Preview: Portable NAND grudge match

A couple weeks back I unveiled the contenders in our planned battle for portable flash supremacy. Things have changed a bit since that simpler time, though, and my personal list of priorities has been, uh, trimmed.

This review was always going to be a longer term project. I’m aspiring to put my own spin on a mini version of Geoff’s iconic SSD Endurance Experiment. Albeit, one with a degree of portable wear and tear involved.

Since I’m off to a delayed start, and because I expect it’s going to be a long wait for more data, I want to share what I’ve got so far. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the setup.

The source of my ancient avatar, original work by my sister.

The hub is an ORICO 10-port USB 3.0 model. Here’s a rundown of what you can see in that image, sorted left to right in order of the USB port they are plugged into.

All of that plugged into my PC made for an interesting Disk Management window. After all, I’m usually a single drive kind of guy (not counting OneDrive or network drives). Before I gathered my initial numbers, I made sure all the drives had just a single NTFS partition on them that used all the space on the drive. I also did a full format on them before testing, why not?

Drive capacities apparently not shown to scale.

For my first test with these new recruits I went back to some benchmarking comfort food, CrystalDiskMark 6. I intend to employ TR’s own RoboBench or something similar for longevity testing, though. I used my main rig to obtain these numbers, it runs Windows 10 Professional with all the latest updates for hardware and software. I’m not going to spell out the exact specifications in this piece, but you can check them out over here if you’d like. I set DiskMark to do nine passes at 500MiB for these tests, the same settings I’ve used in my other reviews.

Let’s look at some numbers (note the change to the x-axis as the tests change gears).

If you’re already thinking that it sure would be nice if Fish would add a cheap M.2 NVMe SSD into this mix, you’re not alone. I’m definitely fighting the review-feature-creep urge. We’ll see what happens. Anyway, I think the most interesting result here is the massive gap between the Optane’s read and write performance. I’m inclined to blame the controller in the enclosure, but without testing another… Gosh darn it, I’m going to have to buy another drive aren’t I?

Beyond that, it’s easy to see that if you’ve got an old SSD laying around you’ll get much better bang for your buck if you buy a $15 enclosure for it than buying a $15 flash drive. Speaking of the flash drives, the Patriot and the Corsair are the clear leaders in sequential performance, almost catching the mSATA drive in read speed and coming close to half its write speed.

I love the random 4K tests as a gut check for worst-case performance. With a queue depth of eight and eight threads to work with, there’s a massive throughput hit to everything—except for the Optane’s write speed. Hmm… Interestingly, one of the flash drives, the SanDisk Ultra, distinguishes itself with terrible but not tragic write performance. Frankly, I’m surprised the other drives even finished the benchmark.

As the number on the end of our x-axis continues to drop lower we can easily see why. At a queue depth of 32 and just one thread, the write speed on the Optane is still hitting the same wall but performance everywhere else is tanking. That said, even the over five-year old Kingston mSATA drive is whooping the flash drives from inside is aluminum UASP to-go box. The SanDisk Ultra’s meager 1.5 MB/s write speed is still remarkable among its peers, though.

With a queue depth of just one and a single thread to match, it doesn’t get much more worst-case than this—for performance anyway. Yeah, it’s not the most realistic test for a flash drive, but if a drive can handle this, you should be able to count on it handling whatever fiddly batch of files you want to move around with it. Notable developments are the Optane’s write speed finally stumbling and the SanDisk Ultra still cruising along with its mysteriously superior write speed. Finally, we have write speeds of the full-blown SSDs all surpassing the read speeds—caching at work.

That’s all I’ve got to share for now. If you must have a conclusion at this stage, mine would be that I like the plucky SanDisk Ultra the best of the flash drives. However, you’d be better served by digging an old mSATA drive out of your junk drawer and tossing it into a USAP-friendly housing. I’ll be back again once I’ve sufficiently abused these poor drives.

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Colton Westrate

I host BBQs, I tell stories, and I strive to keep folks happy.

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canon pixma mg2922
canon pixma mg2922
1 year ago

The preview of a portable nand grudge match is a thing you must concern. If you are using a portable USB drive then you can go through this. The main thing is that if you are using a USB drive then there are many secure things you have to use for the USB drive. So I believe that if you know how to secure it then it’s easy to secure all information.

maxxcool
1 year ago

Thanks! It is a neat read, get a M2 in there and it;d be even better!

highlandr
highlandr
1 year ago

Yet another indicator that I should look into an external case for my SSD or get an m2 external SSD “gumdrive”. (gumdrive term copyright me).

