What is the difference between an expensive flash drive and a cheap one?

A small plastic box is an indispensable tool when you need to transfer data from one digital device to another. It can store information for a long time in high resolution, and the metal contacts and the controller inside allow you to transfer files at speeds up to 100 MB/s.

But is it worth it to overpay when buying an external drive? Or can you buy a relatively inexpensive device that does its job perfectly? We will talk more about this in the material of today’s article.

What is a flash drive?

The Flash memory card plays the role of a compact storage medium. According to its purpose, it replaced disks and floppy disks that were popular in the late 00s. The flash drive has a USB connector and supports the data overwrite function. Due to this, it is suitable for data storage and acts as a place to host backups.

Flash drives take up little space and are fast. In addition, they are not equipped with moving parts (similar to SSD). Memory cards are supported by almost all operating systems and are compatible with game consoles, players, and various computer models.

Flashcards of different price segments differ from each other in some respects. Let’s consider them further.

Read and write speed

USB 3.0 is required for high read speeds. As a rule, more expensive models have this interface. Budget drives are equipped with USB 2 versions. Therefore, even with relatively fast memory, inexpensive flash drives will simply “hang” into the interface and give a read speed of no more than 40 MB/s. It should be said that most budget Flash cards do not even reach this value and are limited to 20 MB/s.

Drives with USB 3 versions of the simplest version read data at a speed of at least 50 MB/s. Accordingly, the more productive the model, the higher this number. This indicator should be taken into account if you often have to copy data from the device.

Another defining parameter of a flash drive is its write speed. That is, how quickly information is written to a USB flash drive. The more expensive models undoubtedly win here.

To date, there are a lot of budget Flash cards, the writing speed of which does not exceed 10 MB / s. More expensive flash drives provide recording from 2 to 10 times faster. In practice, this can be seen more clearly when information is written to a cheap drive for about 15 minutes, and the top model copes with the task in just a minute.

Interface and connection options

The interface for connecting Flash memory cards is the aforementioned USB, which has versions 2.0, 3.0, 3.1 Gen 1 and 3.2 Gen 1. But the “more is better” principle is not always applicable here. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • USB 3.2 Gen 1 and USB 3.1 Gen 1 are simply new names for the familiar USB 3.0. The transfer rate of the interface is similar and equal to 5 Gbps. In fact, it is approximately 500 MB / sec. This is enough for almost all Flash drives since the memory used in them approaches this speed only in the highest price segment.
  • The previously released USB 2.0 differs from the 3 versions in lower speed (about 480 Mbps in real use). But one interface does not solve everything. Therefore, it is impossible to say with confidence that all Flash cards of the 2.0 standard are slow, and from version 3.0 they are fast. In practice, there are models with a multi-valued “USB 3 ready” sticker, information on which is copied more slowly than on a USB flash drive with a regular USB 2.0. But due to the faster connection interface and higher reading speed, the former may be more expensive than the latter.

The cost of a Flash drive also depends on additional connection options. For example, a second micro USB or USB Type-C slot for connecting to smartphones, modern computers and laptops. Sometimes new devices can only be with Type-C, without the standard Type-A. These models cannot be called universal, but the user will have to pay an increased price for using the newfangled connector.

Memory and overwrite a resource

In conventional flash drives, these parameters are never indicated in the characteristics. You can meet them only occasionally in more expensive Flash-cards.

According to the principle of operation of SSD, modern drives can have three types of memory:

  • MLC;
  • TLC;
  • QLC.

The most popular solution is TLC memory with a cell of 3 bits. This type shows a good writing speed and is distinguished by an average rewriting resource of up to 3 thousand maximum.

Top models of drives are equipped with the MLC standard with a cell of 2 bits. This value provides a faster write speed. The rewriting resource here is also much higher – up to 10 thousand (and sometimes more). But such devices are very expensive, despite the fact that large volumes are rare for them.

Modern Flashcards of the middle price segment are gradually moving to QLC memory with a 4-bit cell. Such models provide quite normal read speeds, but their write speeds are usually below the minimum 10 MB / s. And the resource of QLC memory is generally the lowest and basically does not even reach 1 thousand overwrites.

Note that in addition to different types of memory, the very quality of the NAND used varies relative to the cost of a Flash drive: modern TLC inexpensive models can be “hardier” than TLC in a budget device. Therefore, the rule of the price-performance ratio of a Flash card works here: “the higher, the better”.

A few words at the end

As you can see from the article, expensive flash drives are still better than budget ones. Therefore, overpaying for more functional devices is fully justified. This determines the number of the above parameters.

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