SuperTalent PICO-mini 8 GB UFD Hits Several Interesting Marks

In a review I posted last December entitled Super Talent Pico Drives I extolled the virtues of these compact 8GB swing-open and metal-plated USB Flash Drives (aka UFDs). Basically these drives are tiny, capacious, and very affordable, which is why is I both use them myself and recommend them to others. My only ding on their rating came from their write speeds which hover between 5 and 7 MB/sec. SuperTalent obviously paid attention to this observation — and to be completely fair, I can’t take sole credit, because most other reviews zeroed in on this same phenomenon — and has sped up their latest, even smaller generation of Pico drives, called the Pico Mini, even further. Here’s a snapshot next to a typical housekey.

The Pico Mini is pretty pico, all right!

The Pico Mini is pretty pico, all right!

Before I include some performance data for the latest generation, and compare it to results from the previous generation and a Corsair GT Survivor 8 GB UFD, let me explain why (and when) UFD write speeds matter most. Windows Vista introduced SuperFetch, ReadyBoot, and ReadyBoost technologies to Windows, and Windows 7 refines and extends these capabilities significantly. In Windows 7, 64-bit systems are limited to 128 GB of ReadyBoost space, and can aggregate multiple flash card devices (including UFDs, SD and SDHC cards, and even CF devices) to provide oodles of cache memory for the OS to use. During the ReadyBoot phase of booting, SuperFetch copies (writes) the contents of the frequently-accessed programs cache to the ReadyBoost drive. As Windows is running, it reads from and writes to ReadyBoost device(s) all the time. Hence, write speed is as important as read speed if you want to get the best benefit from a UFD (or other flash device) when using it for ReadyBoost.

With that in mind, take a look at these results from the Check Flash 1.09 program I used to benchmark the UFDs for this set of comparisons (Check Flash is the work of Misha Cherkes and is available as a free download from his Website). It measures read and write speed in several ways on an NT kernel-based Windows system (NT 3.5 and 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7). I took these measurements on a system running Windows Vista SP2, with all current patches and fixes applied. Measurements involve the following read/write regimes:

  • Write to the UFD as a physical device (bypasses the logical disk drive portion of the OS, and does untrammeled disk I/O). This should (and does) produce the fastest results as it shortens the software stack through which Windows I/O normally progresses.
  • Write to the UFD as a logical drive (bypasses some  file-level I/O operations, but not logical disk drive access). This falls in the middle of the spectrum of I/O regimes, and is probably closest to the block-level I/O that ReadyBoost uses.
  • Write to a temporary file on the UFD, which uses the complete Windows file I/O stack. This is the slowest form of Windows I/O, and most like ordinary file-level access you’d get via Windows Explorer or an application program that uses the Explorer interface to navigate the file system, and base-level file I/O routines to read and write file contents.

Here’s a list of information about the three drives for which I’ll compare Check Flash 1.09 results:

  • Corsair Survivor 8GB (Model CMFUSBSRVR-8GB): 8 GB of fast (200X) Flash RAM in a waterproof, all-aluminum case with serious rubber gaskets. Big but powerful. Available for $30 at Onsale.com.
  • Super Talent 8GB Pico-C Gold-Plated Flash Drive (Model STU8GPCG): 8 GB of fast (200X claimed) Flash RAM in a compact, gold-plated micro-package. Small but slow write speeds. Available for $25 at SuperBiiz.com; a nickel-plated 4GB model (STU4GPCN) costs only $9.
  • Super Talent 8GB Pico Mini (Model STU8GMAB): 8 GB of fast (200X) Flash RAM in a compact, blue plastic-coated micro-package (same dimensions as the previous Pico generation, but seems smaller). Small with moderate write speeds. Available for $18 at Newegg.com.

Now for some results (all read/write values are in megabytes per second):

UFD Drive Min/Max
Physical Read
Min/Max
Logical Read
Min/Max
Logical Write
Min/Max
File Read
Min/Max
File Write
STU8GPCG
Pico Gold
29.252/30.447 28.661/29.252 6.234/7.513 14.996/15.836 4.225/4.721
STU8GMAB
Pico Mini
30.511/31.662 29.504/30.769 11.002/11.841 16.002/17.196 10.902/11.841
CMFUSBSRVR
Corsair
29.322/30.169 31.701/31.183 28.473/28.481 29.508/31.179 26.617/26.480

Notice we don’t see much difference in physical read speed across any of these UFDs. But when it comes to write speed, and logical or file read speeds, that’s when the differences jump out. Indeed for writing the Pico Mini is more than twice as fast as the first generation Pico UFDs. But for writing the Corsair Survivor GT is more than twice as fast as the Pico Mini, and over four times as fast as the original Pico UFDs (on read, the same ratios almost hold for file read for the Corsair versus both Pico models).

This tells me some interesting things. With write speeds between 10 and 15 MB/sec, the Pico Mini offers reasonable performance in a very compact form factor. It’s well-suited for use on a mobile notebook or netbook, both for regular file storage and transport, and for modest benefits from ReadyBoost. The still-big and dramatic difference with respect to a UFD that is among the fastest around (see this posting on that very subject on xcorat’s blog, given that the Corsair Survivor and the Corsair Voyager use the same flash chips and circuitry, in very different packages) means that for my desktop PC (which never goes anywhere if I can help it) I’ll use the fastest UFD I can find for ReadyBoost.

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