ATP ToughDrive 4GB Camo USB Flash

Author
Logan King
Posted
August 21, 2008
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35476
ATP ToughDrive 4GB Camo USB Flash
Many flash drive companies claim superior performance, pricing or in some cases even design. But how many flash drives can claim to be waterproof and heat resistant? Today we look at a product from a company that does just that, in the form of the ATP ToughDrive 4GB Camo.

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Page 1
Intro:

ATP Electronics is a 17 year-old company best known for their EarthDrive recyclable USB flash drive, which is not only made of recycled materials but also has part of the proceeds go towards rainforest protection. They also make memory products for both enterprise and home applications in addition to various types of removable storage. Today, ASE Labs has the ATP ToughDrive 4GB Camo edition.

About ATP Electronics:

Quote

Established in 1991, ATP has over 17 years of experience in the design, manufacture, and support of high performance, highest quality DRAM modules and NAND flash storage products. ATP focuses in mission critical applications such as industrial/automation, telecom, medical, and enterprise computing where high levels of technical support/expertise, consistency of performance, and manufacturing quality are required. A certified Eco/Green partner of tier one OEMs, all ATP products are fully RoHS and China RoHS compliant.

A true manufacturer of both flash and DRAM products, ATP offers in-house design, testing, and product tuning at both the system and component levels. In addition, ATP supply chain support includes controlled/fixed BOMs and long term product life cycles.


Packaging:

Package Front
Package Rear


ATP retail packaging claims that this product is "Waterproof" and "Rugged," and you can be certain that such claims won't go untested. The rest of the packaging is mostly just specs and features, though the packaging itself was nicely designed. As good bonus feature is that after you open it the package shape allows it to be closed again, which is a rarity for plastic containers of this type. Of note, however, is what is either a print error or an inconsistency with the ATP website; which claims the product can be used with Mac OS 8.6, whereas the packaging claims at least OS 9.0 is needed.

Specs:
  • High Speed USB 1.1/2.0 Certified
  • Compatible with Mac OS 8.6 and up, Windows 98SE and up, and Linux Kernel 2.4.0 and up.
  • Available in 2GB, 4GB and 8GB capacities
  • Dimensions: 2 1/2"(L) x 3/4"(W)
  • Synthetic Polymer Housing
  • LED Status Light
  • 2-Year Warranty
  • Enhanced for Windows ReadyBoost.
  • Carabiner
  • Up to 30 Mb/s read speed, 20 MB/s write speed.
  • Manufactured with System-in-Packaging.
  • SKU: AF4GUFT1BK-SE


Plug and Play functionality isn't mentioned, so it will be tested to see how closely it follows the USB standard.

Parts:
Package Contents


The package includes two things: The drive itself, plus a nifty carabiner rather than the more frequently seen lanyard. While I think the carabiner is a nice touch, and certianly more expensive than a lanyard would have been, I think it would have been nice to include a lanyard in the package in addition. The carabiner contributes nicely to the burly, strong image the drive is trying to project; but it is arguably less practical than the more common lanyard if one was to attach it to a key ring or something similar.
The carabiner itself seems strong enough to handle the rough and tumble life that being on a keychain would cause, being made out of what seems to either be steel or aluminum. My only concern is the swivel point next to where it attaches to the drive, as it looks rather flimsy when you rotate it.

Tough Drive Camo:

ToughDrive Front


The drive itself is mostly black with slick camouflage paint on both sides, which adds a bit of style compared to the standard ToughDrive. Rather than a lanyard hole, the drive has a triangular piece of metal so one can attach the included carabiner without fuss. I think this is a great feature, as it allows flexibility. Most flash drives only have a hole in which you only can put a lanyard through, but this design allows you to use the included carabiner, your own lanyard or connect it directly to a keychain.

ToughDrive Back


On the back is much the same. It has the part number and its FCC certification logo. The case of the flash drive is sort of like silicone, with a tiny bit of give when you press down on it. The material is surprisingly smooth considering what it looks like, so the grip notches cut into the side are a nice design decision that actually help give it some style as well.

ToughDrive Cap Off


The cap is nice in that it doesn't matter which way it is facing when it is replaced on the drive, as the camo design flows smoothly either way it is put on. One thing that does concern me is how well the cap sticks on the flash drive. The polymer the cap is made of seems somewhat similar to that which SanDisk put on their old Cruzer Micro, and I have first hand experience with how easy it was to lose the cap on that flash drive. Whether the ToughDrive has the same problem is unknown, but it is worth noting to look out for. The LED is of the passive blue type, so when you plug it in to doesn't flash or do anything annoying. When it is under use, however, it does become akin to a strobe light.

Included on the flash drive is the users manual (in .PDF format) and some utilities. Hilariously enough, the manual warns to "Keep this Hi-Speed USB 2.0 Flash Disk away from heat, direct sunlight, and water. Do not bend, flex, or drop it." Comical for a drive that is supposedly "shock-proof," "waterproof" and capable of "Extreme Temperature Resistance." Regardless, that is just the type of legal blurb which is necessary in all products, so we will ignore it in this case.

