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The eSATA thumb drives from Maxell, OCZ, and Silicon Image are actually hybrid products, as they all offer both USB 2.0 and eSATA interfaces. All three manage to overcome the limitations of what USB 2.0 by a significant amount, effectively doubling the available read bandwidth. This makes them the only desirable choice for real power users who frequently need to access data on their thumb drives.
Unfortunately, not all drives can benefit from eSATA when it comes to write operations. The OCZ Throttle just doesn’t deliver sufficient write performance to be bottlenecked by USB 2.0. Maxell and Silicon Power still provide a throughput advantage of ~80% when compared to the throughput they show using USB 2.0. Maxell reached the highest write performance, while Silicon Power has the best overall results.
128 GB by Kingston: Expensive and Exclusive
Kingston’s new Data Traveler 200 is the first 128 GB USB 2.0 thumb drive. It comes at a high cost, though, and not just in terms of money. While the 26-28 MB/s read throughput is nice, its write throughput of 14-17 MB/s cannot compete with the other drives, which deliver up to 27 MB/s write performance. This means that using a 128 GB thumb drive is not yet possible at maximum USB 2.0 performance.
To Kingston's credit, the write performance of the 128 GB Data Traveler 200 is still better than average when compared to other USB 2.0 thumb drives. However, the $500+ price tag still prevents us from recommending the drive—at that price, we’d expect pristine USB 2.0 performance.
An Unclear Future for eSATA Thumb Drives
Finally, it has to be said that the eSATA thumb drives are currently working outside of the existing eSATA specifications, which do not yet support eSATA-powered devices. The industry has come up with a combined eSATA + USB port. More and more motherboards, such as the MSI 790FX-GD70 we used, come with these connectors, but it remains questionable as to whether and how this hybrid interface will endure. We found the USB 2.0 option, which requires a separate cable, to be a less than ideal alternative. Hopefully we'll see USB 3.0 controllers and thumb drives sooner rather than later, instead of using eSATA adaptations for thumb drives.