A little under a decade ago, there was still a lot of uncertainty as to the eventual successor to the floppy drive. Iomega had tremendous success with their Zip drives, and the failed LS-120 standard offered something that looked like a floppy, but was far too expensive to be a replacement. One thing was certain: the market needed a cost-effective, high capacity successor to the aging 3.5" floppy.

An unexpected mid-term successor came with the blank CD-R. With discs falling well below $1 per CD-R, many turned effectively to disposable CDs as their floppy replacements. Although CD-Rs offered the increased capacity over floppies while maintaining a very low cost, they lacked the flexibility in that they could only be written to once.

Fast forward to today, and it's clear that the floppy is now dead. Except for loading storage drivers during Windows setup (which can still be accomplished in other non-floppy methods), the floppy drive is no longer necessary. Home networks are prevalent enough that copying files from one computer to the next doesn't require any external media, and thanks to the prevalence of the USB flash drive, carrying files between computers outside of the home is no longer a problem either.

While a single USB flash drive is no where near as cheap as floppies used to be, the capacity of today's USB flash drives is tremendous. With the largest consumer drives topping 4GB in size, and retail stores stocking 512MB and 1GB drives, it's hard to remember having to split files over multiple floppies to get them from one computer to the next. You can simply buy a ridiculously large USB flash drive and you rarely have to worry about running out of space on it.

The driving force behind improvements and adaptation of new storage technologies has almost always been cost per bit. Fundamentally, a lower cost per bit is why we use magnetic hard drives instead of solid state storage, and it is also a major reason why DRAM is used for main memory instead of faster, yet more expensive SRAM. The same cost-per-bit mentality applied to the early days of flash, and is a significant factor in why USB flash drives are so prevalent today.

The flash that is used in USB drives today is what is known as NAND flash. Because of a much more efficient layout, NAND flash can achieve greater densities than NOR flash, making it the flash of choice for mass storage. NAND flash is actually quite efficient; a single NAND flash cell is approximately half the size of a conventional DRAM memory cell, meaning that you can easily produce affordable, high density, storage based on NAND flash. Obviously, the advantage of NAND flash over DRAM is that flash does not require a constant charge to retain its data, and thus is a suitable alternative (or accessory) to magnetic disk based storage.

Without a doubt, the advent of the NAND flash based USB drive has taken the PC industry by storm. Companies give these little drives away, and memory manufacturers have gone into the business of making USB drives in a big way. With almost a dozen different manufacturers present in this roundup alone, and even more available on the market, the USB flash drive scene is really just starting to heat up.

With lots of manufacturers producing drives, and the demand for these USB flash drives increasing every day, it was time for us to put together a roundup. Also, in preparation for this roundup, we have included price indexing for USB flash drives in our Real Time Price Engine. So, head over there and search away for the best prices on all USB flash drives.

Special thanks to Newegg for providing the Memina Rocket drive for this roundup.

Special thanks to Memory.Com for providing the Transcend JetFlash 110 and Transcend JetFlash 2.0 for this roundup.
The Performance Equation
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  • sxr7171 - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Time to get a Lexar JumpDrive lightning. This may not be important to a lot of people, but a USB drive IMHO needs to have a loop for a keyring. It is the most convenient way to carry the thing and always have it with you no matter what. I guess this applies more to people living in the city and not needing a car and the big bulky car keys/remote that come with that.
  • TheInvincibleMustard - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Speaking of, is there some reason the Lexar isn't on the RTPE? I mean, it did just win an Editor's Choice and all, so you'd hope it would be one of the drives listed in the newly-announced Flash Storage section ... :(

  • Pete84 - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Bummer, OCZ's dual channel USB stick didn't get in.
  • jkostans - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Someone didn't read the article......
  • SpaceRanger - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    Are USB drives able to be made Bootable?? I know that systems can recognize USB Floppy Drives, and boot from those, but I was wondering if you could take a USB Flash Drive and make it a bootable device.
  • Phantronius - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    depending on the flash drive and the motherboard BIOS, yes you can do it.
  • Phantronius - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link


    I love my OEM made from some pretty lady in china USB 2.0 stick, its saved my ass so many times for my work, especially in data reterival and spyware removal.
  • Souka - Tuesday, October 4, 2005 - link

    I've had the Memina Rocket for a couple months now....before they even announced it (thanks to NewEgg)....write spead defintly kinda bite with small files especially, but usually I put drivers and stuff there once, then read mutliple its a good match for me.

    PQI's I got over a year ago, and completely made everyone jealous.... for once, mem were bragging theirs is smaller than someone else's. :D

    I still use a SanDisk Titanium.....only a 512mb module, but still works well.

  • Souka - Wednesday, October 5, 2005 - link


    meant to say...

    PQI's I got over a year ago for my office, and completely made everyone jealous.... for once, men were bragging theirs was smaller!! :D

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