The other day, when collecting a parcel from the post office, I came across a $10 or less “bargain bin” clearance. Within the bin, I managed to grab a Logitech K400r for $10, a Logitech m353 for $5 and this Emtec Click 3.0 32Gb USB 3.0 flash drive for $10. It was probably the least exciting buy from the bunch, but I suppose I should give it a test.
Emtec is a branding which emerged out of the parent company of BASF, a German company famous for their high quality magnetic tape formulations. The branding, along with the logo, was synonymous as a byword for quality, but has very much faded away much like Kodak, as the one relevant magnetic media fades into obscurity.
The drive itself is packaged in a plastic “bubble” sealed between two glossy colour printed cards, and nothing about it “shouts” premium-ness, so it’s probably a value oriented drive.
Inside, all you get is the drive, with no fancy manuals, lanyards or anything. The drive itself doesn’t really have any clear branding on it.
Approvals are printed on the rear, and the drive can’t be taken apart easily from what I can tell. A hole is provided for a lanyard, or to thread the drive through a keyring.
The drive features a “click” mechanism whereby the light grey portion slides through the black portion and “clicks” into place to push out the USB connector. Sliding it further in releases the latch and springs the drive back to the “closed” configuration as is shown above. The connector itself is laser etched with the brand, which suggests this is a low-cost OEM product from Taiwan.
Plugging the drive in reveals a very “generic” configuration, with the vendor name shown above. The firmware version is PMAP, indicating a Phison controller.
The drive comes pre-loaded with icon files, but no software. This is just so the drive has the Emtec logo when plugged in – a waste of space really.
Removing the files leaves you about 31.6 “weasel” GB of storage in the provided format.
Knowing the drive is a Phison product, I decided to use Phison’s GetInfo to find out more about it. It seems to have been made with a Micron/Intel Triple Level Cell part, which implies “low cost” and limited performance, retention and reliability. However, TLC products seem to be more and more popular as users are cost sensitive.
Performance Testing (NEC/Renesas Chipset)
The standard test platform is my relatively dated Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7 running an AMD Phenom II x6 1090T BE @ 3.90Ghz, running Windows 7 Ultimate running the latest updates. This system has two USB 3.0 ports, of which only one is used for testing with the other disconnected. These ports are hosted from an NEC chipset, however, this kind of configuration is relatively less common since Intel machines now dominate and USB 3.0 is now very much chipset-integrated.
With the drive completely blank, as supplied, the drive pretends to be extremely fast, being able to push an average of 168.9MB/s. This seems to be a pretty common result from newer drives …
.. but once actually loaded up with randomized data, the true performance is revealed which is substantially less than this.
On the NEC chipset, it could only manage an average of 10.1MB/s, which is much less than even some USB 2.0 keys. This is not due to incorrect connection mode, as it was just capable of >150MB/s above.
While running CDM, it was noticed that the results seemed to vary significantly from run to run, so it was run three times. The read speed, initially very high, very quickly fell to much more realistic levels, although the write speed was never really anything special. Some USB 2.0 keys can do even better.
The drive was able to complete H2testw with no errors, but the write speed shows a much more “true” to the drive rate of 7.61MB/s write and 17.2MB/s read across the whole surface.
Performance Testing (Intel Chipset)
After having noted a prior Phison-based product (Corsair LS) showed inconsistent performance across chipsets, and the fact that most users will be using an Intel chipset, I decided to try and obtain the best performance by using my Lenovo E431 running Windows 8.1 (and thus supporting UASP).
Reading the written drive from the NEC chipset shows the throughput to be significantly higher, although not much better than the best USB 2.0 drives. The throughput shows significant undulations, which seems to show that the TLC flash is very much wear sensitive.
Curiously, a full rewrite with the Intel chipset seemed to improve reading consistency on the majority of the drive, except the beginning. This may explain the slow detection and enumeration of file system initially when the drive is plugged in. Unfortunately, the average rate is still relatively low, despite the high peaks.
CDM shows much higher read rates, although writes are still relatively slow in the whole scheme of things. This is a similar trend with the Corsair LS, which implies that the Phison chipset doesn’t play well with NEC based controllers, which is surprising as NEC controllers typically have a better compatibility track record as compared with their competitors (e.g. VLI, Fresco Logic, Asmedia).
The drive did provide better values with H2testw as compared with the NEC chipset, although the write speed is very much USB 2.0 drive territory (due to the use of a single channel of TLC flash), but the read rate is much improved.
While the Emtec brand used to be a byword for quality, this product doesn’t seem to be outstanding in any way. It is a low-cost, low-end, generic flash drive based on a Phison controller and a single channel of Intel/Micron TLC flash. The Phison controller seems to have compatibility issues with NEC chipsets, exhibiting slower read rates than even USB 2.0 drives often put out. Using Intel chipsets, it still exhibited relatively slow writes of 10MB/s or thereabouts, but with much speedier readback (75MB/s or so).
The use of TLC flash seems increasingly common in low cost flash drives, however, this does bode poorly for their longevity, data retention and performance. While this drive may have been relatively cheap, it definitely performs like a cheap drive. After all, it’s nothing special.