Saturday, August 25, 2012

Silicon Power Blaze B10 16GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive




Rating: 1 out of 5
Pros: Cheap, decent capacity
Cons: Inexcusable, abysmal speed. Thin and brittle plastic housing

I picked up this Silicon Power Blaze B10 16GB Flash Drive on Newegg during one of their Shell Shocker deals for $10.99 with free shipping. It seemed like a pretty good price for a USB 3.0 flash drive to me, and all of my other flash drives were only USB 2.0. Only two of the computers in the house support USB 3.0, but I figured when I needed to copy stuff to or from one of those computers this would be a lot faster than using one of the USB 2.0 drives so I really wanted to pick one up. Since this one was a good price, I decided to give it a shot even though I had no experience with Silicon Power products in the past.
 
It's a pretty standard sized flash drive, measuring just under .5" thick, .75" wide and 3" long. It feels like it is made out of really cheap, thin plastic and has a cap that could be easily lost. It has rounded corners and a hole for a lanyard or key chain on the end of it. The USB plug itself is blue instead of black because this is a USB 3.0 drive, which is nice because if I forget which drive was the fast one I could tell at a glance (not withstanding the fact that it says 16GB_3.0 on the front).
 
The whole drive is black except for the "futuristic geometric pattern" which is really just a series of angled lines. These lines are mostly Turkey Blue in color when the drive is cool, and they turn Blaze Red when the drive warms up for any reason (contact with skin, normal operating, getting placed in the heat). It doesn't take a whole lot of temperature to make it turn colors, and in fact it has sat here red most of the time on my desk because of the 90ºF temperatures lately. The activity LED is also red, which is only noteworthy because I think the LED in every other flash drive I have is blue.
 
The drive comes formatted with the FAT32 file system and has a capacity of 15,502,147,584 bytes (14.4GB). It's fast enough to be used by Windows ReadyBoost even when plugged into a USB 2.0 port. These benchmarks were taken using CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1c and the default settings. As you can see from the following benchmark the USB 2.0 performance is pretty good when it comes to reading data, but the write speed is abysmal and very disappointing.
 
USB 2.0
 
Seq Read: 34.73MB/s
Seq Write: 20.78MB/s
512k Read: 33.98MB/s
512k Write: 3.600MB/s
4k Read: 5.287MB/s
4k Write: 0.179MB/s

 
Well it can only get better by plugging it into a USB 3.0 port right? That's the whole reason I picked this particular drive up anyway, so lets give it a shot. If it's fast with USB 3.0 then I'll be happy with the drive for this price and it should serve its purpose well. The drive advertises up to 70MB/s read speed and up to 20MB/s write speed, so let's see how it fares.
 
USB 3.0
 
Seq Read: 43.77MB/s
Seq Write: 20.69MB/s
512k Read: 42.43MB/s
512k Write: 3.555MB/s
4k Read: 7.001MB/s
4k Write: 0.150MB/s

 
What?! Yep, I had to verify that it was indeed plugged into one of the USB 3.0 ports and then I had to run the test a couple more times just to make sure. It's just nowhere near the speed it should be, and in fact is the slowest flash drive I've tested to date. Absolutely horrible speed all around, except in the sequential read and write tests where it had an average score. The sequential speeds are the least important too, as it's not often all of your data is going to line up sequentially so you're much more likely to get speeds closer to the random 512k or 4k random speeds on average.
 
So what can I say about the Silicon Power Blaze B10? Stay away. Even for the low price tag I picked it up for during Newegg's Shell Shocker deal it was absolutely not worth it. What possible purpose could you have in picking up a USB 3.0 drive that is slower than most USB 2.0 drives? Sad and disappointed is what I am; this flash drive gets a 1-star rating from me and I don't recommend it to anyone for any purpose.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

AMD FX-4100 3.6GHz (3.8GHz Turbo) Quad-Core Processor

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Good performance for the price. Overclocks well (and easily due to the unlocked multiplier)
Cons: Not a "true" quad-core. Won't be setting any speed records

This build:
 

AMD FX-4100 Quad-Core Processor
ASUS DRW-24B1ST DVD Burner
Cooler Master GX-450 Power Supply
G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 16GB DDR3 1600
Gigabyte GA-970A-D3 Motherboard
MSI Radeon HD 6450 1GB Video Card
Rosewill Challenger Gaming Case
Rosewill 40-in-1 Internal Card Reader
Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen 2TB Hard Drive
Zalman N Series 2.5" Solid-State Drive

 
This was a $500 budget PC build where the goal was to make it remain a viable everyday system for the next few years. It wasn't going to be used for much in the way of gaming, but it was going to run 24/7 and get quite a workout with other applications. The main steps were to grab a lot of memory and a quad-core processor that ran at a decent speed, and the AMD FX-4100 seemed to fit the bill nicely. Not only does it run stock at 3.6GHz, but it the turbo mode would automatically bump it to 3.8GHz when it wasn't utilizing all of the processor cores.
 
