December 25, 2008, 6:45 PM — Last month, Kanguru Solutions announced the first USB flash drive that also offers External Serial ATA (eSATA) connectivity. This month, OCZ Technology Inc. also announced an eSATA-enabled flash drive with up to 32GB capacity, as did Advanced Media Inc.'s Ridata-brand.
So it seems this is a trend. The question is, why? Kanguru's answer is that you can have blazing fast data transfer on your home system, then pocket the device and plug it in anywhere using the USB port. Kanguru's eFlash drive, with its eSATA 3Gbit/sec. throughput, potentially offers five to six times the speed of USB 2.0, which is 480Mbit/sec. The key word here is, potentially.
By using eSATA's 3Gbit/sec. throughput, Kanguru said the drive potentially boosts throughput by five times from 480Mbit/sec.
Dave Bresnick, senior product manager of the Kanguru e-Flash drive, said the drive would realistically offer read speeds of 75MB/sec. compared to USB 2.0's 30MB/sec. and write speeds of 25MB/sec., up from USB's 20MB/sec. He wasn't kidding.
I tested the Kanguru drive using Simpli Software's HD Tach 3.0 and by transferring 4GB of data from my hard drive. Because my ThinkPad laptop doesn't have a native eSATA port, as all but the latest computers today do not, I was forced to use a 34mm ExpressCard adapter.
Kanguru's e-Flash drive comes in a 16GB version for US$84.95, with the 32GB model selling for $119.95; I tested the 32GB version. It's really not very expensive considering the capacity. The company expects to release a 64GB model in the next three months.
Kanguru's eSATA flash drive is a nice shape and size, about the same dimensions as a pack of gum, but only half as thick. It also has a sleek black finish. One cool feature is that when transferring data to or from the drive, the eSATA connector emits a red band of light and the USB side glows blue.
The one thing that immediately turned me off about the drive was the end caps covering the eSATA and USB connectors. I found them flimsy, and the eSATA cap has a lanyard protruding through it, which I guess keeps you from losing one of the caps, but also makes it somewhat awkward when trying to plug it into the laptop. Kanguru, however, assured me that they are correcting that "design flaw" and will be removing the lanyard from the cap and body and reinforcing the cap as well.
My first test of the drive involved transferring a big, ugly 4GB folder consisting of 1,653 files with 85 JPEG photos and a dozen short videos. The data transfer using the eSATA port took 10 minutes, 4 seconds; using the USB port, it took exactly 15 minutes.
The HD Tach tests with eSATA connectivity showed blazing fast speeds. The drive's average read speed was 70.9MB/sec. It had a sequential read speed of 62MB/sec. to 78MB/sec., a burst speed of 80.3MB/sec. and random access time of about .4 milliseconds. CPU utilization was extraordinary, with a low 2% usage. Turning the thumb drive around, I tested it again using the USB connector, and the drive provided an outstanding average read speed of 29MB/sec., a sequential read speed of 30MB/sec., a burst speed of 32MB/sec. and a random access time of .7 seconds. This drive rocked the throughput tests.
By comparison, the fastest USB flash drive we've ever tested at Computerworld was the IronKey Secure, which had an average read speed of 29.6MB/sec., a burst speed of 31MB/sec. and a 22% CPU utilization rate. But a basic IronKey flash drive with 8GB capacity will set you back $299. Sure, you're paying for iron-clad encryption technology, but if you're not working for the NSA or MI6, just download a free copy of PGPDisk encryption software and secure your data that way. You will need to have PGP's Desktop product installed on your computer.
I was wholly impressed with the Kanguru's eFlash drive. It is very affordable and, if you're in a hurry, will provide you the fastest data transfer speeds you'll experience with a thumb drive, along with ease of use and, most importantly, portability.
The only question left to ask is what affect will the upcoming USB 3.0 specification have on new eSATA-enabled products? The USB 3.0 specification, which became available to developers last month, calls for 10 times the current throughput of USB 2.0, along with backward compatibility. The first USB 3.0 compatable products are expected out in early 2010. The question then is, are you willing to wait or do you want the added speed now?