Quick Review: Comsol 8Gb USB 2.0 Flash Stick (UF4-8000)

USB flash drives are one of the most ubiquitous storage devices, this one was anonymously donated to me for some testing. It’s not a particularly special looking drive, but it is one that’s available on the market today – it was worth a quick test anyway.

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The Comsol branding may not be familiar to all, but it appears to be an import brand that’s almost exclusively sold through the Officeworks chain of stores. In fact, this product retails at AU$13.87 which is not a particularly cheap price (given the leading price is about AU$3.79, although that’s probably a loss-leader).

It comes packed in an awful, almost universally-hated, wrap-rage inducing heat-sealed clamshell pack that cannot be opened without a good pair of scissors and a good amount of care (lest you manage to cut yourself on it). Inside, the product appears to be a very basic, aluminium bodied drive with clear plastic ends. The colour cardboard features very simplistic design and advertises password protection and a lanyard and keychain strap.

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The rear of the packages doesn’t make any great claims either. There’s no mention of speeds, or warranty period for example. Referring to the Officeworks product page, they claim a maximum read speed of 20Mb/s, a maximum write speed of 8Mb/s and a five-year warranty. While that’s not something someone is likely to claim on, it’s nice to know that there is a warranty even if it’s not claimed on or inside of the packaging, which seems to be contrary to Australian consumer law.

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The drive itself is fairly slender, featuring a thin aluminium shell design which is unlikely to obstruct adjacent ports. The lanyard is also quite thin, and slightly stretchy, clearly branded with the Comsol branding.

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The drive itself is branded on the front, with no markings on the rear. Already, build quality seems to be somewhat suspect, with the front cap not aligning square with the unit, implying the USB connector may be somewhat crooked.

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The cap itself detaches from the front very easily and is easily lost. There is no method of cap retention provided – there is no hole to thread a lanyard through, for example, or a storage area at the rear. The drive does use a proper USB connector, which is nice, although it has no markings or etchings which more quality drives tend to have.

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The rear of the stick has a provision for threading the lanyard through, but it is a plastic end. Also of note is that the plastic end has a hole where the internal PCB is exposed and things could “fall in” to the drive (e.g. dust, water). This design is not the most robust, although the aluminium may be better than plastic.

istar

The drive itself contains pre-loaded content. The istar.exe file contains the applications required to perform the secure-drive, PC-lock etc. features, with a PDF manual accompanying it. It was discovered to be a self-extracting RAR file:

istar-rar-archiverun-script

The file itself also has a self-extracting script which will remove any old versions of iStar and then extract itself to %USERPROFILE%\iStar and run star.exe. This behaviour is quite annoying as it serves to leave traces of software lying about on the host machine which is especially unwelcome if you’re using someone else’s machine!

archive-content

Manually extracting the archive reveals the four files provided inside. A scan with VirusTotal revealed all files to be safe, although with some false positive detections. Despite this, I did not execute or utilize any of these additional features.

alcor-controller A check with the Device Manager shows that this drive is likely utilizing an Alcor Micro controller, possibly the AU6387.

Performance Testing

HDTune Pro

It was discovered that this drive has a blank name of all spaces, which is rather unusual and suggests a very generic manufacturer who didn’t bother programming the vendor string into AlcorMP. In the clean state, the drive performs as follows:

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Hardly an impressive start, it averages 18.3Mb/s, where other keys are usually pushing 20+Mb/s. In the dirty (all filled) state, it shows its true colours:

DIRTY-19-February-2015_08-04

What “maximum 20Mb/s”? We didn’t attain 20Mb/s fresh out of the pack and un-written, and after actual data has been loaded, it averaged just 13.3Mb/s. It’s “one of those” drives.

