But to think “it’s just another USB device” and pass it by would be a terrible mistake because the Mach Xtreme MX-ES SLC USB 3.0 Flash Drive is anything but regular.
Appearances are deceiving, for I am using what is undoubtedly the fastest USB stick I have ever encountered. While other high-end USB 3 sticks are available, this particular device is a champion performer among champions at a low cost, and it is the first USB stick I have used where the write speed equals or exceeds the read speed!
How fast? When plugged into a USB 3.0 port, this device typically reads at a consistent ~160 MB/s and writes at a consistent 170 MB/s. Sometimes it hits 180 MB/s when reading and writing. And it works with Linux.
The MX-ES arrives in simple packaging proclaiming its high performance to the world.
This is the 16 GB version. While the cost might exceed other 16 GB USB sticks, the performance and quality is worth the extra price. You get what you pay for.
The packaging touts “optimized for ASUS USB3 mainboards,” but I have seen spectacular success no matter the computer or motherboard. Not sure what that means since any USB 3 port yields ~160 MB/s read and write speeds with this USB stick.
Back of Packaging
Nowhere on the packaging does it advertise Linux compatibility, but that is not an issue. The MX-ES is 100% plug-and-play compatible with Linux.
The USB stick appears to be made of metal, probably aluminum, and it includes a clear, plastic cap.
When transferring data, a bright blue activity LED illuminates the room.
It comes preformatted with FAT32. I plugged the MX-ES into Linux Mint 17, Xubuntu 14.04, and Windows 7, and all three operating systems immediately mounted it without issues.
However, there was a partition issue with the way this USB arrived preformatted. Running fdisk showed an invalid partition structure.
So, I deleted all partitions and reformatted it with GParted to clean it up.
I ran fdisk again to check the resulting partition information.
The device may be formatted with other filesystems, such as ext4. It’s your choice.
“What kind or read/write speeds can I expect?”
The MX-ES is made using what is called SLC (Single Level Cell) NAND memory compared to MLC (Multi Level Cell). Here is a summary of what that means:
SLC Fast. Expensive. MLC Slower. Inexpensive.
“Other USB sticks read at 140 MB/s to 180 MB/s. Why bother with the MX-ES?”
True, but those are read speeds. Other USB sticks might offer 140 MB/s reads, but writes are much, much slower, say 11-40 MB/s. Maybe 60 MB/s. I always topped out with ~11 MB/s writes even with USB 3 sticks.
If a network is not available and you need to transfer data between computers using their USB 3 ports, part of the transfer time involves writing data to the USB stick. Sure, the computer might read the data quickly, but waiting for multiple gigabyte files to write to a USB stick at 11 MB/s can be a patience test. This was my predicament, and I needed a USB stick that could write as fast as it could read in order to save time. Reading is only one half of the journey.
CrystalDiskMark 3.0.3 (Windows 7)
I tested the MX-ES in Linux and Windows 7 to spot any differences in performance due to operating systems. None exist. In Windows 7, I used a free benchmarking program called CrystalDiskMark 3.0.3 to measure USB read and write transfer rates. Keep in mind, that it is almost impossible to obtain the same numbers every time no matter the benchmark, so I used the numbers that most resemble typical, everyday performance.
The Disks program (gnome-disks — must be installed first) in Linux Mint 17 includes a built-in benchmarking utility that I have found to be quite an accurate approximation of real-world performance. Here is where we can see how the MX-ES performs given various sizes of data.
Disks: 100 samples, 10 MB/sample
Many small files.
Disks: 100 samples, 50 MB/sample
Many somewhat larger files.
Disks: 3 samples, 1 GB/sample
Many big files.
We see sustained high write rates when large files are involved. Here, three 1 GB files write to the MX-ES at ~184 MB/s while reads are 169 MB/s.
Comparison with the Patriot Supersonic Boost XT
My other USB 3 stick of choice (until now) was the Patriot Supersonic Boost XT. How does the Patriot compare with the MX-ES?
Here are the Patriot’s numbers:
And all this time I thought 35 MB/s read rates and 11 MB/s write rates were fast enough. Yes, the Patriot is a USB 3 stick plugged into a USB 3 port.
How about testing read performance with hdparm?
sudo hdparm -t /dev/sdc (/dev/sdc might change, so use the device of the USB on your computer.)
Real Life File Transfers
When I plugged in the MX-ES and started using it, I was impressed beyond measure. This is fast for a USB stick! File writes that once took 3 minutes with the Patriot now complete in 10 seconds.
I measured the times with a stopwatch to help believe what I was seeing. Five everyday files totaling 1.4 GB were written to both the Patriot and the MX-ES.
MX-ES (USB 3 port) 10.53s Patriot (USB 3 port) 180.20s
There is no comparison. The MX-ES is nearing the level of an SSD and benefits from link aggregation when transferring multiple files at once.
Every once in a while I grab hold of a device that outclasses what I have been accustomed to, and I never want to return to the previous endeavors as a result of using it. The MX-ES is one such device. Moving from 35/11 MB/s read/write rates to 160/170 MB/s read/write rates is the difference between night and day. I was amazed at how fast both read AND write transfers completed.
If you seek a USB stick that offers write speeds that equal or exceed read speed in the triple-digit range, then you should be well pleased with the MX-ES. While I tested the 16 GB version, other capacities exist. It even includes a 5-year warranty, but time will tell how reliable this USB stick actually is.
Faster USB sticks exist, but they often carry triple-digit price tags too. At that point, you must ask yourself, “Can I afford to lose this or drop it in the mud? What if it breaks?” A USB stick is all about portability, and if you purchase one so expensive that you never want it to leave your computer due to damage concerns, then what good is it?
The 16 GB MX-ES, while priced slightly higher than other 16 GB USB sticks, helps alleviate these concerns by offering surprisingly fast reads and writes at a reasonable price.
This is a superb Linux-compatible product that lives up to its boasts. Highly recommended.