Earlier this week Apple took the wraps off new versions of its range of MacBook Pro and MacBook Air range of laptops and for anyone with a penchant for speed they’ll have been delighted to hear that every model across the range now ships with USB 3.0.
In fact not only are they shipping with USB 3.0 but Apple have included two USB 3.0 ports on every MacBook (Pro and Air) as well as at least one Thuderbolt port.
The inclusion of USB 3.0 is as significant and the exclusion of any USB 2.0 ports that we’ve all become familiar with over the past 5 years or so. But given that you can still plug any old USB 1.x or USB 2.0 product into a USB 3.0 port then it makes sense if you’re going to commit to USB 3.0 to drop the earlier versions completely.
USB 3.0 has been a long time coming. Development started on the new standard in 2007 to have the same ease-of-use and plug and play capability offered by USB 2.0 but with a whopping 10X performance increase in data transfer rates. The speed improvements are achieved by using a technology that has been dubbed “SuperSpeed” – this allows multiple streams of data transfer and boosts its peak bandwidth to 4.8 Gb/s (~572 MB/s).
USB-3.0 Flash Drives
To put the speed improvements into context if you transferred 100 albums from a MacbookPro to and iPod using a USB 2.0 the transfer would take around 2 minutes but if you use USB 3.0 (then assuming everything in the chain uses USB 3.0) then the transfer drops to around 15 seconds!!
The only slight challenge in the short term is to get the benefit of speed improvements on offer from USB 3.0 everything you use must be USB3.0 (cables, peripherals, ports etc.) If anything uses the older, slower standard (2.0) then you simply won’t get the speed benefits but at least things will still work/transfer – just more slowly!
Like any new technology there is always a premium to pay for being one of the first to buy it so for the next year or two or so expect to pay more for USB 3.0 cables, USB 3.0 peripherals and USB 3.0 flash drives.
Whilst USB 3.0 flash drives continue to attract a premium price they are unlikely to be used for promotional purposes. There is simply no point in paying a premium for a product that for most people will only work at the slower speeds. For the foreseeable future your average PC (and Mac) user will, unless they have invested in a new MacBook, happily continue to work at USB 2.0 speeds. So whilst there is lots of buzz and interest in USB 3.0 it’s not really relevant if you want to buy printed flash drives to give away at a trade show, an event or an seminar (unless you are giving them away to an audience of hard core, early adopter “techies”).
One thing most customers are looking for when buying branded USB memory sticks, or any promotional product for that matter is value for money. Understandably when times are tough and marketing budgets are being trimmed any expenditure that is sanctioned typically has to be hard fought for and consequently its ability to make a real “bottom line” impact will be thoroughly scrutinized. Long gone are the days when companies just threw money at something because it sounded like a good idea.
Branded USB Memory Sticks
So, if you’ve decided that USB sticks printed or engraved with your logo on are an appropriate way to spend your marketing budget then you’ll want to make sure you get the best possible deal you can when you buy them. But, if you’re new to buying branded USB memory sticks how do you make sure that you keep your costs down without compromising on quality. Unfortunately for the uninitiated a push for “value” can mean ending up with cheap and nasty rubbish that will fail in the hands of your customers and will reflect badly on your brand and company. A focus on value is absolutely the right thing to do but it needs to be done armed with a little bit of knowledge about what you’re buying and with some context about how the branded USB market works. As ever in life a little bit of homework will stand you in good stead.
To help you on your way here’s a list of useful tips on how to secure the best deal from your supplier(s) for branded USB memory sticks:
- Branded USB memory sticks – also commonly referred to as USB flash drives, pen drives, thumb drives and USB disks have been around for about 10 years now and over the last couple of years they have rapidly become one of the most popular promotional products on the market. They are small, portable, handy to use, they look good, they’re a great way to distribute data (by pre-loading them) and they have a high perceived value. But, beware because although they all look the same on the surface the “guts” of a USB memory stick (the flash memory chip and the controller chip) determine the speed at which they can transfer data and their potential lifespan. A good rule of thumb is “the cheaper the stick the slower the read/write speed” and typical “promotional” USB memory sticks tend to be at the cheap end of the market with read write speeds of around 3-4 MB per second.
If you need you USB sticks to be faster then you’ll need to specify this and you’ll need to be sure when comparing any quotes that you are comparing like to like.
- Allow enough time – The vast majority of USB sticks are manufactured, data loaded and printed (or engraved) in China. Even if you buy from a local company, the chances are they will still get your sticks produced in China. Typically this is not a problem because lead-times are incredibly short but to be on the safe side you still need to allow around 10 working days. If you need them quicker than this then expect to pay a premium for local labour cost to get your sticks data loaded and printed in the UK.
UK Premiums for “rush” or last minute orders can be avoided simply by planning ahead.
- Go with the more popular models – The best value USB sticks tend to be those that are the most popular. At the moment this is the Twister USB Flash Drive (a perennial favourite because it’s small, portable, has no cap to lose and comes in a wide range of colours) or the USB credit card which is hugely popular because it can accommodate complex, full colour digital prints on both sides of the card.
- Memory – just pay for what you need (and a little bit more) – USB flash drives are available in a wide range of memory sizes starting at 64MB and going all the way up to an eye watering 256GB! The challenge with a USB memory stick that is going to be given away is to choose a size is big enough to hold your own data whilst at the same time has enough spare (unused memory) to make it useful to the recipient. Don’t go overboard though and pay for lots of memory that won’t get used – the most popular memory sizes at the moment for promotional USB sticks are 1GB and 2GB but prices of 4Gb and 8GB versions are falling fast so ask about prices for these as well because you might be pleasantly surprised.
If in doubt go larger not smaller. Whilst you can still buy 64MB and 128MB they are typically only pennies cheaper than a 1GB or 2GB drive and they’re so small they don’t encourage repeat usage which means less exposure for the brand that is printed on them. Only use very small capacity sticks if you’re happy for the majority to be thrown away after their initial use.
- Buy a sensible amount to spread any fixed costs – don’t expect the best price price for your branded USB memory sticks if you only order a small handful of them. There are several fixed costs involved in the manufacture and supply of printed USB drives including print set up costs, printing, proofing, data-loading and freight and these costs need to be spread across every USB stick that you order. Consequently most suppliers won’t quote for less than 25 but you only start to get real economies of scale if you are buying 100+ pieces.
- Buy from a trusted local supplier – If you buy on price and price alone then be prepared to sacrifice quality and performance. Don’t forget from the outside all USB sticks look the same but it’s the inside components that really count and cheap flash memory coupled with cheap controllers will give you a high failure rate. Make sure you buy from a local supplier with a good reputation (check online for recent reviews) and get warranties that have teeth and can be enforced (locally) if things go wrong.
- Timing and the currency markets – No one is expecting you to become a currency dealer just because you want to buy a few USB sticks but flash memory is a commodity that is traded globally in US dollars so when the (GBP) pound is strong against the (USD) dollar prices fall. If you do buy your USB flash drives once or twice a year try and choose a time when currency prices are in your favour as a certain supermarket says “every little helps”!