Thursday, March 19, 2009


Thumb Drives are great. I can't even begin to explain how useful it is for me to have 16GB of storage in such a small form factor. I keep 8+ GB of music on my thumb drive so I've got plenty of fresh tunes to listen to at work, on the road... wherever! I keep a couple hundred meg or so of various documents... beer recipes, food recipes, resumes, handy how-tos, diagrams... lots of random stuff on there. I use it to hold avi files to watch on my laptop on the couch. I use it to hold data while I work on "clients" computers. I use it to share all sorts of media with my non-bittorrent savvy friends, or those with slow internet connections. I can't even fully sum up just how handy it is to have so much space available anywhere I've got a USB port... which is just about anywhere nowadays.

But I should back up... Thumb drives "were" great, I "did" use my thumb drive for all of these uses... until it DIED. My current (dead) drive is an OCZ ATV 16GB flash drive. It worked wonderfully for 9 months... fast, lots of room, water resistant... I had nothing to complain about! When I bought it from Newegg last June, the ratings were pretty good, at least they were good enough for me to buy it and Newegg ratings are a HUGE part of any buying decision I make when I purchase tech equipment of almost any kind. Well when I look at them now... they've taken a serious hit. It seems that my situation with this drive failing after a short to medium length period of time is not at all unique. In fact... if I were considering this thumb drive right now... I would not buy it. It's got an overall three "egg" (star) rating, with only 48% of ratings at 5 stars, including a 2-star rating from me. I try to find products that have an overall 4 or 5 star rating, with preferably 75%+ ratings at 5 star, and that normally provides me with a high quality, highly functional equipment.

Well that provides me with a bit of a problem... OCZ IS going to replace my ATV 16GB drive for me (but I'm responsible for paying for shipment to OCZ, hmmm... that doesn't make me very happy even though it's light and will be cheap.). But that still leaves me with an unreliable thumb drive, one that I don't want to use for anything anywhere NEAR important. I can't even count on this drive to last a few weeks according to all of the reviews on Newegg.

So I've been looking at other thumb drives, preferably at 16GB, to use as my "primary" drive and keep my OCZ as just a music storage device. Well... I'm not exactly liking what I see. When I search for 16GB thumb drives and sort by rating, I find a few drives with 5 star ratings but not enough ratings to count, and then a few drives with 4 star ratings... Taking a look a the Corsair Flash Voyager 16GB we've got an overall rating of 4-stars, ok so far. But when you look at the breakdown only 53% of ratings are at 5-star... not quite as good as I would like, but hey, it does come with a 10-year warranty! The next drive in the list is by OCZ... well that's a no-go, I will not buy another OCZ flash drive! Even though the ratings on this drive are a fair bit better (4-star overall, 61% 5-star)... I just don't trust them, and I don't want to have to pay to ship another drive back if it fails! Next in the list is the Pariot Xporter XT 16GB... I don't have any experience with Patriot RAM or flash devices, but the ratings are getting better, 4-star overall and 67% 5-star, but with less total ratings. Next is another OCZ... And further, not only are the exact numbers not up to my (apparently) high standards... when I get to reading the reviews of any of the thumb drives I've been looking at... I'm not comforted. It seems to be pretty common for thumb drives to die young, to have random incompatibilities with random hardware rendering them anywhere from slow to completely inoperable. It's not at all comforting... Can I not rely on a thumb drive for storage of important data? I had hopes of tinkering with installing a small Linux distro on a drive so I always had a familiar desktop with me no matter where I go...

So what in the hell is one supposed to do for long-term, portable, bootable, important data storage? Print it off? Seriously... this can't be too difficult. I used to have a Lexar 1GB thumb drive that has now lasted for close to 5 years, I know it's still working because one of my friends has it and still uses it. External Hard Drives are not a good solution because platter-based magnetic data storage is physically fragile, I need something I can throw in my backpack and take with me without having to worry about keeping from breaking. I can't afford... much less do I know if I can trust a SSD drive... they're based on Flash RAM too! And I don't know if I can trust Flash RAM anymore... For example, SSDs with USB connectivity start at $96 for a 32GB drive with an average of less than 1 review.

Fwiw... if I relax my limitations a bit on the size of the thumb drive I want, I can find some thumb drives that DO meet my exacting standards. But one of my requirements for a good thumb drive was that I be able to fit an ISO of a complete dual-layer DVD on that drive, with room to spare. That basically means 16GB is the minimum, and it seems that 16GB thumb drives are CRAP.

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