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I want a drive that I can be used as my work drive, storing a Subversion repo and sandbox for a small project. I'd also like it to be able to store a DVD rip. At the moment I've got a Super Talent pico-C 8gb. It's fast at reading and writing DVD rips, but the performance on small files (ie less than 4k) is utterly terrible (we're talking floppy disk speeds here). This Ars review measured a similar Super Talent drive and pretty much confirmed my measurements (take a look at the random write speeds on page 5).

So, I'm looking for a 8gb or bigger drive that doesn't suck at read and write of small files and still has acceptable performance for very large files.

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closed as off topic by Daniel Beck Mar 13 '13 at 7:57

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as a work around for the woes with the 'small files' write speed, resort to archiving/compression, if applicable. makes a helluva difference on slower media. –  Molly7244 Sep 22 '09 at 15:00
    
Can I find out why this question has been closed as off topic? I think it fits the "computer hardware" requirement of the FAQ and the "I would like others to explain to me" requirement. –  Andrew Bainbridge Apr 16 '13 at 11:45
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8 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I had the same problem: backing up source directories. After trying several USB flash drives I settled on the Sandisk Extreme which has done a fantastic job and is currently the best (sensibly priced) 4K writer by miles

Sandisk Extreme Benchmark Scores from WhoRatesIt.com

The above scores show its performance (on a USB 3.0 port) compared to 8 leading flash drives. There is a full review at: http://www.whoratesit.com/SanDisk-Extreme-USB-30-16GB/Rating/1301

The Sandisk Extreme is also the value leader in this USB 3.0 flash drive comparison which includes 27 flash drive lab tests.

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TestFreaks has a couple of tests that might be of use to you. They compared 17 different 16gb drives, as well as 21 different drives of varying sizes.

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The first link doesn't work. –  ephilip Sep 12 '09 at 22:26
    
There's no break down of the performance for small files in the working link article. The article says that various file sizes are tested and averaged using unequal weights. It doesn't say what the weights are. Given that the results are typically in the >10 megabytes/sec area, there can't be much weighting from the small files (I'd expect results < 0.5 megabyte/sec for small files) –  Andrew Bainbridge Sep 12 '09 at 23:11
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Unfortunately, from my experience, I've never found a flash drive that can write small files at a reasonable speed. This seems to be a curse with flash drives.

One other thing I've noticed: my 16GB Corsair Voyager GT is far slower at writing than the 8 GB model (which is a highly recommended flash drive). This is not only my pesonal experience; it's something I heard from a lot of owners. I can't even use Windows ReadyBoost because the write speed is considered too low.

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+1 for the 8 gig Voyager GT –  Molly7244 Sep 12 '09 at 23:29
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This speed difference may be due to the erase block size of the underlying flash chip(s) used to create the drive. –  retracile Sep 16 '09 at 21:24
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Sandisk's Contour & Contour Extreme flash drive product lines cost a little more, but do not lose as much performance with small files (small block writes) versus comparable high-performance drives. I purchased one, and I have to say that the design is elegant and good at protecting the drive. The small file performance is quite good, although oddly the bulk write speed is not as high as advertised.

In this case, it's all in the controller electronics -- the flash itself is nearly identical across drives, although the OCZ high-speed drives use multiple I/O channels, which improves bulk read/write. They degrade the worst with small files, because this comes at the cost of smarter control electronics.

I did a lot of research before purchasing my drive, and my goal was the same as yours -- I did find a couple sites that did benchmarks with files of several kB, but I can't find the links now. They may provide specific figures.

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OCZ Rally 2 Turbo is the fastest I have come across. Still looking for something faster but cant find it!!

http://www.pendrivereviews.com/ocz-rally-2-turbo/

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The Patriot Xporter XT along with the OCZ Rally2, both are mentioned in a review of three fast drives, which you might find interesting at X-bit labs.

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I think all the drives in that review are also in the review linked from my original question. The patriot and ocz drives both score 0 mb/s in the 4kb random write test! It looks like this is rounded to the nearest 50kb/s. In other words, they get less than 25kb/s. FWIW, a floppy drive manages about 10kb/s in such a test. –  Andrew Bainbridge Dec 1 '09 at 16:47
    
The Ars review is for the 4GB OCZ Rally2 and the 8GB Patriot Xporter XT but the X-bit labs review is for the 32GB versions. –  Rob Kam Dec 1 '09 at 22:10
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I'm surprised no one has talked about the underlying technology. Most newer, larger flash drives use multi-level cell (MLC) flash technology, while older drives use single-level cell (SLC). Small-file performance is much, much better with SLC-based disks.

MLC flash drives are much more dense, and drive firmwares deal with the density by using very large blocks for storing data (not the typical 512-sector blocks that a conventional spindle disk would use). The block size may range from 32 KiB all the way up to 1 MiB. This architecture kills small-file write performance.

SLC flash drives, in short, don't have this problem. Unfortunately SLC drives are more expensive, and also much less dense (typically less than 4 GB).

There are a lot of filesystem optimizations you can do to optimize for MLC's large block sizes, but it is a lot of work since typically you don't know the block size the flash disk is using (they always reports 512-byte sectors, for compatibility reasons). I don't know about Windows, but with Linux there is a lot of tuning you can do optimize writes with ext4 (stride and stride-width) and XFS (su and sw). Generally finding the best parameters is completely empirical—you need to experiment till you find what works best.

I'm not sure whether you can still find SLC-based flash drives on the market (MLC is much cheaper), but a Corsair Flash Voyager 4 GB that I bought in 2007 I believe is SLC instead of MLC, and the small-file performance is superb with it (check benchmarks of it at the time).

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Okay this is not a 100% answer, but you should go for a small/pocket external HDD which doesnt need external power source, small, and still faster than any pendrive (and muuuuch more durable).

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That's the solution I use. The downside is that it is too bug to just leave in my pocket all the time. So, I keep a flash drive in my pocket for unexpected data emergencies and take the hdd with me when I know I need to. –  Andrew Bainbridge Jul 12 '11 at 14:52
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