Review, Teardown: Sandisk Cruzer Facet 8Gb USB 2.0 Flash Drive

Readers familiar with my penchant for exotic storage would probably stare at me in confusion as to why I would be reviewing such a plain product such as this one?

Interestingly enough, as with most things that I do, there is a good reason. The Sandisk Cruzer Facet 8Gb is probably the cheapest branded USB memory stick sold at retail in my memory. Officeworks are selling them for AU$2.73 each as part of their back to school promotions with a limit of 25 per customer. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them as cheap on a per-unit basis (although cheaper per Gb might be possible). I’m not sure if they’re even making any money on them at that price – it could well be a loss-leader. This seemed like it would make an ideal “give-away” key that you lend to your friends and never expect back.

I couldn’t help myself but to grab a few and try it out. After all, Sandisk products are generally dependable and the brand is generally associated with quality, so it’s not like I’m going out on a limb.

The Product

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As with most Sandisk products, the item is sold in a hanger card format. This one has the USB 2.0/3.0 compatible branding, which is their sneaky way of saying USB 2.0 in other words which might confuse the less informed. The unit claims to have secure access software, and a 5-year warranty. As expected from a drive of this price, it is Made in China and comes with no accessories – no cap, no lanyard, nothing. That’s all fine by me though!

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Tearing open the package yielded a mild surprise. Instead of having the warranty terms as a loose leaflet in the package, it is adhered to the back card along with the electronic anti-steal stickers.

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The drive itself comes in a little plastic blister carrier. Nothing out of the ordinary.

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At first glance, the drive appears to have a proper metal USB connector, and has a traditional form factor. The rear is covered by a translucent black plastic with a multi-faceted geometric design.

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Looking at the underside of the drive shows that the USB connector is not a discrete connector, and instead, the main body of the drive is comprised of the metal. This metallic shell is not as thick or strong as you might expect, and feels a little light. With mild force from a screwdriver, it can be bent.

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The side profile clearly shows how the drive is constructed.

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Looking at the end of the connector seems to show the internal contacts are flat, and not ridged, indicating this isn’t quite a regular USB connector.

Teardown

Seeing the low price, I couldn’t resist tearing it down, although such actions were ultimately destructive to the casing. Through some persistent prying and bending of the metal, the top was removed.

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This reveals that the majority of the length of the drive is needless padding – just plastic and air. The drive itself is only the front black portion. Due to the way it is constructed, the drive is only made of a few parts and omits any activity LED indication although it seems that the module may have had a provision for it.

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The all-in-one package with the controller and NAND bundled is a fairly popular way to implement thin and compact low-cost USB keys. However, generally the performance of these designs suffer from TLC flash, slow integrated controllers with limited channels, and sometimes even reliability issues. On the other hand, they are completely waterproof, so putting it through the wash is no drama, and avoids any issues which might arise from poor solder joints or broken PCBs as there aren’t any.

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The flat profile connector may lead to slightly less reliable contact. The only external components appear to be possibly a fuse/PTC protection and an MLCC capacitor. The other pads are likely for a resistor and LED possibly to allow for activity indication.

detected-IDfacet-USB-IDWhen plugged in, it was detected as above, with ID’s as shown in the left.

The drive was pre-formatted and came pre-loaded with the secure access software which was not tested.

The available capacity was just shy of 8 billion bytes.

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As usual, the drive was run through a battery of tests to establish its performance.

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Read performance was very good for a USB 2.0 device, reaching the bus-limitations quite easily.

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Write performance was extremely limited, with an initial burst and then slow performance thereafter. This may be indicative of a very small memory buffer or SLC buffer, but overall, the write speed hovered around 3Mb/s meaning very slow writes.

CrystalDiskMark

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CrystalDiskMark reports very similar performance scores. On the whole, it shows negligible change for medium block accesses and a slowing down for 4k accesses, but the 4k access figure is relatively decent compared to that of fast SD/microSD cards and faster USB keys which tend to choke on such accesses. As a result, maybe the device will be comparable in performance to a faster key when moving many minute files.

ATTO

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ATTO shows the read IO performance reaches the maximum at 64kB accesses, whereas writes peak at 32kB and then come down again.

H2testW

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The USB flash drive passed the H2testW test without any errors or corruptions indicating it has genuine capacity. The speed was ever-so-disappointing, taking 33 minutes and 11 seconds to fill the drive.

Conclusion

The drive may be cheap and of a branded reputation, but if you purchase it, be prepared to put up with some rather slow and archaic write speeds. Generally, write speeds were around 3-4Mb/s, easily outpaced by any half-serious USB 2.0 multi-channel stick. However, its small block performance was more consistent, resulting in speeds which will challenge the faster keys on very small block accesses.

