USB flash drives are not all made equal. On one level, you have speed differences between USB 2.0 and USB 3.x. But even among flash drives of the same type, you’ll find significant variations in read and write speeds — and they won’t be apparent until you actually use them.
So what can you do? Test them yourself!
This testing process, called “benchmarking,” is easy enough that anyone can do it. You just need one of the following apps and the ability to click a button — that’s it! Soon you can know how fast your drives actually are, and if you have more than one, you can know which one is the fastest.
1. USB Flash Benchmark
USB Flash Benchmark is the ideal benchmarking tool. It’s intuitive, it’s informative, and it’s thorough. In fact, it’s the most in-depth testing tool on this list, with 15 total tests using chunk sizes ranging from 1 KB up to 16 MB, showing how your drive performs in various situations.
There aren’t any other notable features, which is why USB Flash Benchmark is so lightweight and effective. Results can be uploaded and shared with a link, and you can view results on the site, but that’s about it. I’m confident in giving this tool two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Download — USB Flash Benchmark (Free)
USBDeview is a free, lightweight app from one of my favorite developers: Nir Sofer of NirSoft. He’s created over 100 portable freeware utilities that are all useful and can be downloaded and installed individually or managed through a tool called NirLauncher.
USBDeview does several things:
- List all connected USB devices.
- List all previously used USB devices.
- Extended manufacturer details for all USB devices.
- Enable, disable, or uninstall USB devices.
- Run speed tests for USB devices.
That last one is why we’re here, but those other features are reasons why you’ll probably pick USBDeview over the others on this list. You can also publish speed test results for USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 devices to compare and see where you fall.
Download — USBDeview (Free)
Parkdale is a lesser-known tool that straddles the line between simple and complex by giving you choices. QuickAccess is a one-click test with typical parameters, FileAccess is another one-click test with separate methodology, and BlockAccess is a low-level test directly on the drive.
For checking the speed of a USB flash drive, QuickAccess is more than enough. Select the file size (1 GB by default), the block size (either 64 KB or 1 MB), then click Start. For smaller devices, like my 4 GB thumb drive, a file size of 100 MB is fine and will keep the test fast.
Download — Parkdale (Free)
4. Check Flash
Check Flash is one of the more advanced testing tools, offering a few more options and flexibility. Not that it’s difficult to use — it isn’t at all — but if you truly want a one-click solution, you’ll be happier with USB Flash Benchmark or USBDeview.
Check Flash’s notable features include:
- Three testing modes: temp file, logical drive, physical drive.
- Several testing types when running a read and write speed test, including small pattern set, full pattern set, write pattern, and verify pattern.
- Four testing lengths, including one full pass, a manual number of passes, Until First Error Found, and Burn It (to really push your drive to its limits).
The only downside is that this level of thoroughness takes a while. For me, one full pass took close to 30 minutes yet gave me the same amount of information as the other tools. Therefore, I only recommend Check Flash if you need its special testing types or testing lengths.
Download — Check Flash (Free)
5. Crystal Disk Mark
As a full-blown disk benchmarking app, Crystal Disk Mark was made for regular HDDs and SSDs in addition to USB flash drives. It’s one of the most popular options for its various settings, but it isn’t as informative as some of the others on this list.
Crystal Disk Mark’s notable features include:
- Uses Microsoft’s DiskSpd implementation (open source).
- Four test types: Seq Q32T1, 4K Q32T1, Seq, and 4K.
- Choose between 1 to 9 passes per test.
- Choose between 50 MB to 32 GB file size per test.
- Choose between Random Data and Zero Fill.
Download — Crystal Disk Mark (Free)
Other Useful USB Flash Drive Tips
If your drive ever shrinks in size for some unknown reason, check out our tip on recovering lost USB drive space. And for most drive types, you actually don’t need to eject before removing. If you’re concerned about security, you could also consider password protecting sensitive information on your USB drive.
How fast are your USB flash drives? What do you use them for? Is the technology becoming obsolete or do USB flash drives still play an important role? Share your thoughts with us in a comment below!
Originally written by Saikat Basu on March 6, 2009.