AMD's FX-4100 is a quad-core processor, but not in the strictest sense of the word. Instead of four physical cores, the processor has two physical "modules" that each contain two arithmetic logic units and two address generation units. Each module contains 2MB of L2 cache and there is a further 8MB of L3 cache shared between them. It has support for normal instruction set extensions such as MMX, SSE and 3DNow!; in addition it has support for newer extensions like AVX, SSE4.1, SSE4.2, AES, CLMUL, XOP, FMA4 and CVT16.
 
The "Bulldozer"-based FX-4100 is manufactured using a 32nm High-K Metal-Gate silicon-on-insulator process, and has a thermal design power of 95W. It has native support for DDR3 memory as fast as 1866MHz and features Hyper Transport v3.1. It uses the 942-pin Socket AM3+ CPU socket, which is also backwards compatible with AM3 processors like the Athlon II and Phenom II. Some AM3 motherboards may support the new AM3+ socket wit ha BIOS update if the manufacturer decides to implement it, but it's not officially supported by AMD so your mileage may vary.
 
The processor cost $95 with a promo code from Newegg, which wasn't too bad. I could have used an FX-4170 for about $25 more, but I decided against that for one main reason. While the FX-4170 is faster (4.2GHz, 4.3GHz Turbo), it's only because of an increased multiplier. Since the FX-4100 has an unlocked multiplier, you can just pop into the system BIOS and increase it yourself to get the speed benefit for the lower price. A quick bump from 3.6GHz to 4.2GHz in the BIOS takes about 15 seconds to change the multiplier from 18x to 21x, and it runs perfectly with the stock heatsink and fan using stock voltage (at least for me -- due to subtle differences, your mileage may vary).
 
For about $30 we could have jumped to the FX-6100, which is a six-core processor that runs at 3.3GHz. Unfortunately, most of the applications being used on the system wouldn't benefit much (if at all) from having six cores instead of four. On top of that, the lower clock speed would be detrimental and it would be a slower processor overall for what it was going to be used for. Skipping this one was a no-brainer. The FX-6200 seemed to be about the next "upgrade", with a six-core processor clocked at 3.8GHz (4.1GHz Turbo). It did cost an extra $60 or so though, and the only real upgrade part would be the two extra cores that wouldn't be utilized very well in this system.
 
As for Intel processors, the i3-2100 is comparable to the FX-4100 for the most part -- but it would have cost an extra $25 as well. The i5-2500 would be a big upgrade over the FX-4100, but it was more than double the price. Since this was a budget build, we decided that the FX-4100 seemed to hit the sweet spot of value for cost while still fitting into the overall system budget. Due to the way Windows 7 schedules tasks for processors, the dual "module" design isn't as effective as it could be. Installing a couple of hotfixes from Microsoft will help to mitigate some of this performance degradation (KB2645594 and KB2646060). Windows 8 has already addressed these issues and has further scheduling improvements to help even more.
 
Installation was easy; line up the arrow on the processor with the arrow on the CPU socket, gently place the processor in the socket and then pull the socket lever down to hold it in place. The heatsink and fan installed cleanly too; we just used the pre-applied thermal pad for this build. Set the heatsink on the processor, hook one clip over one side and the other clip over the other side. Make sure it's pretty straight, and pull the retaining lever back. Not really much to it.
 
Since this system was going to be used more for applications than for gaming, we decided to pair this processor with 16GB of DDR3-1600 RAM. We also installed an inexpensive ($15) video card for good measure, as this provided some additional video memory, processing and an HDMI output. The GA-970A-D3 motherboard was decently priced at $80 and provided USB 3.0 support, four memory slots, six SATA 6.0GB/s ports and plenty of expansion slots for future use. The goal here was to make this PC reliably and realistically last for at least 5 years for moderate to heavy application usage without having to worry about it being totally obsolete and useless.

