Alexander Leidinger

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Nov
02

Are USB mem­ory sticks really that bad?

Last week my ZFS cache device — an USB mem­ory stick — showed xxxM write errors. I got this stick for free as a promo, so I do not expect it to be of high qual­ity (or wear-leveling or sim­i­lar life-saving things). The stick sur­vived about 9 months, dur­ing which it pro­vided a nice speed-up for the access to the cor­re­spond­ing ZFS stor­age pool. I replaced it by another stick which I got for free as a promo. This new stick sur­vived… one long week­end. It has now 8xxM write errors and the USB sub­sys­tem is not able to speak to it any­more. 30 min­utes ago I issued an “usb­con­fig reset” to this device, which is still not fin­ished. This leads me to the ques­tion if such sticks are really that bad, or if some prob­lem crept into the USB subsystem?

If this is a prob­lem with the mem­ory stick itself, I should be able to repro­duce such a prob­lem on a dif­fer­ent machine with a dif­fer­ent OS. I could test this with FreeBSD 8.1, Solaris 10u9, or Win­dows XP. What I need is an auto­mated test. This rules out the Win­dows XP machine for me, I do not want to spend time to search a suit­able test which is avail­able for free and allows to be run in an auto­mated way. For FreeBSD and Solaris it prob­a­bly comes down to use some disk-I/O bench­mark (I think there are enough to chose from in the FreeBSD Ports Col­lec­tion) and run it in a shell-loop.

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Are USB mem­ory sticks really that bad?, 6.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
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14 Responses to “Are USB mem­ory sticks really that bad?”

  1. Lars Hartmann Says:

    Yes they are — from my expe­ri­ence, most sticks won’t sur­vive that long..

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  2. Tweets that mention Are USB memory sticks really that bad? | Alexander Leidinger -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was men­tioned on Twit­ter by FreeBSD Project and James Gal­lagher, azedo news. azedo news said: Are USB mem­ory sticks really that bad?: Last week my ZFS cache device — an USB mem­ory stick — showed xxxM writ… http://bit.ly/argzpU […]

  3. mth Says:

    Curi­ous if you are run­ning amd or intel? I have heard sim­i­lar sto­ries on sev­eral amd chipsets.

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  4. netchild Says:

    This is with an Intel ICH5 chipset. And the first stick was work­ing 9 months with­out prob­lems, so I doubt this is Intel vs. AMD here.

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  5. ivoras Says:

    Try the fsx test from src tools — it does a ran­dom mix of var­i­ous IO.

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  6. Freddie Says:

    I’m inclined to believe it’s bad sticks, and not bad USB stack.

    I use a San­Disk U3 Cruzer Micro 2 GB USB stick for the OS at home (FreeBSD 8.1-STABLE). Has sur­vived many install­worlds as the sys­tem started with 6.something, and I like to fid­dle with ker­nel options so there’s a lot of writes going to it every 6 weeks or so. This stick was also used for doc­u­ments before being co-opted for OS installs.

    I also use a 4 GB Jet­Flash for L2ARC and swap in the above sys­tem. Been run­ning fine for sev­eral months now, and sits at 90% full all the time. No prob­lems so far.

    How­ever, 2x 2 GB Kingston USB sticks died on me within weeks of each other, and within a month of being put into use on a server. Even as L2ARC devices, they couldn’t keep up and would just drop off the USB con­troller. Try­ing to use them as sim­ple floppy replace­ments didn’t work too well, either.

    I have another 1 GB stick at home that worked fine for about 3 months, and then just stopped being detected in Win­dows XP, Kubuntu 9.something, or FreeBSD 8.x.

    It’s very much hit-and-miss on whether or not a USB stick is going to be fast (read or write) and how long it’s going to last. Unfor­tu­nately, nei­ther price nor name brand seem to be reli­able deter­mi­na­tions of the USB stick’s qual­ity, endurance, or speed. :(

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  7. David Says:

    Quote http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_memory:

    > Mem­ory wear

    > Another lim­i­ta­tion is that flash mem­ory has a finite num­ber of program-erase cycles (typ­i­cally writ­ten as P/E cycles). Most com­mer­cially avail­able flash prod­ucts are guar­an­teed to with­stand around 100,000 P/E cycles, before the wear begins to dete­ri­o­rate the integrity of the storage.[7]

    Dudes!!

    It’s how the tech­nol­ogy works

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  8. netchild Says:

    And because of this I thought the first stick was “fin­ished”. But the sec­ond stick which did not even sur­vive a long week­end, was “fresh”.

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  9. netchild Says:

    I con­nected the first USB mem­ory stick which was fail­ing to a Solaris 10u9 machine. I cre­ated a ZFS on it (to be able to detect silent cor­rup­tions), and am run­ning some tor­ture tests.

    In the morn­ing I had fsx run­ning on it, but it did not eat up a lot of mem­ory on the stick, so I switched to postmark.

    Since about 4 hours I have post­mark run­ning on it to test for prob­lems. So far ZFS did not detect any corruptions.

    I will let it run the whole night, and if there are still no prob­lems tomor­row, I assume the stick is OK (as it will have had much more traf­fic seen dur­ing this time than it would have had in an entire week as a ZFS cache device on my machine at home).

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  10. netchild Says:

    It seems that at least those sticks I have, are not that bad.

    I tested the first stick which failed first on Solaris 10u9 and the sec­ond stick with another FreeBSD machine, and both do not show traces of prob­lems there. The first stick attached back to the machine which exhib­ited the prob­lems ini­tially shows prob­lems again.

    To deter­mine if it is the USB hard­ware or the FreeBSD USB ker­nel sub­sys­tem, I will step by step update the other FreeBSD machine which did not exhibit the prob­lems to more recent ver­sions of FreeBSD (binary search) until I encounter a prob­lem with the USB stick (or arrive at the same FreeBSD ver­sion as the machine with the problems).

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  11. ackstorm Says:

    In FreeBSD 8.0 I was using a 250GB USB Sea­gate drive as my mir­ror in ZFS. When I installed 8.1 I found my device could no longer sync to the inter­nal disk any­more. It always had write errors and reset the sync, over and over, never finishing.

    The drive works fine on 8.0 or on Linux, maybe you are on to something…

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  12. netchild Says:

    Did you con­sider writ­ting to usb@ with your prob­lem? I have the impres­sion that your prob­lem is a dif­fer­ent one (and can maybe solved with a lit­tle quirk-entry). If you didn’t write to usb@ I sug­gest to do it. Pro­vide them a copy&paste of your USB related dmesg out­put and of the error messages.

    I only have some­times write errors, not always. And I do not have sync-resets for sure.

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  13. netchild Says:

    After a lot of test­ing with two machines, I am now at a point where I think the EHCI part of the ICH5 chipset of this machine is dying (and the USB mem­ory sticks are still work­ing cor­rectly when attached to another machine).

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  14. itetcu@ Says:

    I’ve used two 1GB King­max Super Stick on my desk­top as cache devices (I run a zRAID2 on it). They both gave up at a few days inter­val after some 6 – 7 months. So used this way, I’d say they are bad enough.

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