Monday, September 22, 2008

Very Slow USB Memory Stick in Windows XP

I finally bought myself a laptop and I had to figure out how to transfer files from my computer to the new device. I'll spare you the details, the thing is that I finally decided to use a 4Gb flash stick that my wife had from work.

I wanted to copy about four episodes from a tv series (that's less than 1.5Gb) and it said it needed to do it in 30 minutes. I thought, well, maybe the stick is slow. I was in no hurry, so I let it copy. I noticed that it worked in great bursts of data. First copy fast, then wait, then copy again, then wait again. When I moved it to the laptop, the file system was corrupt. What the.. ? So I formatted the stick. Apparently, I had only the FAT32 option, not NTFS. Then started copying again.

I Googled for it and found out that Windows XP does not enable write caching for removable drives. Me being me, I immediately went to the hardware properties of the stick and changed the way it worked from 'Optimize for quick removal' to 'Optimize for performance' (which specified that it enabled write caching). Wow! I am so smart. But I continued Googling anyway and I've learned that the setting doesn't really change anything, other than giving you the option of formatting with NTFS, which then would allow write caching.

But there was also another option, even with 'Optimize for quick removal' on: use the Windows XP command line utility Convert which is used to convert a FAT drive to an NTFS drive. I stopped the copying, only to notice that the file system was corrupt again. I deleted the files, ran chkdsk K: and then convert K: /fs:ntfs /v /NoSecurity. While the copying went a lot smoother, it still took 15 minutes to copy the damn thing. At least I could read it at the other end, anyway.

I don't exclude the possibility that drivers or stick hardware were at fault (since it is the first time this is happening to me), but be aware that you can always have this option of using NTFS instead of FAT32.

Disadvantages of using NTFS and write caching:
  1. You need to use the software option of removing the USB stick and wait until it says it is safe to remove it, otherwise you might have write errors
  2. NTFS has this ugly write last access time option that you can only remove it through a registry hack.
  3. NTFS sticks cannot be used for some devices like mp3 players and such, since they only know FAT32 access. Windows 98 is also oblivious to NTFS, although there are third party NTFS drivers for it

Almost all information here can be found in more detail at this link: Tips for USB pen drives.