Overall this is a great budget processor, regardless of the application. If you have more money to spend, by all means pick up an i5-2500k or something, otherwise the FX-4100 is a safe bet that has decent performance for a really good price. The fact that it has a lot of overclocking potential is just icing on the cake that will give you even more bang for the buck.

At stock speeds this processor achieved a Windows Experience Index rating of 7.2. You can hear the stock fan but it's not too loud, and it keeps the CPU at about 33ºC at idle and up to 51ºC while stress testing with Prime95. I realistically don't see any reason for more processor power than this for this computer in the foreseeable future, so this was a great choice for the processor; it runs everything thrown at it with no trouble. I took the liberty of running a few benchmarks at stock 3.6GHz speeds; the results are below.

SiSoft Sandra Lite 2012.SP5a
 

Aggregate Native Performance: 39.14 GOPS
Dhrystone Integer Native SSE4.2: 47.77 GIPS
Whetstone Double Native SSE3: 32 GFLOPS
 
Aggregate Multi-Media Native Performance: 107.92 MPix/s
Multi-Media Integer Native x16 AVX: 127.86 MPix/s
Multi-Media Float Native x16 FMA4: 91.08 MPix/s
Multi-Media Double Native x8 FMA4: 49.47 MPix/s
Multi-Media Float/Double Native x8 FMA4: 67.12 MPix/s
 
Cryptographic Bandwidth: 1.63 GB/s
Encryption/Decryption Bandwidth AES256-ECB AES: 4 GB/s
Hashing Bandwidth SHA2-256 AVX: 679 MB/s
 
Inter-Core Bandwidth: 7 GB/s
Inter-Core Latency: 118.3 ns
 
ALU Power Efficiency: 10.12 GIPS
Power Efficiency: 5.30
 
PassMark PerformanceTest 7.0
 

CPU Mark: 4392.9
Integer Math: 840.2
Floating Point Math: 2751.1
Find Prime Numbers: 1182.5
SSE: 15.9
Compression: 5357.8
Encryption: 15.7
Physics: 278.1
String Sorting: 3391.3
 
Hyper PI 0.99b
 

Test: 1M
Instances: 4
Best Time: 27.487s
Worst Time: 27.862s
Average: 27.662s

Zalman N-Series 64GB SSD

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: SandForce controller, decent performance; mail-in-rebate made for an outstanding deal
Cons: "Decent" performance, not a whole lot of capacity

When I assembled this last budget computer build I hadn't planned on including a solid-state drive. They do cost quite a bit and you don't get a whole lot of storage capacity for the price compared to conventional platter-based hard drives. However, after picking up all of the parts necessary there was about $45 left in the budget, and Newegg happened to have a good deal on a solid-state drive that could be picked up and still keep us under budget.

This build:
AMD FX-4100 Quad-Core Processor
ASUS DRW-24B1ST DVD Burner
Cooler Master GX-450 Power Supply
G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 16GB DDR3 1600
Gigabyte GA-970A-D3 Motherboard
MSI Radeon HD 6450 1GB Video Card
Rosewill Challenger Gaming Case
Rosewill 40-in-1 Internal Card Reader
Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen 2TB Hard Drive
Zalman N Series 2.5" Solid-State Drive


The price of the Zalman N-Series 64GB Solid-State Drive was cut down to $79.99, and then there was a $40 mail-in-rebate on top of that bringing the total cost down to $39.99. For forty bucks I couldn't think of a good reason not to grab the drive, so it got added to the build at the last minute. I'm pretty happy with the results.
 
This is a standard 2.5" SATA II solid-state drive. It supports the Windows 7 TRIM command and is optimized for AHCI mode. The drive features the SandForce SF-1222 controller and advertises 280MB/s read speeds and 270MB/s write speeds, which were faster than the other Zalman S Series solid-state drive that was on sale for the same price. It features built-in ECC and wear-leveling technology and is fast, silent and resistant to damage from jarring because it has no moving parts.
 
I was actually kind of surprised when it arrived since it came via the postal service in a lightly padded manila envelope. I actually thought it was another flash drive that I ordered at the same time because I'm used to my hard drives arriving in big plastic clam-shell packages wrapped in bubble wrap and stuck in a box surrounded by crumpled paper or other packing materials. Even the little retail box inside the envelope felt cheap and was made of thin cardboard.
 
