Kanguru's e-Flash drive offers a unique capability to connect via either eSATA or USB ports on modern day notebooks and desktops. Stellar performance via either connections allows users to maximize their effective use of the drive, but the drive's bulky and uninspired mechanical design and a relatively short warranty are a let-down on what could have been a killer product.
Kanguru Solutions has come out of nowhere with an innovative flash drive to give modern day computer users the added option of using a large capacity flash drive over both eSATA and USB connections to truly get their need for speed satisfied. With their first attempt can they succeed in manifesting a formidable foe to other USB flash drives by offering both the convenience and wide availability of USB and the pure performance offered by the relatively new eSATA interface without affecting the general experience? Read on to find out.
Out of the box our first impression of the Kanguru e-Flash drive was how well Kanguru had done in terms of integrating both USB and eSATA connectors on one flash drive. The unit comes in only one color, black, and sports a cap on both USB and eSATA ends to help avoid any damage to the connectors. The eSATA cap is held to the drive by a detachable lanyard while the USB cap is completely detachable and thus easily lost.
Uber-fast eSATA or ubiquitous USB? Take your pick.
Housed in a high-strength anodized aluminum casing, the drive is very long and wide making it hard to recommend for any applications on systems with few or recessed USB/eSATA ports for fear of blocking adjacent ports including VGA / DVI ports on smaller systems/motherboards. We find it hard to believe that the whole design could not have been integrated into a far more sleek and eye pleasing design similar to the Kingston Data Traveler 150 32GB USB flash drive.
The Kanguru e-Flash is about the same size as a bubble gum pack.
The Kanguru e-Flash is a rather large dongle that could block adjacent ports, especially on a notebook.
Two LEDs are featured on the drive, one on either end to indicate activity (Red) and power (Blue). For the average user who doesn't really care too much about LEDs, the location of either LED should not matter, but for someone who loves to know and see what is actually happening when using a flash drive, the device could have featured an LED to indicate if either the eSATA or USB interface was active since the backpanel of many motherboards is usually cluttered with many peripherals attached in a tight dark space.
Both USB and eSATA interfaces access the same drive volume which allows you to use the USB interface when you need readily available access across different computers, or the eSATA interface on computers featuring an appropriate power over eSATA port for faster performance. For those computers not featuring a power over eSATA port, Kanguru includes a power over eSATA PCI expansion bracket that simply plugs into any available SATA port on your motherboard and connects directly to any available 15-pin SATA power plug or via the included 4-pin Molex power to 15-pin SATA power plug.
You'll also find an internal kit which supplies power to the eSATA port.
If you're unwilling or unable to fit the included power over eSATA PCI expansion bracket, the e-Flash drive also allows you to use a USB Type A male to female expansion cable and fit this to the e-Flash's USB port while simultaneously plugging the eSATA interface into the appropriate eSATA port on your system. This option does require users go out and buy the appropriate cabling as Kanguru does not include a USB Type A male to female expansion cable. Our own experience while using the Kanguru e-Flash is that even the most modern motherboard only features standard un-powered eSATA ports, buyer beware!
For modern notebook users without a eSATA port, Kanguru even offers an Expresscard with a hybrid eSATA/USB connector. For those without an ExpressCard slot I'm afraid you'll be stuck with using the USB interface.
The e-Flash drive comes pre-formatted with an NTFS file system and features a total generous usable space of 15,033,401,344 bytes (14.0 GB). Just enough for a few high definition media trailers, game demos or a complete operating system installation.
Via the eSATA the flash drive is bootable and one can easily install Windows or Linux on the drive as a portable Operating System that plugs into the back of the computer. Since the drive is detected as a fixed disk and doesn't require the work-around that using a USB interface usually does this is also one of the drives most interesting applications. If installing any Windows based platform we do recommend users read up online documentation to ascertain the risks on using any mainstream Windows OS on flash media. Our own testing showed promising boot times of 15~20 seconds to boot from BIOS to a Windows XP SP2 desktop via eSATA mode. We also tested MS-DOS boot ability and the drive passed via both USB and eSATA interfaces.
Further testing on the USB interface through the USB-IF's own USB Command Verifier test suite passed both Chapter 9 and Mass Storage Class tests, so no out of specification behavior to report via the USB interface. Unfortunately there is no such suite available to the public for eSATA command testing.
Kanguru bundles the drive with a copy of HotSwap!, a freely available hot swapping utility which allows you to shut down eSATA, USB and SATA based devices as easily as the Safely Remove icon in Microsoft's own Windows Operating System. The software does a fairly decent job of shutting down and allowing the safe removable of USB and eSATA based drives but on some occasions may fail since the hot-swapping ability is largely dependant on the eSATA controller manufacturer and operating systems support.
