New USB Stick

I’ve had a number of USB sticks in the past, and from historical situations, they tend to last around 2 years for me.  My current (well, actually, previous, now) USB is a Transcend 8GB, and I’ve already been using it for over 2.5 years, so I’ve been wondering if this thing is going to die.  Maybe it’s better, maybe it’s just luck, but I decided to leave out that risk factor and get myself a new USB just in case. (yes, I do manually backup data, but backups are only so good)

Anyway, one of the things bothering me with this Transcend stick is the horrible speeds it has.  Running portable apps like Firefox Portable takes forever to load, and saving anything on the USB has a noticeable latency lag.  As USBs are really cheap these days, I decided to look for a faster stick, rather than a large one.  I’m only using around 300-500MB anyway, and rarely go above 700MB unless I’m in the rare situation where I’m transferring some large files (in which case, I don’t mind bringing my USB HDD to do that), so I could easily live on a 2GB USB, perhaps 4GB for good measure.

Unfortunately, it seems all the faster USB drives are also large.  Looking around, the best that appealed to me were the 8GB Corsair Voyager and Patriot XT Xporter Boost from Umart (which now sell for around $25).  Drives like the OCZ Throttle and Corsair Voyager GT I could only find in at least 16GB sizes, which cost significantly more, and I seriously don’t need all that space.

Then I saw that MSY were selling a Patriot Xporter Rage 8GB for $25, so I decided to get one of them.  After some Googling though, I was a little worried on whether it delivered its advertised speed, finding a thread where users were complaining about the 16GB version’s write speeds, also hinting that the larger drives (64GB) may actually deliver on the advertised speeds (and I’m getting a smaller 8GB one).  But anyway, I went ahead and bought it (after they managed to get one in stock) for $24 (yay, $1 saving!).

Bringing it home, it’s formatted as FAT32 with a 64KB sector by default.  I do seem to get around 25MB/sec on sequential writes (woot!).  64KB sector is a bit excessive, but as I don’t really care about space, I don’t mind it.

As for the physical drive itself, it’s slightly smaller than the Transcend, and its capless design, I actually like.  On my old stick, it’s a little slider at the side, which you push forward to push out the USB connector.  On this one, you push the entire back part of the casing forward to reveal the USB connector.  A thing about the capless designs is that applying pressure to the USB port can cause it to retract (a pain if it gets loose and you don’t quite fit the connector in properly), but with the new Patriot drive, you’re naturally going to be applying pressure from the back of the USB stick, so it doesn’t really matter.  Anyway, the outside is also slightly rubbery, though I don’t think the additional grip is much importance.  The thing I don’t like is that it no longer has an indicator activity LED.

So, now that I have a 8GB stick, what to fill it up with?  As this is supposedly a fast drive, I decided to stick some bootable stuff on it, just in case I ever need it (unlikely, but oh well).  I’m too lazy on how to read up on making Linux boot drives, so I just used this and added some stuff that might come in handy – UBCD, System RescueCD and Ubuntu 10.10 (Knoppix and Bart’s PE might’ve been nice; would be nice to have a quick booting text based Linux distro which runs a shell script at bootup – might be useful for quickly performing some offline actions on a PC).

Unfortunately, the formatting process also reverts the drive’s sector size to 4KB, but it seems that Acronis Disk Director, which I happened to have installed, is able to convert sector sizes, so I upped it to 64KB.  First time I tried, it didn’t work (maybe cause I didn’t reboot the PC as it asked me to).  Out of interest, I noticed that Disk Director allowed creating multiple filesystems on a USB (Windows disk management doesn’t allow this), however, it seems that Windows just ignores other filesystems on the drive…  Anyway, reformatted and recreated the drive a second time, upping the sector size to 64KB and it worked.  Except that I got some warnings in the bootloader about the sector size > 32KB.  Despite that everything worked, I decided to just convert the thing down to 32KB for good measure anyway.

So that’s the wondrous story of my new USB, where Firefox Portable doesn’t take forever to load.  Maybe it’ll mean that I take up more space, since I used to stick everything in self extracting EXEs on my old drive (would extract stuff to C: drive and run from there as sequential reads on the USB were reasonable, as opposed to random reads).

Oh, and I’m also running a git repo on there too, with SmartGit as my portable Git client. (tip, you don’t need the full MSYS Git for it to work, just git.exe and libiconv.dll seem to be enough)

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