The tiny drive is really light, weighing just a few ounces. It appears to be made of aluminum and has an attractive dark, brushed metal appearance. While the drive did come with 4 small screws for installation, it did not come with an SATA cable so you'll have to pick one up separately if necessary. The motherboard we picked up only included 2 SATA cables, which we used for the DVD burner and the 2GB conventional hard drive, we had to use a spare to complete the installation. Luckily I have piles of things like that lying around that were extras from previous builds, so I just used one of those.
 
The Rosewill Challenger case that we used also came with a plastic 3.5" to 2.5" adapter, and we made use of that to install this drive into a standard 3.5" hard drive bay. Most cases do not include such things and one is not supplied with the drive, so make sure to pick one up if required. This will not be an issue with laptops or netbooks because they use 2.5" hard drives to start with. The shock resistance of the solid-state drive is of even more benefit in a mobile computing platform, as you're less likely to damage the drive if the laptop gets tossed around in your bag or knocked off of a table.
 
Installation was easy enough; I just set the drive onto the adapter and inserted the four screws into the bottom. After that I attached the drive rails to the sides of the adapter and slid it into an open 3.5" drive bay. You may have four more screws to use instead to attach the adapter to the drive bay, or even small clips or some other type of tool-less installation in your case, but it's all about the same and it takes very little time or effort. The final part of the installation was plugging in an SATA power connector and then running an SATA cable from the drive to an available SATA port on the motherboard.
 
Keep in mind that the rated read and write speeds are best-case scenarios under ideal conditions. The actual numbers are going to vary drastically depending on the other components in the computer and it's setup. To benchmark the performance of this drive I used CrystalDiskMark with a 5x 1000MB test, and AS SSD. AHCI is enabled in the BIOS and Windows 7 is using the AMD_SATA driver. Here are the results:
 
CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1c
 
Seq Read: 191.8MB/s
Seq Write: 66.56MB/s
512k Read: 180.0MB/s
512k Write: 65.67MB/s
4k Read: 18.6MB/s
4k Write: 64.67MB/s

 
AS SSD 1.6.4237.30508
 
Seq Read: 194.48MB/s
Seq Write: 58.17MB/s
4k Read: 16.10MB/s
4k Write: 43.37MB/s
4k-64Thrd Read: 97.86MB/s
4k-64Thrd Write: 59.15
Read Access Time: 0.231ms
Write Access Time: 0.294ms
Read Score: 133
Write Score: 108
Overall Score: 310


Not terrible, but also not spectacular and certainly nowhere in the same ballpark as what is advertised. That seems to be about par for the course these days though, with manufacturer's claims for all sorts of products bordering on false advertising. I'm still pretty happy with the drive though and it's significantly faster and more responsive than a conventional hard drive. If you've got the big bucks to spare on a larger, faster drive then by all means get one; otherwise this is a solid choice.
 
I didn't time the installation of Windows 7, but it was noticably faster than installing to a conventional hard drive. After it was completed, the drive showed a 55.8GB total capacity (60,019,437,568 bytes). You'll notice that this is about 4GB shy of what it should be, and this is because solid-state drives keep a small amount of capacity set aside for wear-leveling to ensure that your drive remains functional for as long as possible. This particular drive is rated for 5000 program/erase cycles and should last the average person for many years.
 
The computer starts up much faster and shuts down much fast. In addition, the computer comes out of hibernation mode almost instantly which is a drastic improvment over conventional hard drives. Usually I turn off hibernation mode because I'm too impatient to wait 10 or 15 seconds for it to get back to normal, but with this SSD I'm presented with the Windows login screen almost instantly when I press the power button. The fact that this makes it worth using hibernation mode for me means some sort of savings to the electric bill in addition to the savings attributed to using the SSD over a conventional hard drive in the first place.
 
This ROHS compliant drive uses MLC NAND flash and has a 1,000,000 hour MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures). It has a standard operating temperature of 0ºC to 70ºC and a storage temperature of -40ºC to 85ºC. It is made in Taiwan and is backed up by a 3 year limited warranty. I certainly recommend picking up a solid-state drive, at least for your main Operating System drive, and this is a good one for the price.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rosewill Challenger Gaming Case


Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: Screw-less design, included 2.5"-3.5" adapter, lots of cooling options and included fans
Cons: None really... maybe one motherboard screw location requiring a short screwdriver

On paper the Rosewill Challenger Gaming Case looked pretty good and seemed to have all of the features I required, as well as some that I considered to be bonuses. After finding it on sale for $29.99 shipped to the door I decided to give it a shot for a computer I was assembling for my mother instead of using the Antec 300 that I normally use for builds. It turned out to be a really nice budget case that was pleasant to work with so I will probably use again in the future.

