USB Flash drives have been a quiet revolution in computing. Their rise broke the death grip that the floppy drive had on the PC industry and smaller capacity models have become cheap, disposable means of data transport and distribution. Yet while you can pick up a 4GB model for less than the price of a meal, large capacity drives are still prohibitively expensive, especially when compared to mechanical storage devices.
Solid State Drives (SSDs) on the other hand also utilize flash memory, but masquerade as mechanical hard drives rather than USB storage devices. They are also highly dependent upon the controller technology that enables a PC to use the flash memory as a hard drive. Controllers not only affect the speed of the drive, but manage the way in which the flash memory is used in order to maintain performance over the lifetime of the drive.
When SSD and USB 3.0 come togetherOccasionally the two technologies bash into each other. There have been some E-Sata implementations of flash drives (which were problematic because E-Sata isn't designed to transmit power like USB is), and then there is the recently announced OCZ Enyo USB 3.0 SSD.
The USB 3.0 SSD - a curious beastThe Enyo looks to be a curious beast. Available in 64, 128 and 256GB models, it looks like a thin external hard drive and connects via USB. The announcement quotes transfer speeds of up to 260MB/s read and 200MB/s write, which is analogous to OCZ's top of the line SATA SSDs. Because it is a SSD we would also expect the kind of wear leveling and lifetime management that come hand in hand with the SSD name.
There aren't many USB 3.0 flash drives on the market as yet thanks to a lack of good controllers. Supertalent is one of the only companies to have announced products. The base level stick is quoted as having a 120MB/s access speed. While its raid drive is quoted at 300MB/s (raid is the traditional means used to speed up USB flash drives). This shows the disparity between flash drives and SSDs, and this seems to be the thing destined to determine pricing.
Interestingly, while price is the major differentiator between mechanical hard drives and SSDs, when it comes to two different implementations of flash storage such a gap doesn't exist. 256GB USB flash drives are similarly priced to the 256GB Enyo drive's $US 820 price tag. This is still an exorbitant price per gigabyte, especially when a 1TB external hard drive costs around $120.
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Issue: 316 | July 2013
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