I bet longevity on the full SSD parts is a few orders of magnitude better as well.

juzz86
juzz86
1 year ago

Keen to hear your thoughts (when the time is right mate) on that little Orico M.2 enclosure Fish. Looking at a couple for spare sticks I have laying around – if the performance is worth it I’ll bite the bullet at some point, they’re pretty cool and I like the idea of a real heatsink.

juzz86
juzz86
1 year ago
Reply to  drfish

That’s valuable feedback mate, thankyou very much. I’m a bit of a closet Orico fan – without necessarily meaning to, I’ve accumulated dozens of their 2.5 and 3.5 enclosures over time. I see similar weird disconnects with a couple of the later 3.5 units I have – I’ve deduced that it must be tied to the UASP-enabled controller (an ASMedia one, I think?). None of the legacy 2.5s or 3.5s exhibit the issue, and I do see the same on a UASP-enabled Yum Cha eBay 3.5 enclosure (but no way to pin that on ASM, as controller unknown). I have… Read more »

willmore
willmore
1 year ago
Reply to  juzz86

I’d be curious to know what chipset those randomly disconnecting enclosures use. If that’s something you’ve kept track of.

juzz86
juzz86
1 year ago
Reply to  willmore

ASM1351 is the only one I’ve been actually able to physically confirm mate, but Hardware IDs for a couple of others that play up match that one (I broke one down to sight the chip itself, but have no other fully-malfunctioning ones to compare it with). That said, I did a bit more mucking around last night and discovered a couple more points of purportedly pertinent info: 1. The Fresco Logic USB 3 controller (or its driver) on my laptop may be skewing results. I ran SDI last week to do a sweeping update of drivers and there was an… Read more »

fyo
fyo
1 year ago

Wouldn’t mind the ability to click on graphs on mobile and get the image in a larger size. Really hard to read that text on my phone and zoom is locked on the page.

anotherengineer
anotherengineer
1 year ago

“If you must have a conclusion at this stage, mine would be that I like the plucky SanDisk Ultra the best of the flash drives. ”

Mine is why not no real world tests say, such as a thousand 1MB pics, and a windows ISO file??

Maybe usb 2.0 port vs 3.0 vs. 3.etc.?

anotherengineer
anotherengineer
1 year ago
Reply to  drfish

ah ok

happy flashing

Yan
Yan
1 year ago

There’s a huge difference between the flash drives using USB 3.0 and the SSDs using USB 3.1 or mSATA. How much of the difference is because of the drive and how much is because of the difference in USB?

In other words, if I use an SSD with USB 3.0, will the performance be closer to the flash drives or to the SSDs?

willmore
willmore
1 year ago
Reply to  Yan

Two things: The biggest limitation to performance on the USB sticks is that they’re just completely bottom of the bucket devices. Cost is about the only performance criteria in their design. SD cards used to be like this, but they actually got used in devices where you could notice if the performance was bad. So, they developed specifications to improve (and guarantee) the performance of cards. The whole “Class” and “UHS” certs and specs headed there and A1 (and A2) finished it off. It used to be common to see SD cards with performance like these USB sticks. Now, with… Read more »

Yan
Yan
1 year ago
Reply to  drfish

USB 3.1 Gen 1 is really USB 3.0? What a mess. 🙁

willmore
willmore
1 year ago
Reply to  Yan

USB-C has its own specification and was released about the time as USB 3.1. USB 3.1 brought SuperSpeed+ (10Gb/s with 128b/132b encoding) which was called USB 3.1 Gen2. To make that made sense, they renamed the existing USB 3.0 (5Gb/s 8b/10b encoding) to be Gen1. Later, in USB 3.2in they introduced the ability to use two links in parallel. This gave USB 3.2 Gen 1×2 and Gen 2×2. To fill this out, they again renamed the previous USB 3.1 modes as USB 3.2 Gen 1×1 and Gen 2×1. As confusing as renaming things (again in the case of USB 3.0)… Read more »

Mr Bill
Mr Bill
1 year ago

Excellent write-up. I enjoyed the review once realized where it was going. Good idea to level the field with random read/writes. We all know USB sticks are terrible. Now we know specifically why.

