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.
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!
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.
The drive itself comes in a little plastic blister carrier. Nothing out of the ordinary.
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.
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.
The side profile clearly shows how the drive is constructed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As usual, the drive was run through a battery of tests to establish its performance.
HD Tune Pro
Read performance was very good for a USB 2.0 device, reaching the bus-limitations quite easily.
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 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 shows the read IO performance reaches the maximum at 64kB accesses, whereas writes peak at 32kB and then come down again.
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.
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.