New Type-A Thumb Drive Preserves NVMe Performance

Kingston’s new products in portable flash-based external storage have been well received in the market over the past year. Two products in particular – the Kingston XS2000 and the DataTraveler Max – remain unique in the market and there are no other comparable products widely available.

The XS2000 remains the only portable SSD with a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps) interface equipped with a native flash controller (which offers cost and energy efficiency advantages over bridge-based solutions). The Kingston DataTraveler Max USB Flash Drive (UFD) – another product with a native flash controller – was introduced in August 2021. It advertised 1 GBps class speeds, low power consumption and a Type-C interface – all in in the form of a USB stick. factor. Today, Kingston is expanding the DT Max series with three new drives – all with a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A interface.

This review takes a closer look at all three capacity points – 256GB, 512GB and 1TB – in the new DTMAXA series sampled by Kingston. We’ll take a look at the performance, energy efficiency and value proposition of the DTMAXA. We also cracked open the disc to determine the differences between the hardware in the original DT Max and the new DTMAXA products.

Introduction and product impressions

Bus-powered external storage devices have grown in both storage capacity and speed over the past decade. With rapid advancements in flash technology (including the advent of 3D NAND and NVMe) and faster host interfaces (such as Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2), the market has seen the introduction of palm-sized flash-based storage devices capable of Delivering 2GBps+ speeds.

The USB stick’s form factor is attractive for several reasons – there’s no separate cable to carry around, and the case can be designed with a key ring loop for portability. Vendors like Corsair and Mushkin briefly experimented with SATA SSDs behind a USB bridge chip, but the thermal solution and size made the UFDs somewhat impractical. Last year’s introduction of powerful native UFD controllers from Phison and Silicon Motion has made this category viable again.

Kingston’s DT Max series retains the traditional form factor of the DataTraveler stick. However, it makes full use of the USB 3.2 Gen 2 connector by promising speeds of 1GBps. Available in three capacities – 256GB, 512GB and 1TB, and in both Type-C and Type-A connector versions, Kingston says they can deliver those fast speeds across all six SKUs. Last year we had thoroughly researched the 1TB capacity point of the DT Max Type-C version. Kingston claims that the new Type-A additions to the DT Max series are the same as the corresponding Type-C ones in terms of performance, capacity and form factor, with the exception of minor changes in the color and Type-A connector. We wanted to confirm those claims.

The new Type-A series has the same design with a sliding cap to protect the connector. The blue LED power indicator and key fob loop are retained. The new connector makes it necessary to extend the UFD slightly and also adds a few grams to the weight – specifications in the table at the end of this section.

The disassembly process was similar to that of the Type-C version. With no screws in the design, everything is held by small plastic tabs. Other than the connector change, the only difference we could see on the board was the updated flash package part number. While last year’s Type-C version used the FPxxx08UCM1-7D (with Micron’s 96L 3D TLC), the new DTMAX series uses the FBxxx08UCT1-AF (with Toshiba’s BiCS5 112L 3D TLC). It’s not clear whether newer production runs of the Type-C versions have shifted the flash parts as well – we can only comment on our test samples. Kingston will continue to maintain the Silicon Motion SM2320 native UFD controller.

Since the publication of our DataTraveler Max Type-C review, we’ve run a number of different drives with our updated testbed and test suite. For comparison, we opted for a number of 1TB and smaller direct-attached storage (DAS) devices.

CrystalDiskInfo provides a quick overview of the capabilities of the internal storage device. Since the program treats each bridge chip/controller differently and the SM2320 has not yet found its way into the tracked controllers, many of the items have been marked as vendor specific and some capabilities (such as the interface) have been deciphered incorrectly. However, the temperature monitoring worked well – just like with the Type-C version.

SMART Passthrough – CrystalDiskInfo Kingston DTMAXA/1TBKingston DTMAXA/512GBKingston DTMAXA/256GBKingston DT Max 1TBSamsung MUF-256DA 256GBOWC Envoy Pro Elektron 1TBSamsung T7 Touch 1TB Kingston DTMAXA/512GBKingston DTMAXGB DTMAXA/512GBKingston

The table below provides a comparative overview of the specifications of the different storage bridges presented in this review.