Mr Bill
Mr Bill
1 year ago

Tell your sister, that Dr.Fish artwork is fabulous.

willmore
willmore
1 year ago

Are the USB ‘stick’ drives using Bulk Transport or do they use UASP? I assume the USB/SATA and USB/NVME adapters are UASP or you woun’t be seeing the speeds you’re seeing. Could we get a table or something with that info? I have no idea how to check that on Windows, but under Linux you can use lsusb -v and look for ” bInterfaceProtocol 80 Bulk-Only” I can’t find my UAS capable USB/SATA adapter right now so I can’t verify what a UAS drive looks like there. I know you get an entry in the system log like “scsi host6:… Read more »

willmore
willmore
1 year ago
Reply to  drfish

Drat!

willmore
willmore
1 year ago

Now, the new NVME 1.4 drives can have no DRAM but instead use a small chunk of host memory over PCI-E, right? How do those play in a USB to NVME enclosure? There’s no way to get any host memory.

I want to make a NVME/USB portable drive, but I fear I’ll be lucky enough to pick some incompatable drive and enclosure.

willmore
willmore
1 year ago

I also did a full format on them before testing, why not? Because sometimes they pick the parameters of the filesystem format–block size (cluster size), # of FAT coppies, various padding parameters–so that it aligns well with the actual blocks in the flash. It’s not unsual for the first few meg of a USB drive to have different behavior than the bulk of the drive. I typically image new drives and keep that around in case I ever need to erase the drive–because I’ll get back the filesystem exactly as the manufacturer designed it. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if… Read more »

willmore
willmore
1 year ago
Reply to  drfish

I used to do that, but I ran into some drives whose performance changed drastically when I did that, so I stopped.

Mr Bill
Mr Bill
1 year ago
Reply to  drfish

That was a problem during the first couple generations of SSD’s. But its not a problem anymore AFAIK. Maybe USB sticks have remained more primitive.

chuckula
chuckula
1 year ago
Reply to  drfish

There’s formatting and then there’s partitioning. Most solid state drives (thumb drives included) need to have partitions start on a boundary that is divisible by hardware block size for best performance (usually divisible by 512KB although the size may vary and is not inherently related to file system cluster size).

Most modern partitioning tools take care of this for you but it’s something to remember with SSDs.

Mr Bill
Mr Bill
1 year ago
Reply to  chuckula

Doh! Thanks for the correction/clarification. I’d forgotten it was the partition alignment. One of my first SSDs had terrible performance until I got it aligned right. As I recall, I made an empty partition in front to offset the formatted partition by the correct amount. Then I deleted the first partition. Good old Partition Magic.

DPete27
DPete27
1 year ago

My Patriot Rage didn’t get the write speeds in your tests that I’ve seen (>70MB/s) for large file sizes (ie, a multi-GB movie). I can/will test my drive with your settings to confirm/deny these results, but perhaps the file sizes being tested here are quite small?

DPete27
DPete27
1 year ago
Reply to  DPete27

Also might want to explain/distinguish between random and sequential reads/writes since…how many flash drives are being hammered by random read/write operations?

Mr Bill
Mr Bill
1 year ago
Reply to  DPete27

Try copying a directory and then remembering you need to copy several other directories. Add them to the task. Do that a couple times and see the copy time go up seemingly exponentially.

willmore
willmore
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr Bill

Yes, exactly this. I was copying a bunch of stuff to a drive before heading out on vacation and this happened to me. Oh, I got such a good price on that 128GB USB3 sticks. I though, hey, it’s USB3, it’s got to be pretty fast or why bother being 3 when 2 would do? Why indeed. It’s completely inside the envelope of what USB2 can do. I’m solving the problem by no thinking of it as a R/W media, but as a R/O one. I’ll just put stuff on it once (overnight some night) and leave it there. 🙂

Krogoth
Krogoth
1 year ago

“There can only be one Flash!”

chuckula
chuckula
1 year ago
Reply to  Krogoth

Soundtrack to this review: https://youtu.be/Hj8YXtEGcwM

highlandr
highlandr
1 year ago
Reply to  Krogoth

7 NAND enter! 1 NAND leaves! https://youtu.be/9yDL0AKUCKo

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