Home > Articles > Hardware > Upgrading & Repairing

Choosing and Using an Ultra-Fast Flash Drive

Big (64 GB or larger) USB Flash drives can be painfully slow. Cure those ills with faster alternatives: especially USB 3.0 and mSATA. Ed Tittel's new overview explains their pros, cons, and differences.
Like this article? We recommend

These days, flash-based storage is nothing short of amazing. There are numerous options for extremely compact, blazing fast storage at increasingly affordable prices. High-speed interfaces come highly recommended as flash memory sizes top 32 GB—which is to say, 64 GB or more—because a slow flash drive can be painfully slow indeed.

Fortunately, there are numerous interfaces available that make sense in a variety of situations and across a broad range of machines. In this story, I'll march through those interfaces, and explore the kinds of high-speed, flash-based storage options available for each one.

A Tale of Three Interfaces: USB 3.0, eSATA, and mSATA

Though there are many more options for flash-based storage available in today's marketplace, for this story I concentrate on three popular options because they offer a good combination of high speed and broad availability.

Let's explore these three interfaces, along with their speeds and feeds, and some of their pros and cons, in the sections that follow.

USB 3.0 Flash Drives

These devices are more-or-less standard USB flash drives (UFDs) with circuitry that supports the latest—and fastest—version of USB (version 3.0, also known as SuperSpeed). Figure 1 shows the official USB 3.0 logo.

Figure 1 USB logo

The USB 3.0 interface supports theoretical speeds of up to 5 Gbps (625 MBps), with real-world read speeds coming in at just 63 Mbps (about 10% of the theoretical maximum). In practice, write speeds max out below 51 Mbps (just over 8% of the theoretical maximum).

For a nice collection of community data on USB drives, see Nir Sofer's excellent USB Flash Drive Speed Tests page for a general source of data and comparisons. Use those numbers to set your expectations for USB 3.0 UFD data rates, and you won't be disappointed.

eSATA Flash Drives

These devices look much like UFDs (see logo in Figure 2), except they plug into an eSATA connector instead of a USB port.

Figure 2 eSATA logo

eSATA extends internal Serial AT Attachment (SATA) connectors outside a computer's case or enclosure. Whereas eSATA used to appear only on desktop PCs, it is increasingly common on higher-end laptops as well.

Although USB 3.0 does make eSATA more of a frill than it used to be, it's still a great way to attach external drives of any kind—including SSDs, conventional hard disks, and even small form-factor flash drives—to a notebook or desktop PC. SATA's top speed these days is rated at a theoretical maximum of 6 Gbps (revision 3.0), though older versions top out at 1.5 Gbps (revision 1.0) and 3.0 Gbps (revision 2.0, the source for the logo shown in Figure 2).

Most newer (post-2009) PCs and notebooks support the 6 Gbps version, whereas older machines typically top out at 3 Gbps. A study published on the Tom's Hardware website in 2009 shows that eSATA flash devices can deliver write speeds in excess of 65 Mbps, with top write speeds in excess of 45 Mbps, and drive interface bandwidths (which set the upper limit on attainable peak read and write speeds of 53 to 66 Mbps).

mSATA Flash Drives

Variously decoded as the Mini-Serial ATA or Micro-SATA interface, this small form-factor applies to entire solid state drives, rather than easy-in/easy-out removable drives like those described under the two preceding headings (see the logo in Figure 3).

Figure 3 mSATA logo

But because mSATA drives are increasingly available, surprisingly affordable, and extremely compact, they're worth considering in two specific sets of circumstances:

  • On notebooks or PCs that include mSATA slots, it's often a good idea to incorporate these devices, either to take advantage of Intel's Rapid Start technology (link to PDF user guide) to create a high-speed disk cache, or to set up as an independent boot or data drive. Given that many new notebooks (I've had good luck with this technology in my two 2012 vintage Lenovo notebook PCs: an X220 Tablet and a T520 laptop) include an interface for WWAN that also accommodates mSATA devices, it's definitely worth looking into the suitability of mSATA on such machines. See Figure 4.
  • Figure 4 This mSATA to SATA adapter accommodates an mSATA SSD in a PCI-e x1 slot, with a SATA data output to your PC's SATA connectors at 1.5, 3.0, or 6.0 Gbps (cost $28).