On the Utilities front (based on the manual), it has the password and login stuff that seems somewhat standard these days, but included within the security features is a partition tool. Windows cannot partition USB flash drives natively if they are done in the standard FAT or FAT 32 (and NTFS-formatted flash drives are just taunting potential data loss), so this software is of great use to anyone who needs to break up the drive into partitions, which normally would require the purchase of an outside program. This is obviously intended for use to create a secure partition that requires a password to enter, though the manual states it works just as well for creating two public partitions.
Also included is a tool to turn the flash drive into an MS-DOS boot disk, which is normally a complicated and annoying procedure, so its conclusion does not go unnoticed. These two seemingly great utilities will be included in testing as well.
Page 2
Performance Testing:

Testing the drive was done on a computer running Windows XP SP3. Tests were run using Flash Memory Toolkit and HD Tach, and the flash drive was plugged into a Belkin 4-port USB 2.0 hub. The flash drive was formatted to FAT32 out of the box, and Windows had no trouble recognizing it.

Flash Memory Toolkit's low-level benchmark test netted the ToughDrive an impressive 27.6 MB/s read speed, coming quite close to the claimed 30 MB/s. The write speed was a less impressive 10.4 MB/s, little more than half the claimed write speed. That being said, compared to the control (a Memorex TravelDrive Classic, currently in the $30 range for a 4GB model), the ToughDrive has nearly triple the read speed and more than double the write speed, so it is far from sluggish.

Flash Toolkit Benchmark


3 Different Tests were run using HD Tach. The first was a read/write test using 8MB sectors. The sequential read speed averaged 28.9 MB/s with 11.1 MB/s for write speed. The burst speed was quite good as well, at 31 MB/s flat (versus 12.3 read, 4.8 write and 12.7 burst for the control).

HD Tach 1


After that, a read/write test was performed using 32MB sectors. The results were quite similar (ditto with the control).

HD Tach 2


Finally, a real-world test was performed using variable sector sizes. The read and burst speeds were similar, yet the write speed increased drastically to 15.7 MB/s (while in the control it increased only a single MB/s). This drive is seemingly unflappable.

HD Tach 3


Utilities Overview

The most useful of the software for most people would probably be the drive partitioner. Getting a FAT-formatted drive to be split into multiple partitions is something that can have many uses, especially if one wants to use the security features built into the drive. I played with the program by splitting the drive down the middle, then I ran the log-in program to get into the secured area. The program used to do the partitions is smart, copying over the log-in program by itself to the public partition so you don't forget to. It also gives you and option to change your password whenever you want, so long as you know the old one. You can also input a hint for passwords as well. I ran check disk on both partitions, and based on the results of that it seems the partition causes no data errors or bad sectors. Also, the security log-in program works much faster than the similar programs that I have seen on SanDisk flash drives, and it takes up less system resources.

There are some problems with the system it uses, however. Unfortunately, the program doesn't ask for your password before allowing you to repartition the drive, so sadly it isn't foolproof. Furthermore, it did crash on me a quite a few times after the initial successful partition; and it limits you to formatting the drive to FAT only (with a drive this large, lots of space will likely be wasted, meaning you would have to reformat each partition to get it to FAT 32). It is quite a shame. As it stands, it was quite a good idea, and the software works very fast when doing things that don't involve the partitioner. But the partitioner itself sadly isn't nearly stable enough to recommend buying the product with the security program in mind. When it does work, it works great; quickly and efficiently. But it doesn't work all of the time, sadly.
Furthermore, the promised ability to turn the flash drive into a DOS boot disk are null, as this version of the software seemingly lacks that ability contrary to what the manual shows. Overall, the utilities showed some great promise, but they ended up being a complete letdown. The seemingly contradictory manual does little to rectify these problems when it promises features (non-password protected partitions, DOS functionality) that aren't actually included in the software. In addition, these programs are Windows only, so Mac and Linux users are out of luck.

General Compatibility

So, with that out of the way, its time we look at how closely this flash drive follows the USB 1.1/2.0 standard. While it supports a wide range of operating systems and environments, how does it support something without an OS that still uses the USB 1.1/2.0 standard? For example, most game consoles of the past 10 years have come with a USB port of some kind, yet some USB flash devices rely on the OS to get the flash drive working rather than being truly universal. To truly be universal, it needs to work with everything that has a USB port, as that is what true Plug and Play functionality is. To test this we till use a model SCPH-30001R Playstation 2 running uLaunchElf, then with Gran Turismo 4's Photomode, and finally with an Action Replay Max. All three tests are necessary, as some flash drives that work with one test have been known to fail others. This will also show how compatible the ToughDrive is with the USB 1.1 standard (the performance tests above were done using USB 2.0, and the PS2 has USB 1.1 ports).

