PNY Elite-X 256G MicroSD and Linux

๐Ÿ“… August 8, 2018
MicroSD cards continue to increase in capacity, decrease in price, and increase in speed.

The PNY Elite-X 256GB microSD is another entry in the upper-end consumer-grade microSD market. How does it compare to the Samsung EVO Plus 256GB card? Any speed differences? Does it work in Linux?

I purchased my own PNY Elite-X, and here are my results.

The Packaging

Package Front

The card ships in basic packaging. Only the card and an SD adapter is included. Notice the “2” next to the MB/s speed rating in the bottom right of the package? That means: “Be on your guard, and read legal-weasel fine print on the back.”ย  From my experience, RARELYย does a product ever meet the claims boasted on the box, so manufacturers stamp those tiny numbers and asterisks to give themselves a legal way out. Personally, I wish manufacturers would simply quote a lower, guaranteed minimum speed instead of exaggerated numbers that I might never achieve in real life. Oh, well. We shall see how this card performs. Also note, that the box front does not mention if the boasted “up to” 100MB/s claim refers to read speeds, write speeds, or both.

Package Back

AHA! There it is! I knew it! The “up to” 100 MB/s claim applies to read speeds only, and write speeds are lower. And these are based upon internal PNY lab tests. Again, I wish boxes would quote realistic, everyday, real-life speeds that are guaranteed instead of printing lab test maximums to make the product seem faster than it really is.

Sure there are other factors at play that affect speed, but guaranteed minimums would be a huge help.

The Card Itself

A green and black microSDXC card. Class 10, U3, UHS-I, and 256GB of unformatted space. (Formatted capacity will be lower.)

 

UHS-I and U3

Actually, there are guaranteed minimums printed on the box that we can use to find out the minimum write speed that the card should perform at.

Notice the U3 (3 in the letter U)? This is the UHS (Ultra High Speed) write speed rating that guarantees a minimum write speed of 30 MB/s. The real-world performance might be higher, but 30MB/s for writes should happen with this card.

The C10 refers to Class 10. This is an SD designation that guarantees that the card will write at least 10MB/s.

The uppercase “I” marks this as a UHS-I microSD card. UHS refers to the bus interface, not the read/write speed. UHS-I is what most people are probably familiar with. If you look on the back of the card, there is only one row of contacts. A UHS-II card (denoted by “II”) would have two rows of contacts.

UHS-II cards are much, much faster than UHS-I cards and can usually reach ~250MB/s for reads and writes, but they are also much more expensive. The PNY Elite-X is a UHS-I card, and it costs less.

Here is an article containing more information about UHS-I compared to UHS-II.

Benchmarks

PNY Elite-X (left). I will be making a few comparisons to the Samsung EVO Plus 256GB microSD card (right), which has proven to be a reliable performer over time. The Samsung is also a UHS-I U3 rated card, so this is a fair comparison. Which is faster for reading and writing?

The plugable USB 3.0 card adapter will be used to connect the microSD cards to Linux Mint 19 and Windows 7 computers for testing.

Hey! The colors match!

(Windows 7) By default, the PNY Elite-X ships pre-formatted as exFAT Yuck!). So, I reformatted it to FAT32 in Linux Mint 19 for better compatibility between various devices and operating systems. I will not be storing any files greater than 4GB, so this is not an issue. Cross-compatibility is more important.

FAT32 in Windows 7. Surprisingly, Windows 7 does not offer a convenient option to format FAT32, so I had to use Linux. (Yes, we can format FAT32 in Windows 7 with some work, but I wanted to take the easy approach.)

Notice that the formatted capacity is 236GB, not 256GB as mentioned on the package. This is another marketing trick found on almost every hard drive, SSD, and storage device sold. Just note that the card is not defective. This is normal.

Linux Mint 19 reports a usable capacity of 253.4GB, not 236GB like Windows 7. Hmm…

The card ships empty. There is no bloatware or software of any kind preinstalled.

CrystalDiskMark 6.0.0 (Windows 7)

First, I tested the card in Windows 7 using CrystalDiskMark 6.0.0.

5x1GiB

5x1GiB (gibibyte) test. Reads are impressive. Not 100MB/s, but enough to make me plenty happy. However, the sequential write speed is what most impresses me. ~79MB/s is very good.

5x100MiB

Slight variations, but within reason and close to the 5x1GiB test above.

So far, I would say that the box claims are close to actual performance. Next, let’s see how this performs in Linux Mint 19 Cinnamon using the built-in Disks benchmark.

Disks 100x10M

Read speeds are almost identical, but the Samsung’s write speed is pathetic at about 5MB/s over the long run. The Samsung write speed tapers out quickly and remains low, but the PNY lasts longer and allows for faster writes. The Samsung always felt like it had slow write speeds. The PNY card is definitely faster, and the benchmark completes in less time than the Samsung takes.

Disks 5x100M

For comparison with the 5x100MiB test from CrystalDiskMark.

Again, both cards offer similar read speeds, but the PNY Elite-X clobbers the poor little Samsung in the playground mud with superior write speeds. Even average access times are better with the PNY Elite-X.

Disks 5x1000M

For comparison with the 5x1000MiB test from CrystalDiskMark.

Now, this is interesting. For the 1G (1000M) sample sizes, performance is almost identical for both cards at ~90MB/s for reads and ~61-68MB/s for writes.

Real World File Transfer

Benchmarks are fine, but what can we expect when transferring files from a mechanical hard drive to the PNY Elite-X via USB 3.0?

Here, I transferred about 230GiB of various files of varying sizes to the 256G PNY Elite-X microSD card using time rsync.

Total transfer time took about 80 minutes and averaged ~48MB/s for writes. This is MUCH faster than the Samsung EVO Plus. (Ignore the ~1,169,508,299 bytes. Counted source size was ~230GiB.)

To calculate bytes written for verification, convert 80 minutes into seconds (80 * 60 = 4800 seconds). Then, multiply 4800 seconds by the rate 48,000,000 bytes/second (rounded). This results in 230,400,000,000 bytes, which is close enough to the source total.

Equation

Total bytes transferred = (seconds)(bytes per second)

230,400,000,000 bytes transferred = (4800 seconds)(48,000,000 bytes/second average)

 

Conclusion

I am happy. The PNY Elite-X microSDXC card was a worthwhile purchase that met my expectations. While I never reached the “up to” 100MB/s read speed printed on the package, I would say that 85-90MB/s is fairly good for read speeds.

The writes are where the PNY shines. At 60-68MB/s for write speeds, this becomes important if you find yourself updating a microSD card with new data frequently, and it definitely beats the measly 5-17MB/s write speed of the Samsung EVO Plus if transferring small files. I would certainly recommend the PNY Elite-X over the Samsung EVO Plus because of this. In addition, the PNY Elite-X average access times were almost half those of the Samsung EVO Plus in every test.

From my everyday usage, the PNY has become my favorite microSD card since it writes in less time than the Samsung. This saves real-world time.

The technology of today has improved greatly. Think about it. We now have itty-bitty, teensy-weensy solid state cards the size of a small fingernail that hold more data and perform faster than bulky mechanical 7200RPM drives from a few years ago. Impressive.

Best of all, the PNY is 100% compatible with Linux out of the box.

Have fun!

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