Tips+CSF: Utility flash drive
In episode 749, you discussed flash drives with both USB-A and USB-C connectors. In 766, you mentioned downloading the full, latest version of the macOS installer. And in the pre-show of 771, there was a fascinating discussion about the speeds of flash drives and SD cards.
After hearing that first discussion back in February, I revisited my search for a new utility flash drive, an everyday carry that helps me serve many of my clients. Historically, I’ve partitioned such a drive with: (1) various full macOS installers; (2) other application installers; (3) a startup disk for the latest macOS release; (4) startup disks for one or two previous macOS releases for older Macs; (5) a DiskWarrior recovery disk.
I no longer bother with DiskMaker X for macOS installers on USB flash drives. Instead, I go for a fully bootable startup disk from which I can erase a destination drive if necessary, copy an installer, directly run it on that drive.
For a replacement flash drive, I wanted something faster than the Transcend JetDrive 710 I carried for several years prior, which had read/write speeds of 90/24 MB/s. I also needed something not more than 2 inches long so it would fit in my Buxton key wallet.
No dual-connector flash drive was small enough to serve my needs. At the time, I had Patriot’s Supersonic Rage 2 drive on my wish list because it was advertised with a read speed of 400MB/s and write speed of 300MB/s—for under $50. I bought one.
I spent way too many hours trying to make the drive work with my setup. It was very strange that creating the partitions, restoring the macOS volumes, and copying other data took inordinate amounts of time. Even ejecting the drive was painful as each partition took over 10 seconds to unmount.
Two weeks after purchase, I reached out to Patriot for insight. They encouraged me to test the drive with Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, whose results were as expected. However, after a few days of back and forth, I learned that Patriot’s drive is made with TLC (triple-level cell) NAND flash memory.
According to Wikipedia, each “level” corresponds to a bit of data storage and NAND flash is now made with up to four bits per cell. The more bits, the slower and lower cost the memory. The Patriot drive was designed for uncompressed files, not large collections of tiny and/or compressed files. Needless to say, I returned the drive and sought an alternative with SLC (single-level cell) memory like my Transcend drive had.
I settled on the SanDisk Ultra Fit USB 3.1 drive, which turned out to be less expensive. It was fast enough with read/write at 130/70 MB/s and easily embraced my multi-partition scheme and storing installation bundles and such. Unfortunately, an SD card wouldn’t fit very well among my keys.
For the USB-C connection, I’d engaged in an exhaustive search for adapters with lanyard holes—so I could hold it in my key wallet—but found many poor reviews of products with plastic holes easily broken off metal bodies.
I bought a Volutz adapter, a well-reviewed hard plastic model, sold as a pair for under $10. Ultimately, the lanyard hole turned out to be unnecessary for my use case as, in my wallet, I keep one adapter always attached to my flash drive.
My current drive has five partitions: DiskWarrior recovery disk; El Capitan startup disk; High Sierra startup disk; Mojave startup disk; and one with several prominent OS installers, various application installers, and other storage.
My clients are duly impressed when I show up to their house by bicycle and my entire office consists of an accessory in my pocket, a paper journal, and a pen. Well, I’m there to help them with their technology, not my own.