CrystalDiskMark

CDM-Result

Needless to say, CrystalDiskMark confirmed the finding with a 13.79Mb/s sequential read speed. The write speed is also nothing close to the 8Mb/s “maximum”, managing only 3.27Mb/s. This is worse than most Class 4 microSD cards! Yikes. This drive also sets a very very low bar for 4k writes, with just 3kB/s … a dial-up connection goes faster than that. Even high speed non-optimized SD cards often manage 20kB/s which is considered poor.

Definitely not a great performance by any measure, especially when compared to other value offerings like the Sandisk Cruzer U.

H2testw

h2tw-comsol

Pushing the drive through H2testw shows an even worse picture, with the whole-drive-write averaging a very slow 1.90MB/s. This is so slow that even some home internet connections (16Mbit/s+) can download faster than the drive can write. Some cameras even capture HD at higher bitrates than that. The read speed is similar as above. At least the drive did complete the test without causing any corruption of the payload data.

Sadly, its slowness is what made testing this drive less enjoyable than it otherwise could have been – it took over an hour to fill the flash disk alone.

Conclusion

It seems as if this is a very run-of-the-mill cheap generic drive, packaged and dressed up as something slightly classier, with a price tag that’s a little higher than the bottom end. However, when it comes to performance, even cheap 1Gb flash drives from the bottom end from five to ten years ago can manage the same level of performance. Even relatively inexpensive microSD cards, and other value flash drives can outpace this unit. At least it doesn’t over-specify its capacity, and it doesn’t corrupt its payload.

As far as it goes for cost, it doesn’t seem particularly good value for money at the price Officeworks is selling them for, and buying any other branded USB drive is likely to yield performance that is no worse than this. The advertised “maximum” values are as useful as saying the drive has a maximum read speed of “1000Gb/s”! While technically not a lie, it is misleading.

This is not a drive I would recommend purchasing based on its build quality and performance.

About lui_gough

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8 Responses to Quick Review: Comsol 8Gb USB 2.0 Flash Stick (UF4-8000)

  1. Pingback: Teardown, Optimization: Comsol 8Gb USB Flash Stick (AU6989SN-GT & SDTNRCAMA-008G) | Gough's Tech Zone

  2. Rena says:

    Hi;

    Is there anyway to uninstall all of the preloaded content? Would rather just have a blank stick.

    Thanks,
    Rena

    • lui_gough says:

      As long as you have not used the software to create hidden or locked areas, ot is as simple as deleting the files or formatting the key. If you do so, you will not be able to recover the functionality provided by iStar, so it may be a good idea to back up the files to another media before removing them.

      • Rena says:

        There’s an icon of what appears to be the ‘controls’ & User Manual. I can ‘right click’ & delete these? I don’t know where to even begin to ‘format the key’

        • lui_gough says:

          You can delete them (yes, by right-click, delete) if you do not wish to use the additional features (i.e. hidden secure storage, computer unlock by USB key).

          – Gough

          • Rena says:

            Please forgive my ignorance, but again, I don’t know where to even begin to ‘format the key’. For instance, what’s a USB ‘key’ & how do I access the formatting?

            Thank you for your help!

          • lui_gough says:

            For such a basic question, with all the help of the internet, you could just Google it. People have things to do with their lives too! In future, I will not be answering these sorts of questions.

            But for future reference – the USB flash drive you have is often referred to as a USB stick, USB key, USB drive, USB thumb drive, UFD, USB … etc. To format means to initialize, in essence, to clear and re-create all the file system structures on a storage device, and thus lose all the data that was already stored upon it. You can do so by right-clicking the drive itself and choosing Format, and accepting the defaults. This will wipe all the data, including the pre-loaded software, from the device.

            – Gough

          • Rena says:

            Thank you. Just so you know though, I did Google it, but the search didn’t show the term ‘USB key’ and I have learned never to assume anything. I did find a YouTube video explaining what you’ve just said, but again, when it said, in this case to ‘restore the defaults’, I thought it meant it would just put it back to the way it was when purchased. I’m sorry you feel your time was wasted. Your explanation has brought me great relief & I hope you don’t give up on those who truly try.

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