Once uLaunchelf (essentially a homebrew operating system for the PS2) booted up on the test system, the LED on the flash drive immediately lit up as the file browser recognized it. I ran a music program off of the memory card to play music on the flash drive, I viewed some photos that were on the flash drive, I copied some files off of the drive onto the memory card and deleted files off of the flash drive. All tests were met with success.
For the Gran Turismo 4 test, I used Photo Travel to save a picture onto the flash drive at the highest quality settings. The picture was saved successfully, and it was viewable within Windows without any corruption problems.
For the final test, I loaded up AR Max's memory manager. The program recognized the ToughDrive, but sadly wouldn't recognize the space left on it or the overall space. Copying files to and from the ToughDrive were both failures as well, so don't expect to be able to use the ToughDrive as a Max Drive alternative.

Overall, passing two tests isn't bad, especially as the test it did fail is known to cause problems for many brands of flash drives (the control for the performance tests didn't work either); so it is quite obvious that this product follows the USB standard very closely and is a true Plug and Play device.
Page 3
Durability Testing

Now we get into the real selling point of this product. While the ToughDrive showcased impressive speeds in straight-up performance testing, that was not what the product was designed for, and should be thought of more as a bonus than anything else. The true test of this product is whether it survives the ASE Labs Torture Test.

First we will look at whether or not the ToughDrive is truly water proof. I have first hand experience in how water can destroy flash drives at the most inopportune times. This test was performed by placing the ToughDrive with the cap in place in a glass of water for 10 minutes, then taking it out and letting it sit until it was dry. After it was done drying, it was plugged back into the test system to see whether it still worked. When placed into the computer, Windows immediately recognized it and everything on the drive was usable.
After that, the test was repeated, but with the cap removed, in order to determine whether it is the cap that makes the ToughDrive waterproof or the System-in-Packaging design that ATP touts on its website. The results of this test are a repeat of the the prior one. Clearly the System-in-Packaging design is an engineering feat.

ToughDrive in Water


Second we will determine whether or not the shock resistance touted on the packaging is the real deal. First, some light impacting of the drive was done. Tossing it against the wall, dropping it from eye level, etc. Real basic stuff that any flash-based device should be able to withstand. Obviously, the ToughDrive passed this light stuff easily.
To test just how durable the ToughDrive actually is, we therefore had to take it to the next level; testing it against things that would probably severely damage a typical flash drive (such as the control from the performance tests). To do this, the ToughDrive was dropped from eye level on a third storey window (roughly 25 feet above the ground) onto concrete. Thrice.

View from the Top


After the third drop, it was visually inspected for any blemishes or damage; during which it was noticed that there were some slight scratches on the carabiner. That was all the damage that had been done, with the rest of the ToughDrive showing no signs that the drops had even occurred. Upon reinsertion into the test computer, Windows instantly recognized it and all of the files were fine.

The final test was done to determine the validity of the ToughDrive's "Extreme Temperature Resistance." First it was placed into direct sunlight on an 80° day for a period of 30 minutes. After the test was completed, the ToughDrive was immediately inserted into the test computer, where it was, once again, immediately recognized by Windows. To test the opposite end of the spectrum, the ToughDrive was placed into a 25° freezer for another 30 minutes. Amazingly enough, even sub-freezing temperatures didn't cause a hiccup on it. With that out of the way, I can say that the ATP ToughDrive passed our ASE Labs Torture Test flawlessly.

Conclusion:

Coming into this product, I expected a rough and tumble monster of durability, and I was fully impressed by just how tough the ToughDrive is. What I wasn't expecting was a drive that combined some unique features (carabiner, for example) with pretty good speed. There is a downside to this, though. At press time, the ATP ToughDrive Camo goes for around $50 for the 4GB model (though the non-camo version can be had for $10 less). To be honest, that is an awful lot of money these days for a 4GB Flash Drive. However, whether it is worth it really depends on your perspective. There are faster flash drives that can be had for that much money, and there are cheaper flash drives; but one must question the reliability of the former and the speed of the latter.

This of course puts me into a bind. On the one hand, I know first hand that the drive offers incredible durability, staring down situations that most flash drives on the market would bow down to while at the same time offering pretty good read speeds. On the other hand, I have to note that most flash drives simply do not encounter such situations and make by just fine in addition to being cheaper. The bottom line is that this is the flash drive for you if you want to know that your flash drive will take any abuse that you throw at it. I will state that it is great value for uses where it may take a beating, and it is decent value for use as a normal flash drive. The main problem is that it is far better than what most people need in a flash drive, which is why it is rather expensive; but I can't very well knock it for being too good. There are cheaper alternatives on the market, but the important thing is that the ATP Electronics ToughDrive completely lives up to its name.



Thanks to Mike Chean of ATP Electronics for making this review possible.
members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2770.jpg Package Front members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2771.jpg Package Rear members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2772m.jpg Package Contents members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2773.jpg ToughDrive Front members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2774.jpg ToughDrive Back members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2775m.jpg ToughDrive Cap Off members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2776m.jpg HD Tach 1 members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2777m.jpg HD Tach 2 members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2778m.jpg HD Tach 3 members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2779m.jpg Flash Toolkit Benchmark members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2780.jpg ToughDrive in Water members/attachments/upload/2008/08/22/2781m.jpg View from the Top

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