This build:

AMD FX-4100 Quad-Core Processor
ASUS DRW-24B1ST DVD Burner
Cooler Master GX-450 Power Supply
G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 16GB DDR3 1600
Gigabyte GA-970A-D3 Motherboard
MSI Radeon HD 6450 1GB Video Card
Rosewill Challenger Gaming Case
Rosewill 40-in-1 Internal Card Reader
Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen 2TB Hard Drive
Zalman N Series 2.5" Solid-State Drive 


The Rosewill Challenger Gaming Case measures about 7.48" wide, 17.08" tall, 18.5" deep and weighs 12.76 pounds. This makes it a mid-tower case, and it will accept full size ATX motherboards as well as MicroATX boards. The box comes with a small 9 page user manual that has installation instructions with some pretty nice diagrams, and it's actually written in English that can be understood (which is rare these days). The case is backed up by a 1 year limited warranty.

The case is a nice flat black color that does not retain fingerprints. The paint is good and not easily rubbed or scratched off, which is always a plus. The main body of the case is made of SECC steel and the front bezel is made of black plastic. It features two USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA port and audio input/output ports in the front of the case for easy access. As for drive bays, it has three 5.25" drive bays for things like DVD burners, two external 3.5" drive bays for things like floppy drives or card readers, and five more internal 3.5" bays for hard drives. Seven expansion slots in the back round out the expansion capabilities of this case.
 
The Challenger comes with three fans preinstalled. This includes a 120mm rear exhaust fan, a 140mm top exhaust fan, and a 120mm fan in the front to pull air across the hard drives and through the case. The front fan also lights up with blue LEDs, and while it does put off quite a bit of light at least it's not glaringly bright. I figured that worst case scenario I would just swap it with the rear fan if it was too bright because the light in the back wouldn't be as bothersome, but it hasn't been necessary. The rear fan has a regular 3-pin fan connector, while the front and top fans both have 4-pin molex connectors with pass-throughs. There are also mounting holes for two more 120mm fans in the side panel if you decide you want to install more in the future.
 
The power supply is mounted in the bottom of this case instead of in the top, which is one feature I really like in a case because it helps the case remain stable by lowering the center of gravity. There is some type of felt padding around the power supply area to help isolate it, and while it's a nice feature it was just far enough off that it was halfway covering a couple of the power supply screw holes. It wasn't a big deal though as the screws still went in just fine. The power supply can also be mounted either direction, and the bottom of the case has a filtered air hole if you chose to install it with the fan facing down. I chose to install mine with the fan facing up, but if you install it the other way make sure it's on a flat level surface and clean the filter regularly though so that it doesn't get too hot.
 
The front of the case is made of a steel mesh (with dust filters) to help with case cooling, which is pretty common these days. What isn't so common is the rear expansion slot covers also being made of mesh. This was especially nice since I bought some SilverStone Aero Slot covers for an earlier build and they were $10 for a package of four. I wasn't planning on getting any for this build, but if I had this would have saved me the $10. One final thing I want to mention about cooling is the fact that the case has two holes pre-cut in the rear of the case at the top for water cooling piping.
 
There is no removable motherboard tray, but there is a big cutout so that you can get to the back of the motherboard under the processor for some kinds of processor cooling options. The Challenger also features a screw-less design for securing drives, which I always find handy. This includes the use small pieces with pegs for the 5.25" drives and drive rails for internal hard drives. The internal hard drive area is set sideways so that the drives face one side of the case or the other instead of facing backward towards the motherboard, which makes it more convenient for working with the cables and connectors.
 
The drive rails are nice too because they can be reversed so that you can install the hard drives in either direction; it just requires popping the pegs out and moving them to a different hole in the rail and then it fits in there facing the other direction. By default the drive rails let you install the drives facing towards the right, but I chose to switch them so that they face the same way as everything else in the case so that I only have to remove one side panel to access most things. Otherwise I would have to take off the right side to access the hard drive connectors and the other side to get to the motherboard, which just seems like extra work to me.
 