When the eSATA hot-swapping ability does fail you'll either end up with devices still listed in Device Manager as installed when they are actually already removed or the device will simply never detect when inserted into the eSATA port, forcing you to reboot the system since the only guaranteed method of getting eSATA devices to install properly is going through the whole boot process from BIOS to Operating System.
It seems that eSATA performance does come at a cost and the older USB specification has a distinct advantage over the newer and faster eSATA specification. Hopefully future eSATA controllers and Operating Systems will offer more robust hot-swapping capability to negate this.
Durability & Reliability
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The casing felt robust enough to withstand a few falls and didn't succumb to any scratches from being thrown around in my backpack for more than two weeks or sliding around on my desks at home.
Kanguru also rates the e-Flash able to withstand one million write cycles, but considering the size of the drive, even with the use of MLC flash and advanced wear-leveling techniques you would have to write to the drive for quite a few years to ever reach this amount. A rated data retention of 10 years should also give users some level of relief if you were to use it for as a backup solution even though any flash based device should be avoided for this purpose.
Why Kanguru felt is necessary to only provide a 3 year warranty on a product it rates at one million write cycles is a mystery and one that does impact the value for money offered by this drive when other manufacturers offer 5 to 10 year warranties on similar and larger sized USB flash drives.
All benchmarking was performed on an Intel based USB host controller featuring an ICH8 South Bridge and the USB flash drive directly connected to the host computer. The operating used was Microsoft's Windows Vista 64 bit including Service Pack 1. For our synthetic benchmark scores we used SiSoft Sandra 2009 software suite and ran the Removable Storage benchmark to gauge performance across different file sizes copying to and from the drive.
As expected, the eSATA interface outperformed both USB interface competitors, Kanguru's own e-Flash and the Kingston Datatraveler 150 32GB, with a maximum read speed of 69.75 MegaBytes per second (MB/s) for 256kB file sizes and maximum write speed of 21.33 MB/s for 64MB file sizes. eSATA performance really does seem to rule the interface war with strong read speeds ranging close to 70MB/s across the majority of file sizes. The only abnormal results seem to be the write speeds which don't come remotely close to the true eSATA interface potential but this could be attributed to controller optimizations made to accommodate better read scores since most users would use their drives in scenarios that feature reading rather than writing.
For USB the e-Flash outperforms the Kingston Datatraveler 150 in write speeds for all file sizes except the larger 256MB files reaching a maximum write speed of 17.07MB/s on 64MB files while read performance reaches a maximum of 29.87MB/s for 256MB sized files. While the USB interface will under-perform the eSATA interface, it is strange that USB write speeds never reach their equivilant eSATA maximum since we know the USB interface can handle the additional bandwidth up to 35-40MB/s.
As with the majority of flash drives on today's market, performance drops significantly on smaller 512 byte file sizes, the same also holds true for the e-Flash on the USB interface while eSATA still managed to at least keep a 6.45MB/s read speed. So for those of you with many 512 byte files needing archiving, this is the drive for you.
To estimate real-world performance we utilized Microsoft's Robocopy tool to copy a 640MB ISO image file to and from the e-Flash in both USB and eSATA interface modes. Compared to the SiSoft Sandra scores, the results show that the flash operates at maximum speed regardless of interface method chosen and USB reaches approximately 28.5MB/s for both read and write. Results for eSATA interface show a slightly higher score on write speeds at 28.8MB/s while read speeds top out at 61.1MB/s, only 7MB/s shy of the SiSoft Sandra scores for 256MB file sizes.
Finally testing was also conducted for support of Microsoft's ReadyBoost. ReadyBoost's minimum requirements state that the flash drive must support 2.5MB/sec for 4K random access reads and 1.5MB/sec for 512K random writes, unfortunately the Kanguru e-Flash drive does not support this Microsoft OS enhancement via USB interface and there is no support for ReadyBoost under the eSATA interface in Windows.
Fast performance over USB and eSATA
Power over eSATA extension cable and PCI expansion bracket included
HotSwap! application included
No USB extension cable
Only 3 year warranty
Requires power over eSATA port
The Kanguru e-Flash dual-interfaced flash drive is an interesting product with interesting possibilities in the hands of a capable computer user. The options of using this drive as a portable Operating System are definitely appealing. For those users who would never dare set up a portable OS on a flash drive, the e-Flash delivers performance, great build quality and two amazing interfaces that will future-proof the device for years to come. For the future we hope Kanguru reviews and improves the general mechanical design of the drive as there are definitely improvements pending, for the rest of the drive we don't believe there is much that needs to change in Kanguru's recipe for removable storage media for us to recommend it except a healthy extension on their meager 3 year warranty period.