USB 3.0 is too fast for thumb drives

Memory controllers run too hot for the tiny enclosures

ALTHOUGH A HANDFULL of USB 3.0 thumb drives have made it on to the market, it appears that they’re not as easy to make as one would at first think. It’s still early days of the USB 3.0 interface, although we’re starting to see a steady stream of USB 3.0 devices and most of them are hard drive related.

There seems to be a very reasonable reason behind this, at least if we’re to believe a report from French website 01net that quotes Saeed Arash Far, who is the Director of engineering at Patriot Memory. According to him the current generation of USB 3.0 compatible flash memory controllers are running very hot, which is causing problems in small devices such as USB thumb drives, although there are a couple of ways around this problem.

One solution is to use two controllers and run them in tandem, each at a slower clock speed than a single controller. This is not a cheap solution, nor is it especially elegant, but it’s the way things are done at the moment. The problem is that this solution isn’t as reliable as using a single controller, since there’s a slight risk of data corruption.

The other option is to use a metal casing for the USB 3.0 thumb drive and use that as a heatsink for the memory controller by interfacing the two via a layer of thermal materials. This is also a more costly option, as metal is far more expensive than plastic as a housing material. It’s unlikely that the housing would get more than warm to the touch, so there’s no risk for any heat related injuries in a design like this.

Ultimately it looks as if the makers of USB 3.0 friendly flash memory controllers need to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to make their controllers run cooler. At least that’s the only way we’ll see more affordable, mass market USB 3.0 flash drives. It’s an unusual problem, but hopefully one that will be solved before USB 3.0 becomes a mainstream feature, something that appears to be going fairly quickly, despite a lack of support from both Intel and AMD on the chipset side.S|A

Update SuperTalent sent us a response to this article, as follows, pointing out that it is currently shipping USB 3.0 thumb drives while it believes that Patriot is not.

“SuperTalent’s USB 3.0 Express Drives and SuperCrypt Drives do not go above 55°C while operating, even under intense load. Heat is absolutely not a concern in these high speed USB 3.0 drives. The USB 3.0 RAIDDrive, which features an internal RAID-0 SATA array, can get as hot as 75°C internally under intense load, however the outer casing of the RAIDDrive is much cooler. And keep in mind, the RAIDDrive supports sequential read and write speeds faster than any internal 2.5” SATA-II SSD. SuperTalent has designed three very fast USB 3.0 drives that mitigate the heat issues.”

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