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Thumb drives are extremely versatile, and they’ve reached capacities large enough to store all of your personal data on one ultra-portable device. In addition, many different flavors exist, including drives that are waterproof, have ruggedized casings, or are extremely small; all of these choices make thumb drives even more attractive. Thumb drives are now going to the next level, reaching 128 GB capacities and introducing eSATA as an interface alternative to USB 2.0. We gave several models a try to see how they fare.
Speed vs. Capacity
eSATA may seem like overkill for a portable storage device, but USB 2.0’s 35 MB/s effective maximum throughput results in a lot of waiting around when you need to store many gigabytes of data onto a high-capacity thumb drive. Effective throughput is lower than the gross maximum figure, and in addition, write performance is typically lower than read speeds as well. The fact that large 32 and 64 GB drives tend to be even slower makes things worse.
Waiting for USB 3.0
Considering how long it takes to fill a higher-capacity, USB 2.0 thumb drive with data—30 minutes in an ideal scenario for 64 GB—it definitely makes sense to equip high-performance drives with a faster interface, such as USB 3.0, which is on schedule to be integrated into next-generation platforms in 2010. The first controllers are available in small quantities, but it will take until next year until USB 3.0 has its breakthrough.
Until then, eSATA may be an option. We looked at three thumb drives by Maxell, OCZ, and Silicon Power that are equipped with eSATA interfaces, and we also decided to add the first 128 GB USB 2.0 thumb drive by Kingston.