  • On desktop PCs with unused PCI-e slots, inexpensive adapters convert mSATA to SATA and grab power from the PCI-e infrastructure, so you only need to run a standard SATA cable from the interface into an unoccupied SATA port on your PC. This setup will not support Rapid Start, but it will permit use of any mSATA drive. With mSATA capacities now as high as 240 GB, this can be an excellent way to add high-speed storage to just about any modern desktop PC nowadays.

mSATA works more or less the same way as regular SATA, and because it uses high-speed SSD drives built to its specific form factor (typical dimensions are 51mm x 30mm or 2.007" x 1.18") these diminutive devices offer speeds entirely on par with other SSD drives. That puts read speeds between 250 and 500 MBps, depending on the size, make, and model of drive involved, with read speeds in the same general ballpark. Much faster than either USB 3.0 or eSATA flash drives, in other words.

Top Contenders for USB 3.0 Flash Drives

In comparison tests and based on buyer's feedback and reviews, the following makes and models jump to the head of this sizable class of products, where offerings between 64 and 128 GB in size typically sell for between $75 and $150:

Top Contenders for eSATA Flash Drives

Since the introduction of USB 3.0 in 2010, interest in and product offerings for eSATA flash drives have waned. Most drives of this type will work either in a USB or eSATA port, but support only USB 2.0. This makes the remaining products still available in a smaller class than USB 3.0, where offerings typically run from 16 to 64 GB in size (higher capacities are available but often prohibitively expensive):

Top Contenders for mSATA SSDs

This niche is exploding with excellent products in capacities from 32 to GB, at prices from $50 to $289. Byte for byte, mSATA drives still cost more than packaged 2.5" SSDs, which is hard to swallow, given that the internal circuitry is more alike than different between these two drive classes. Nevertheless, prices are incredibly affordable on mSATA drives now, and they make terrific add-ins for suitable notebook and desktop PCs.

Here are some top contenders in this burgeoning product niche:

  • Mushkin Enhanced Atlas Series (60, 120, 240 GB, $75-230, fast and affordable)
  • Crucial M4 Series (32, 64, 128, 256 GB, $51-207, fast and affordable)
  • Intel 310 Series (40, 80 GB, $61-190, fast but more expensive)
  • OCZ Nocti Series (30, 60, 120, $50-110, fast and affordable)

Concluding Recommendations

With eSATA flash drives now mostly a historical curiosity, buyers in need of fast easy-in/easy-out external storage will probably want to consider the capacities they need and the costs they can tolerate as they choose between USB 3.0 and SSD devices. For about $29, buyers can package an mSATA drive in a 1.8" USB 3.0 external case, which is incredibly compact, even if not as small as a typical USB flash drive.

Given higher prices for many USB 3.0 UFDs of 64 GB or more in capacity, it may actually be a better deal to buy an mSATA drive, buy an enclosure, and use an external SSD instead of a UFD. It may not only be a little cheaper (or perhaps better than that); it will probably also be faster, too.

The only reason I can see for buying an eSATA flash device any more is for those PCs or notebooks that lack USB 3.0, but offer eSATA ports. Think carefully before you walk this path, though: you may be able to throw in a PCI-e or PCI Express USB 3.0 card or adapter and purchase a USB 3.0 flash device more cheaply than its eSATA counterpart!

After researching this story, I'm inclined to believe that using an mSATA SSD with a USB 3.0 enclosure may actually provide the best of both worlds, for systems where direct SATA or mSATA attachments are impossible or impractical.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020