Surprisingly the case actually came with 10 drive rails, which is enough to fill all five of the internal 3.5" bays. It also came with a plastic 3.5" to 2.5" adapter, which allows you to install two 2.5" solid-state drives or hard drives into a single internal 3.5" bay. I made use of this to install the single solid-state drive that was going into this system, and it worked well.
 
Despite the screw-less design, the Challenger came with plenty of screws for the motherboard, hard drives and optical drives; it also came with enough motherboard standoffs to mount a full size ATX motherboard with a couple to spare, which is always nice. The standoffs went in fine, but I had to screw a couple of them in with my needle-nose pliers because there was a tiny bit of the interior black paint in the screw holes that made them tough to insert by hand. They went in smooth with the pliers though (or a small nut driver).
 
The only other issue I had with the case was putting the middle screw in the top of the motherboard. The hole was very close to the top of the case, and the edge of the case where the side panel slides into was in the way just enough that I couldn't get my regular screw driver in there straight enough to insert the screw. I tried removing the 140mm fan hoping that it would give me enough clearance, but it was still a no-go so I put it back in place and dug out a shorter screw driver. Not a real problem, but just slightly annoying.
 
The cables from the front of the case for the USB, eSATA, audio and the lights/switches were all plenty long enough to reach anywhere in the case. There is no case speaker mounted in the case, but it did come with a nickel-sized speaker attached to wires that you can just plug into the motherboard and let it hang there. Looks like it will work just fine, and certainly better than the non-existent case speaker in my Antec 300 case.
 
The case has a lot of features, is sturdy, solid and well designed. It was really a pleasure to work with and makes for an easy recommendation, especially for such an inexpensive price tag.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kingston 16GB DataTraveler Micro

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Tiny, inexpensive, large capacity, 5 year guarantee
Cons: Speeds slightly on the slow side of average. Cap is real easy to lose

I hate listening to the radio because there are usually more commercials and talking on than there are songs. Likewise I'm not a big fan of carrying piles of CDs around in the car because they get repetitive pretty quickly and it's annoying to have to dig through them to change them out constantly. This is why we picked up a stereo unit for the car that had a USB port and had MP3 support -- so that I could take all of my music from my computer at home and listen to it in the car.
 
I put my 8GB Corsair Flash Voyager in the car for a while with the music on it, but since it's a full sized flash drive it stuck out the front of the radio quite a bit and occasionally got in the way if the passenger was trying to use the radio controls to skip a song or adjust the volume. I decided the best solution would be to buy a micro flash drive that barely stuck out of the USB port; at $9.99 the Kingston DataTraveler Micro was the least expensive flash drive on NewEgg that met all of my requirements at the time.
 
Granted this is a 16GB flash drive and I don't even have a fraction of that much music, but I really had to take the size per cost ratio into account. If I could get 16GB for $10 or 8GB for $6, I figured it would be worth the few extra dollars to have the extra space available. This way if I'm gone somewhere and wish I had a flash drive on me I can always grab it out of the car and throw some extra stuff on it until I get home.
 
This thing is 1" long, .25" tall and just over .5" wide. When you remove the cap and plug it in, only about .3" sticks out of the USB port which made this absolutely great for what I wanted it for. It would also be terrific for things like laptop or netbook computers because you can just leave it in all the time, and due to it's small size it won't get in your way. The only issue may be that it's so easy to lose if you do remove it -- or easily misplacing the removable cap if you leave it plugged in all the time.
 
The DataTraveler Micro is an azure blue color (it also comes in black) with very little in the way of markings. The drive itself only has a tiny "16GB" label on the far left, while the cap says "DT Micro" in white and has "Kingston" engraved in the same blue color on the top. The drive portion has a tiny part that sticks out on the left with a hole through the corner so that you can insert a lanyard, though it did not come with one in the package. It's worth noting that the flash drive is quite snug in the USB port, more than most of my other USB devices. Not so much that you're worried about it, but it's a noticeable amount. Personally I'm glad since this is going to stay in my car stereo pretty much forever, I don't have to worry about it slowly getting worked lose.
 
The flash drive comes formatted with the FAT32 file system and has a capacity of 15,716,286,464 bytes (14.6GB). Benchmarking of this drive was done with CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1c, using the default settings. Keeping in mind that this is a USB 2.0 drive, the results show pretty average speeds across the board (though my Corsair Flash Voyager reads significantly faster).
 
