One of the highlights of being part of the press at CES was all the swag companies would pass our way.
Although Tom's CES crew does not accept gifts from companies as a matter of principal, when it came to press kits we were unavoidably knee-deep in swag. Long gone are the days of CDs and folders full of pamphlets, press kits at CES this year were almost always given out on USB drives.
In one sense, having press kits loaded digitally on USB drives is environmentally friendly, as USB drives can be used over and over again. It only takes a moment to transfer the press kit files from the USB drive to a notebook's hard drive, leaving the USB drive available to give away to friends and family as gifts. Only one company had a press kit totalling more than a few megabytes in size though, so emailing the press kits could also have been possible. Some companies actually did.
Lets take a closer look at just a bit of the CES Swag we scored though.
CES Press Kit USB Drive. There was literally an unguarded bucket full of these rubber 512 MB USB drives sitting in the press room at CES, so predictably they did not last very long. Although 512 MB seems like nothing special, the quantity in which these drives were provided was great. We tried to limit ourselves to taking just one. Tried.
CES-themed Notebook Carrying Bag. We must have been asked by a dozen CES attendees where we got these notebook bags from, but unfortunately for them as far as we knew only the press were given them during their check-in. In terms of the best CES swag though, this bag wins hands-down in my opinion.
Sandisk Cruzer Mini. Sandisk provided us with its 300 MB press kit on a 1 GB Cruzer Mini USB drive, which is not bad. Considering that Sandisk is a memory company and that they do not even list the Cruzer Mini on its product website anymore, we were a bit disappointed. The press kit was feature-rich though and included videos.
Super-Talent's Godfather and Pico USB Drives. Super-Talent provided us with one of its new 2 GB Godfather Swivel USB drives and a 2 GB Pico USB drive, both of which were still in their original packaging. Instead of coming with a press kit, the Godfather drive came with 17 Godfather-themed images, not all of which were that great, but they were still interesting to glance over. These USB drives each sell for roughly $10 online.
Clickfree USB Transformer. Clickfree was giving away Clickfree USB Tranformers to anyone who would spend a few minutes watching its presentation, which was a lot people. When a Clickfree transformer is connected to a USB hard drive and a computer, it automatically scans the computer for important files and performs a backup of these files to the USB hard drive. We ended up nicknaming it the porn finder, as it had a tendency of finding files that should otherwise remain hidden. Price: $59.99
Shuttle USB Drive. Shuttle provided us its press kit on a 1 GB USB drive as well, but the only thing of interest about this USB drive was its ability to slide its USB connector in and out of its casing, doing away with the need for a USB cap.
RiData USB Drive. Winning the title as the smallest capacity USB drive given to us, the RiData USB drive had a capacity of just 128 MB. The press kit it contained still only used up a fraction of the available storage space.
MSI's CD and Brush. The only CD we received at the show was from MSI, but MSI did however also include with it a notebook cleaning tool. Considering how some of the netbooks we were using did not have an optical drive, there was the potential for a problem. The notebook cleaning tool did work okay though with clearing the dust off our keyboards.
Victorinox USB Drive. Rumors quickly spread about Victorinox, makers of the Swiss army knife, handing out press kits on 8 GB USB drives, so it was no surprise that they ran out rather quickly. Not all of us were lucky enough to receive one.
SD Association's microSD Card. The SD Association was giving presentations on its new SDXC card technology, while handing out 1 GB microSD cards with accompanying SD card adapters to keen-listening audience members.
Now, since we spent time describing the USB drives, we felt it was only natural to benchmark a few of them as well. The USB flash drives tested included several of those mentioned above, including a year-old store-bought 2 GB Kingston DataTraveller USB drive.
Our test was limited to simply seeing how long it took to write a 5 MB file to each USB drive, as well as measuring how long it took to read the 5 MB file from the drive once it was written. The test was performed on a Intel dual-core system, running Windows Vista SP1. Drives were formatted with the FAT16 file system, as the FAT32 file system often resulted in lower performance. Results are displayed in kilobytes per second.
The drive that had the fastest read speed in our test was the Super-Talent 2 GB Godfather drive, which had a relative speed of roughly 145X (21,700 kB/s). Super-Talent rates the drive at 150X, which actually might be achievable if a larger file is used for transferring. It seemed that all the drives in our test generally offered slower transfer performance while handing smaller files.
The 1 GB Sandisk Cruzer Mini also did well, offering the second fastest read speed and the fastest overall write speed. Considering how old Cruzer Mini drives are though, we were curious as to why it performed so well. As you can see in this 2005 review of a 1 GB Sandisk Cruzer Mini, the drive had a read speed of about 7.5 MB/s, which is much slower than the ~17 MB/s we were seeing in our tests. Opening up our Cruzer Mini though revealed the answer, as our newer Cruzer Mini had different internal parts than older model. It just goes to show that you cannot judge a book, or USB drive, by its cover.
At the end of the day, many of the USB drives given away at CES did not offer more than a couple gigabytes of storage space and, of those tested, none were faster than 150X. Although it is possible to buy better USB drives online, which offer greater capacities and faster transfer speeds, these USB flash drives were given out for free, a fact that really seems to reflect on the times that we are entering. It was just three years ago that a 1 GB microSD card was priced at around $100, yet at CES this year they were being handed out like Hallowe'en candy.