Price (RRP): $154.95
It may seem weird to be reviewing a thumb drive. After all, you can buy sacks of them at your local stationery megastore. Aren’t they about as exciting as packets of envelopes?
Sure, if you want a bunch of them for distributing a few documents and images to friends or business colleagues on the occasional basis. But what if you have big files or lots of them which need to make their way somewhere else physically. Even with the NBN, moving many gigabytes of files around over the Internet can be problematic. For the great majority of us without the NBN, forget about it.
But what prompted me to ask Lexar for a thumb drive to review was speed. Specifically, my disappointment with the speed of so-called USB 3.0 thumb drives. Lexar helped out with a memory stick that is kind of a Rolls Royce. Or perhaps Ferrari might be better, given what we’re about to discover with it. That is, the Lexar P20 USB 3.0 128GB JumpDrive (Lexar’s name for a memory stick/thumb drive).
USB 3.0 is supposed to be fast. It was December 2013 when I decided to buy a USB 3.0 thumb drive, thinking it would be cool to back up some files quickly instead of at the usual crawl. I by then had a computer with USB 3.0 support.
Remember, USB 2.0 has a top speed of 480Mbps (60MB/s). USB 3.0 bumps that up to 5Gbps (625MB/s), a more than ten fold increase.
I hadn’t done the arithmetic, though, to see that almost all USB 2.0 thumb drives ran quite a bit slower than 60MB/s, let alone 625MB/s. I bought an 8GB brand name USB thumb drive, plugged it into the USB 3.0 socket and copied some files to it. And it was slow. Just 5 or 6MB/s, or a tenth of what USB 2.0 ought to support!
Other USB 3.0 drives I’ve tried since then have been of varying speeds, but none have been really impressive. You see, interface specification is one thing, but once the data is through the interface it has to be written to memory, and wildly varying qualities and speeds of memory are used in thumb drives. Flash storage tends to be rather slower on writing than reading, so typically these USB 3.0 drives were less disappointing when data was going in the other direction.
Now the Lexar P20 thumb drive packaging – quite handsome packaging as befits a $150 device – has figures printed on it of a kind which generally aren’t printed on thumb drive packaging. Those are write speed and read speed. Remember, unlike memory cards for cameras and such, there are no standards for labelling thumb drive speed (apart from the usual prohibitions of false advertising).
The packaging claims for the P20 JumpDrive: 400MB/s read, and 270MB/s write. Well, “Up to” it says. You’d have to say if it went anywhere close to those claims, particularly on writing, that would be pretty amazing.
The P20 is fairly large as USB drives go, measuring 64mm long with the plug retracted, 23mm wide and 11mm tall. Much of the body is metal. The slider for the retractable plug is fairly stiff, and consequently very secure.
The Lexar P20 USB 3.0 128GB JumpDrive comes pre-formatted in FAT32, so it’s widely compatible with computers and portable devices. Macs, Windows computers and both Android and iOS devices can read FAT32 natively. In addition it comes with EncryptStick Lite software which, as the name suggests, can encrypt the JumpDrive to stop anyone from accessing its contents. There’s also backup software. Both work with both Windows and Mac. I didn’t test them since few people are competent to test the quality of encryption software, and I’m not one of them. If I had state secrets that needed to go on a memory stick, I’d look for professional advice.
How do you test a USB memory stick? Basically, copy a pile of stuff to it and see how long it takes. Eject it. Reinsert it and the copy all the stuff back again and, well, see how long it takes.