Sequential Read: 18.91 MB/s
Sequential Write: 16.57 MB/s
512k Random Read: 18.95 MB/s
512k Random Write: 7.68 MB/s
4k Random Read: 2.563 MB/s
4k Random Write: 0.993 MB/s

 
The Kingston DataTraveler Micro is a Plug & Play drive that works out of the box in Windows 7/Vista/XP, Mac OS X 10.5+ and Linux v2.6+. It is designed to operate in temperatures ranging from 32ºF to 140ºF and be stored in temperatures ranging from -4ºF to 185ºF. This product was assembled in Taiwan and is backed by a pretty decent 5 year guarantee with free technical support.
 
I figure if you need something much bigger than 16GB you may as well get a USB 3.0 drive because the read and write speeds would make it take forever to use it to the fullest extent. If you're in the market for an inexpensive USB 2.0 drive I would certainly recommend this one though; it's really small, decent looking and it holds a lot.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Patriot Signature Line 16GB Class 4 microSDHC Card

Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: Good speed and capacity. Comes with a case and SD adapter
Cons: None noticed

I've had good luck with sticks of RAM from Patriot Memory in the past, so when it came time to order a new microSD card (microSDHC in this case) I had no qualms about choosing this brand over Kingston or Corsair. Since this card is going into a cell phone (Motorola DROID 4) I wasn't too concerned about the speed rating, but reliability was important followed closely by pricing. Since this card was a little cheaper than the Kingston card I was comparing it with, I opted to pick this one up.
 
This card (model number PSF16GMCSDHC43P) is a 16 GB memory card. They do also make an 8 GB version as well as 4 GB and 32 GB versions in the Patriot Memory Signature Line of microSDHC cards. This 16 GB card comes pre-formatted with the FAT32 file system and a capacity of 16,002,318,336 bytes (14.9 GB).
 
This card being a microSD card is really small. Measuring only 15 mm long, 11 mm wide and 1 mm thick you can lose this thing easily. Thankfully this card came in a nice plastic case that measures 1.75" long by 2" wide by .25" thick. Also inside the case is a SD to microSD adapter which allows you to slide the microSD card into the bottom of it and use it just like a regular SD card. It's really nice to get the adapter free in the package because not all card readers will have microSD card slots (my USB card reader that I use with this computer has both, but the card reader in the other computer only has an SD slot). The adapter also has a standard write protection switch on the side. Both the card itself and the adapter have side-by-side notches inside the case to keep them held in place, and the case hinges open on one side and latches on the other.
 
The card is plain black without any unnecessary colorful designs or goofy patterns. Since the card is usually going to be stuck down inside a device most of the time, that's perfectly fine with me. It does have the brand name and capacity stamped on it in white though, along with the microSDHC logo. The card is also notched about half-way down the right side, helping to prevent it from being inserted upside down. I have seen one wedged into a card reader upside down before, and I don't know why they shoved it in so far because the thing broke apart pulling it back out, ruining the card.
 
This is a class 4 card which means it should sustain a minimum write speed of 4 MB/s. Some devices require higher speed classes to function properly, especially things like DSLR cameras and other devices that stream high quality video. As you can see from the following benchmarks this card is about triple that, but remember the 4 MB/s rating is a minimum speed. The following benchmarks were taken using CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1c:
 
Sequential Read: 16.97 MB/s
Sequential Write: 12.67 MB/s
512k Random Read: 18.84 MB/s
512k Random Write: 11.74 MB/s
4k Random Read: 3.807 MB/s
4k Random Write: 0.964 MB/s

 
The Patriot Signature Line 16 GB microSDHC card complies with SDA 2.0 specifications and is compatible with all microSDHC card readers. It has an operating temperature of -25ºC to 85ºC, and a storage temperature of -40ºC to 85ºC. This device is made in Taiwan and comes with a 5 year warranty.
 
Overall a good card, and it even comes with that SD adapter and a plastic carrying case -- all for a $10 price tag. The speed, capacity and quality are all good so I'm happy with this card. An easy recommendation unless your device requires something faster like a class 6 or class 10 card. One final note would be to make sure your device can handle SDHC cards, because some older devices can only handle regular SD and hot the High Capacity variant.

Update: Well, we had this in my brother's cell phone and he accidentally put it through an entire wash cycle and half of a dryer cycle. The phone was toast, but this microSDHC card still worked fine. Whether that can attributed to the phone design or the card is debatable, but hey, at least it worked!