of speed (133X or 20MB/s). It occurred to us that it could be used as an alternative to flash drives, especially if you have a fast reader. More on this later in the article.


(cb) = CardBus CF Reader; (fw) = FireWire 400 Reader

ANALYSIS
The fastest rated Flash Drive (Lexar Lightning) wasn't as fast as its rating (24MB/s read, 18MB/s write), but it was faster than any other flash drives tested. The only downside is that it comes with a chrome finish that smudges and scratches easily. At least they enclose a polish cloth.

The SanDisk Cruzer Titanium with its scratch proof metal case and retractable connector is our favorite in terms of design. Sadly, it was the slowest of the three 2GB flash drives we tested.

We included the 4GB iPod Nano because, if you don't fill it up completely with music, it can double as a general purpose flash drive. It doesn't make the fastest flash drive but it isn't the slowest either. And it has a lower MSRP than the 2GB Lexar Lightning.

We were disappointed with the speed of the Seagate Pocket Drive. The 5GB capacity and wind-up cord make it an interesting alternative, though. We didn't test the LaCie 8GB Carte Orange "Credit Card" flash drive. If we get a chance to do so, we'll add it to this page.

CF CARD plus READER equals QUASI FLASH DRIVE
I often carry a some extra Compact Flash cards and a CF reader when I travel with my PowerBook and digital camera. It occurred me that I could use the spare CF cards and the reader as a flash drive substitute. As you can see from the graphs above, though we tested this scenario with the fastest CF card (SanDisk Extreme III) using the fastest readers (SanDisk FireWire 400 and Delkin CardBus), it wasn't as fast of a storage solution as the 2GB flash drives.

Of the external CF readers, my favorite is the SanDisk FW400. It's small, light, and the FW cable is detachable. Most USB or FW readers have a long, stiff cable permanently attached. I replaced the SanDisk cable with of those thin, white, 18 inch FW400 cables from the Apple Store.

One other reality check: Though we tried the 133X rated SanDisk Extreme III CF card in our Nikon D70 and D70s digital SLR cameras, the camera does not process photos any faster than the "old" 24X 256MB Lexar CF cards.

THE NEXT LEVEL: 2.5 INCH NOTEBOOK DRIVES
When I have a larger amount of data to transfer than the flash drives can handle or want a faster transfer medium, I use a bus powered portable FireWire 800 enclosure with a 7200RPM 100GB drive. It's three to four times faster than a flash drive and holds a lot more (duh). My favorite enclosure is the FW800 (Oxford 922) metal enclosure from CoolDrives.

For some reason, none of the popular Mac vendors carry this excellent portable enclosure. I have two of them -- one with a Hitachi Travelstar 7K100 and one with a Seagate Momentus 7200.2. They resist scratching, keep the drive running cool, protect it against shock, and look great next to your Power Mac or PowerBook.

Yes, it supports USB 2.0 as well, but that's not as fast as FW 800, no matter what anyone tells you.

TEST HARDWARE
Testing was primarily on our Apple G4/1.67GHz 17" PowerBook (FW400, FW800, and USB2 ports). Believe it or not, the USB 2.0 devices ran faster on the PowerBook than they did on the G5 Power Mac.

TEST SOFTWARE
IntechUSA's QuickBench 2.0
-- We used the Extended Test which does sequential reads and writes of 2MB to 10MB test files.

WHERE TO BUY USB 2.0 FLASH MEMORY JUMP DRIVES

Small Dog Electronics (Small Dog Eskie, Apple iPod Nano, Apple iPod Shuffle)

The Apple Online Store sells the iPod Nano and Shuttle "flash drives."

LaCie (Orange Carte credit card size 8GB Flash Drive)

Amazon (Lexar Lightning, SanDisk Titanium, Apple iPod Nano, and Many Others)

ZipZoomFly (Lexar Lightning, Corsair Voyager and SanDisk Cruzer Titanium)

NewEgg (Lexar Lightning, Corsair Voyager, SanDisk Cruzer Titanium)

Frys Electronics (Corsair, Lexar, SanDisk, and Sony Flash Drives)

COMPACT FLASH CARDS and CF READERS

SanDisk Extreme III CF Card (Order from the SanDisk Store or your favorite reseller)

SanDisk FireWire 400 CF Reader (Not listed on SanDisk's site available from resellers like the Flashmemory Store)

Delkin Cardbus CF Reader (Order direct from Delkin's Store or your favorite reseller)

WHERE TO BUY BUS POWERED 2.5 INCH FIREWIRE/USB ENCLOSURES
(with or without pre-installed drives)

Other World Computing (Mercury FW400 Enclosures)

Small Dog Electronics (Wiebetech, LaCie, and EzQuest Enclosures)

TransIntl.com (FW400 Enclosures)

Wiebetech.com (Combo FW400/800/USB2 Enclosures and Docks)

LaCie (FW400 and USB Enclosures)

FWDepot (Speedster2-800 FW400/800/USB2 enclosures)

CoolDrives (Our favorite is the FW800/USB2 metal enclosure)

WHERE TO BUY 2.5 INCH NOTEBOOK BARE DRIVES

Other World Computing (Seagate Momentus, Hitachi TravelStar, Toshiba, and Fujitsu)

Small Dog Electronics (Seagate Momentus)

TransIntl.com (Hitachi Travelstar, Toshiba "GAX")

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2005 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist