Does the stick matter?

February 18, 2010 – 5:29 pm

(Replies to yesterday’s post on the datastore forthcoming, btw – thank you to all who responded! I’m swamped with email on the road and waiting for a stretch during which I can compose actual thoughtful replies.)

We got cheap 4GB ones from the local computer store, all identical – we’re going to have the kids make keychains to attach to them so the sticks will be (1) personalized, (2) identifiable, and (3) bigger and therefore harder to lose.

For the “stick” part of Sugar on a Stick: are there some sticks that are better than others? Flash memory wears out over time – do some brands or types of sticks wear out faster than others, or is the cheap bulk brand from Microcenter equal to the fancy ones 1.5x the cost? How long, on average – and you’ll have to define “average use” – should a deployment expect a SoaS stick to last?

My suspicion is that (1) it really doesn’t matter, and (2) long enough – the only extra thing expensive sticks might get you is slightly better-looking sticks and improvements in mechanical construction (cap, cover, etc). But I do not know the manufacturing factors that affect flash life, nor whether different companies are likely to have different setups, tolerances, quality control, or so forth. (Come to think of it, this might be a cool “How Stuff Is Made” video if there isn’t one already.) I also guess that the mean time to failure will be greater than the mean time to kid-losing-stick. (It happens. This is why backups are important.) But those are only unsubstantiated guesses.

A good lazy Sunday project, or even a “I have to write a paper for my science class” paper, if you’re a student, would be to get a
number of sacrificial thumbdrives (multiple of each type, all brand-new) and do http://www.bress.net/blog/archives/114-How-Long-Does-a-Flash-Drive-Last.html on each.

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  1. 5 Responses to “Does the stick matter?”

  2. I guess a few points here:

    * I wouldn’t assume that price is actually a indicator of quality; there are so many more considerations that end up determining the final price of a random USB stick. You could easily spend more and get a lesser product.

    * Yes, there are differences in longevity — the relevant factor is how smart the wear-leveling firmware on the flash controller is. I wouldn’t worry about this too much, though. Choose a reasonable filesystem for flash storage and don’t put swap files or partitions on the sticks.

    * More noticeable will be a large and inexplicable difference in speed between different models of stick, and there’s not much to do (if you care about read/write speed) than to try a couple of keys and buy lots of the best type.

    By Chris on Feb 18, 2010

  3. There was an article recently on all flash memory not being created equally:

    http://www.bunniestudios.com/blog/?p=918

    But I’m not sure that will help you much, as it seems there’s a fair bit of variability even within a manufacturer, but it’s an interesting read that basically says no, they aren’t all created equal.

    By Terri on Feb 19, 2010

  4. The stick brand does matter. Just got 12 sticks of brand “PNY” from a local BestBuy and thay all fail to boot SoaS (“Boot Error”). Going to return.

    By Sameer Verma on Feb 20, 2010

  5. Flash drive vary enormously in their speed — from “unbearable” to “faster than disk”. I’ve bought cheap 4G flash drives where I could not summon enough patience to install Fedora (and I’m generally patient — we’re talking hours here) and others in the “really? it saved that much data that fast?” category. The only way to know is to test — and I don’t have enough information to know how much of this is brand and how much is batch.

    By Chris Tyler on Feb 22, 2010

  6. Mel,

    I finally found a 4GB PNY brand at BestBuy for $12.99 + tax (not bad) that actually works. In fact, I camped outside a local BestBuy and tried out sticks until I found one that worked. Luckily, I didn’t have to try too many models :-)

    Here’s a pic of the bar code in case anyone else is interested.

    http://identi.ca/attachment/9264173

    By Sameer Verma on Feb 24, 2010

What do you think?