Comparative Direct Connect Storage Device Configuration Aspect Kingston DTMAXA/1TBKingston DT Max 1TBKingston DTMAXA/256GBKingston DTMAXA/512GBSDP G-DRIVE 2TBSamsung MUF-256DA 256GBOWC Envoy Pro Elektron 1TBSDP G-DRIVE ArmorLock 2TBSamDGBS DP256DT Shield 2TBSamsung T7DT Shield 2TBSamsung -256DA 256GBOWC Envoy Pro Elektron 1TBSDP G-DRIVE ArmorLock 2TBSamsung T7 Shield 2TBSamsung T7 Touch 1TBKingston DTMAXA/1TB Downstream Port Native Flash Native Flash Upstream Port USB-3.2 Ma Gen 2 Type Gen 2 Type-C (Male) Bridge Chip Silicon Motion SM2320 Silicon Motion SM2320 Power Bus Powered Bus Powered Use Case Compact 1 Gbps Class USB Stick with Retractable Cover for Type-A Connector Compact 1 Gbps Class USB Stick with Retractable Cover for Type-C Connector Physical Dimensions 91.2 mm x 22.3 mm x 9.5 mm 82.6 mm x 22.3 mm x 9.5 mm Weight 14.5 grams 12.5 grams Cable N/A N/A SMART Passthrough Yes Yes UASP support Yes Yes TRIM Passthroug h Yes Yes Hardware Encoding Not Available Not Available Evaluated Storage Toshiba BiCS5 112L 3D TLC Micron 96L 3D TLC Price
USD 180
USD 180Review Link Kingston DTMAXA/1TB Review Kingston DT Max 1TB Review

Before looking at the benchmark figures, power consumption and thermal solution effectiveness, a description of the test bed setup and evaluation methodology is provided.

Testbed Setup and Evaluation Methodology

Directly attached storage devices (including thumb drives) are evaluated using the Quartz Canyon NUC (essentially the Xeon/ECC version of the Ghost Canyon NUC) configured with 2x 16GB DDR4-2667 ECC SODIMMs and a PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD – the IM2P33E8 1TB from ADATA.

The most attractive aspect of the Quartz Canyon NUC is the presence of two PCIe slots (electrical, x16 and x4) for plug-in cards. In the absence of a discrete GPU – which is not necessary in a DAS testbed – both slots are available. We even added a spare SanDisk Extreme PRO M.2 NVMe SSD to the CPU direct-attached M.2 22110 slot in the plinth to avoid DMI bottlenecks when evaluating Thunderbolt 3 devices. This still allows two plug-in cards that work at x8 (x16 electrical) and x4 (x4 electrical). Because the Quartz Canyon NUC does not have a native USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 port, Silverstone’s SST-ECU06 insert card is installed in the x4 slot. All non-Thunderbolt devices were tested using the Type-C port enabled by the SST-ECU06.

The specifications of the test bed are summarized in the table below:

The 2021 AnandTech DAS Testbed Configuration System Intel Quartz Canyon NUC9vXQNX CPU Intel Xeon E-2286M Memory ADATA Industrial AD4B3200716G22
32GB (2x 16GB)
DDR4-3200 ECC @ 22-22-22-52 OS Drive ADATA Industrial IM2P33E8 NVMe 1TB Secondary Drive SanDisk Extreme PRO M.2 NVMe 3D SSD 1TB Expansion Card SilverStone Tek SST-ECU06 USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C Host OS Windows 10 Enterprise x64 (21H1) Thanks to ADATA, Intel and SilverStone Tek for the building components

The test bed hardware is only one part of the evaluation. In recent years, typical direct-attached storage workloads for memory cards have also evolved. High bit rate 4K videos at 60 fps have become very common and 8K videos are starting to make an appearance. Game rig size has also steadily grown, even in handheld game consoles, thanks to high-resolution textures and artwork. With this in mind, our evaluation scheme for portable SSDs and UFDs encompasses multiple workloads which are described in detail in the corresponding sections.

Synthetic workloads with CrystalDiskMark and ATTO Real-world access trails using the PCMark 10 storage benchmark Custom robocopy workloads reflecting typical DAS usage Sequential write stress test

In the next section, we have an overview of the performance of the Kingston DTMAXA drives in these benchmarks. Before making a closing remark, we also have some comments on the power consumption and thermal solution of the UFD.

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