10:14:17 In Pursuit of the $1 Thumbdrive

I half expect one day to walk into Dollar Tree and find thumbdrives selling for $1. The price of digital storage drops monthly, and a thumbdrive is made of cheap plastic, cheap metal connectors, and increasingly cheap bits of silicon circuitry [printed and cut up like paper] comprising a cheap read/write memory solution.

[general udiskan]

I assure you a $1 thumbdrive is feasible.

Recently, I went on eBay and ordered a set of three 128 MB thumbdrives for $4.86 from a supplier in a Chinese industrial zone. Oh, and shipping via air post was free, so my $1.62 thumbdrives were nearly in the $1 ballpark, discounting some value for shipping.

I was in awe of what I had bought for less than the cost of a drip coffee at Starbucks. Each 128 MB thumbdrive replaces the digital memory options of yore--floppy disks, compact disks, early hard drives, zip drives, and the like --and it is now almost as cheap as water.

What did I really get at that price? Not a SanDisk, Lexar or an established brand. The thumbdrives are unbranded. My disk utility identifies the model as a General UDisk [5.00] with a serial number of General_UDisk-0:0. Not much to go on. If one's defective and you want a replacement, where's the maker with at least an addy on the Web?

I had a suspicion the Q/C on my unbranded drives wouldn't match, say, a SanDisk. Benchmarks are good markers for assessing quality control, so I looked at read/write transfer rates for the three drives. I was surprised. Average read rates for the three were 7.7 MB/s, 16.7 MB/s [a whopping 115+% swing], and 7.4 MB/s. Average writes were 5.1 MB/s, 6.7 MB/s, and 1.5 MB/s [a huge drop]. So two of the three showed significantly better or significantly worse transfer rates.

I then benchmarked three branded [SanDisk] drives, the 16GB Cruzer model. Results were 37.2 MB/s, 37.3 MB/s, and 35.8 MB/s for reads. Remarkably consistent performance. For write transfers: 9.9 MB/s, 10.2 MB/s, and 7.3 MB/s--not as consistent as the reads, but still no sharp deviations like the "no-names."

What do I make of this for my new thumbdrives? Quality control is disappointing. Still, for my purposes, thumbdrives are a go-or-no-go proposition. If they work, fine.

Unfortunately, one of the three thumbdrives seems to have persistent mounting problems. Probably a broken connector or a dodgy controller. As they say, you get what you pay for. Still, an interesting inquiry into the inevitable $1 thumbdrive qua commodity before they're replaced by some newer technology!

Image credit: the author


Read more ...
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Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection [and feel free to share with a friend] The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Yelena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.


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