The read speed was a very satisfying 30Mb/s+, indicating the memory to controller bandwidth and the controller itself is easily capable of high speeds. The low-write speeds may be due to the use of TLC memory which requires very careful iterative programming, poor firmware or even artificial limitation to differentiate this from their other products.

As a result, it seems to be good for use where you might write infrequently, but read often, say for an OS installation device. However, how well it retains data over time is yet to be proven, and if it is indeed planar TLC, I do have my reservations. It’s still cheap and functional though, and at that price, it’s essentially a throwaway.

About lui_gough

I’m a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!

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4 Responses to Review, Teardown: Sandisk Cruzer Facet 8Gb USB 2.0 Flash Drive

  1. matson says:

    UDP Sticks have certainly increased in popularity. Six years ago, they were found only in more costly premium/fancy/ultra-tiny designs, but now UDP is found even in ultra-cheap ‘plastic surrounding air’ designs, such as this SDCZ55. A nice thing about these COB-UDP-type Sticks is, if the body gets broken, or is just plain ugly, the chip can usually be transplanted to a nicer Stick’s body, or modded in to some salvaged A plug assembly.

    A downside is when glue fails and friction fit is insufficient, the chip falls out and is lost. The flat profile connector does lead to slightly less reliable contact. While not common, it is indeed real that, a UDP Stick does not work in a receptacle (where every normal plug does work). It might work after some wiggling, or resort to a short extension cable.

    My idea of ‘very satisfying USB BOT MSC performance’ is 44 Mo/s. I find 30 Mo/s satisfying for ten years old devices, barely satisfying for 2009, and not satisfying if made since 2011.

    • lui_gough says:

      Definitely agree with you there, but more is always better now that we have USB 3.0 and 3.1, it would be nice to see both faster devices as well as ones which balance large and small block access speeds, as often faster USB keys have good sequential readings, but faulter on 4k accesses. Nowadays, the only way for me to be satisfied is with a UASP enclosure with an SSD in it ;). Performance is especially critical if you like to boot a full Linux installation from the USB key and use it as a primary storage device.

      However, that being said, cheaper disposable storage has a market – so it’s good to test it out, and let everyone know what they get if they choose to opt for the lowest cost options. Too bad that even most SD cards retailing nowadays with Class 10 ratings well surpass even these low end products. The other thing I find is that UDP USB keys tend to feel hotter as well, maybe because they compact all the ICs in a small space, and the heat can have negative effects on reliability as well.

      Thanks again for your insightful comments – I wasn’t aware of the UDP acronym meaning USB Disk in Package as opposed to Chip on Board construction.

      – Gough

  2. matson says:

    One minute after I posted, the thought struck me, you likely meant ‘very satisfying’ with limited scope. I mentioned my expected throughput of an everyday workhorse: all-purpose, lean mean storage machine, like the 2HD floppies in elementary or middle school. I agree: at cheap enough to give-away, the performance is very satisfactory.

    I had one/two model UDP Sticks get hot while plugged-in (even idle, I expect it contains linear-class regulator), though most do not. One model might have hundreds of customer reviews in a big Web store stating ‘gets hot’, but those ignorant reviewers do not realise, almost all of that heat is coming from their MacBooks/other-hot-laptop mainboard. If they were to use a little port extender, or a tower PC front panel (on an internal extension cable from mainboard headers), then they would find the little Stick little warmer than room temperature.

    (By one/two model, I mean two different model numbers, two similar but different body/housings, around exact same UDP ‘chip’. It is high performance, it gets hot during writes, but it warms-up right away, even when not accessed. It is Transcend T3 and V90.)

    • lui_gough says:

      Very satisfying to an advanced user is indeed very different to very satisfying for a mainstream user. Most mainstream users would use a Class 10 SDXC card and be purely satisfied that it works in everything, and some might not even notice if I swapped it out for a Class 6. I suppose in the case of loading it up for a friend, having such slow speeds and re-using it a few times, a more expensive USB key may be worth it on time savings alone, if you can convince them to return it to you :P.

      Definitely understood on the heat and definitely applies to laptop ports especially. I do all my testing on front panel ports on my desktop, where conducted heat is not an issue and the connector acts as a small heatsink but these Sandisk sticks really do get quite hot. Once unplugged, if you touch it, it feels close to 50 degrees and very uncomfortable to hold directly, so the metal spine probably has a secondary “feature” as a (not very efficient) heatsink. I’ve had at least another UDP based stick with fairly similar results (Kingston Datatraveller CNY12 “Year of the Dragon”). Of course, some heat is normal, and I suspect a linear regulator is indeed used as capacitors are generally difficult to fabricate on silicon wafer ICs, especially at the larger capacities that make switching converters realistic to implement. This would mean the heat would be proportional to the current draw, which would depend on the controller and amount of flash integrated into the package.

      – Gough

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