We put five mini USB 3.0 drives from Kingston, Lexar, Samsung, Sandisk and Transcend to test. These compact drives by design can always stay plugged as a semi-permanent storage, yet fast enough for everyday tasks.
July 2016 Ian Chiu
Lexar JumpDrive S45’s and SanDisk Ultra Fit’s speed, low-profile and price range come out on top in comparison to other tested mini USB 3.0 drives. At around 25 cents cost per gigabyte (64GB, January 2017), both the Lexar and Sandisk are least expensive mini drives available. Combine that with compact form factor and speed, they make two speedy plug-it-and-forget-it mini USB drives.
DT Micro 3.1
|Strength:||Durability||Speed, size, price||Speed, size, price||Speed, size, price||Durability|
|Storage:||16 - 128GB||16 - 128GB||32 - 128GB||16 - 128GB||16 - 64GB|
|Interface(s):||USB 3.1 Gen 1||USB 3.1 Gen 1||USB 3.1 Gen 1||USB 3.1 Gen 1||USB 3.1 Gen 1|
|Dimensions:||25 x 12 x 4.5mm||18 x 16 x 8mm||19.7 x 15.4 x 8.7mm||19 x 17 x 8.8mm||22.4 × 12 × 6mm|
|Build Material:||Aluminium unibody||Plastic grip, aluminum body||Plastic grip, aluminum body||Plastic grip, aluminum body||Aluminum unibody|
|Color(s):||Silver||Orange (16GB), blue (32GB), teal (64GB), black (128GB)||White||Black||Gold, silver|
|July 2015||Feb 2016||Feb 2016||August 2014||Dec 2014|
|Warranty:||5 years||3 years||5 years||5 years||Lifetime|
During our large file (a 10GB MKV) transfer tests, the Lexar JumpDrive S45 Fit managed to maintain an average speed of 144.67MB/s and 39.04MB/s during read and write tests respectively. It bested the competition in all read tests, and was neck and neck with the Samsung in write performance. Neither drive, however, was able to reach their advertised speed (read). In the case of Lexar, it is 150MB/s whereas Samsung is 130MB/s.
Sandisk has updated their Ultra Fit in 2016 that boosts read rate to 150MB/s, but ours is still from last year. In spite of that, the mini drive held out quite well. Transcend never revealed its drive’s performance, so your mileage may vary.
In another test which involved copying back and forth 4.7GB JPEGs (most being between 4 and 8MB), Lexar was still the leader in this round of benchmark. Samsung and Sandisk were not far behind. Neither write nor read speed was even close to its their larger siblings, but surely you know you are trading speed for size.
Note these two tests focused primiarly on sequential performance, because we felt most people would rely on a mini drive primarily as intermediary or secondary storage for media data. These mini drives, being without a decent flash controller, are inherently incapable of handling applications that require fast random access. For this reason, we didn’t bother with further testing.
The tested low-profile USB 3.0 drives are all similarly small. As soon as they are put next to each other, Lexar JumpDrive S45’s diminutive size compares favorably to others. Sandisk and Samsung in comparison are wider and longer only by a fraction. In the case of Transcend and Kingston, the increase in the drives’ length can be attributed to a large keyring loop hole.
When plugged, the smallest drives – Lexar and Sandisk – only protrude just 5mm and 7mm respectively from the edge of a laptop. Yet their minimalist designs are still able to accommodate a drive activity light. There’s one caveat: Lexar’s LED is overly bright. This might be a problem during media playback when you (and even the person sitting next to you) could be potentially distracted by the blue strobe light.
In terms of durability, Kingston and Transcend both share a rigid aluminium unibody, which is likely to survive if it’s being stepped on. Others are just made by plastic with aluminium chassis housing the flash memory components.
Overheating doesn’t seem to be much of an issue on our MacBook Pro Retina as far as we can tell. The Transcend did get a little bit warm after our endurance tests but that’s simply because the drive’s aluminium conducts heat faster than most other materials commonly used on flash drives.
These prices were taken from Amazon directly, and are up-to-date as of January 2017. And judging from current prices, there’s no reason not to pick a 128GB.
|Kingston DT Micro 3.1||Lexar JumpDrive S45||Samsung FIT 3.0||Sandisk Ultra Fit||Transcend JetFlash 710|
|16GB||62.7 cents||49.7 cents||n/a||50.1 cents||62.4 cents|
|32GB||38.3 cents||34.3 cents||34.3 cents||33.5 cents||49.9 cents|
|64GB||34.3 cents||23.8 cents||28.1 cents||26.3 cents||46.9 cents|
|128GB||40.9 cents||22.6 cents||21.8 cents||21.8 cents||n/a|
Buyers who want a drive that only protrudes as little as possible from a USB port should consider one. Thumb drives in general stick out quite conspicuously so they could easily get bent when being bumped repeatedly. This could easily result in data loss and maybe even worse, a broken USB port. Compact drives by design can always stay inserted to a USB-enabled car stereo or to a notebook as a semi-permanent storage for media. They can free up precious space on the laptop’s speedy SSD for mission critical tasks. For this reason, a tiny drive can actually prove to be quite practical to some of us who might need an effortless storage expansion option.