Buying Cheap USB Memory Sticks – Not for the Fainthearted

If you’ve been tasked with sourcing several hundred promotional USB memory sticks for your company or school and you’re only experience of buying them is picking one up during from your supermarket or PC World then you might find the challenge a little intimidating.

Buying a large quantity of branded USB sticks is not for the fainthearted because there are lots of things to consider (and learn) and there are some real “gotchas” to be careful of.

On the face of it you might think it’s as simple as visiting a few web site and comparing prices and designs but the first thing you’ll quickly discover is that very few companies that sell promotional USB’s put any prices on their web sites and those that do typically only have a very small range and the prices will seem expensive.

The reluctance to put prices on web sites not so much to do with hiding the prices and making it harder to comparison shop rather it’s because the prices changes so frequently (daily in some cases) that it’s just not sensible to put them on any website – consequently to get prices you’ll need to fill in a quote request on every website or pick up the phone and call them.

When you do get your prices you need to be clear that you are comparing quotes on a “like for like” basis. Again, you’d think this would be straightforward but some companies will quote fully inclusive of print set-up, print, data-loading and delivery but others will unbundle some or all of these charges. Some will include different lengths of warranty and others will build in the ability to “short ship” by up to 5% with no recourse!

The real challenge is trying to work out exactly what you’re being quoted for. You’d think for example that a price for say a standard 2GB Twister Style USB stick would mean you’re getting the same product from every supplier but the reality is that whilst a USB stick might look the same on the outside it can have very different components (of different quality grades) on the inside and it’s the internal components that really determine the quality of what you’re going to be supplied with.

Inside each USB memory stick is a flash memory chip, a controller chip (which issues instructions to the flash memory), and a capacitor that manages the power used by the USB. Each of these components is, as you might suspect, available from different manufactures and you can buy “cheap” low spec versions and high performance versions (and some in between)

So, the prices you are presented with could be based on a USB stick manufactured using cheap, bottom end memory and controllers or it could be based on better quality, more stable components – unless you break the USB sticks open when they arrive or you run some diagnostics on them you’re unlikely to be able to tell!

To compound matters further it’s not unheard of for some suppliers to use “masked” memory chips – if you end up buying these then the 2GB USB sticks you think you’ve bought might actually only be 512MB or 1GB sticks that have been “masked” to look like they have 2GB of storage – difficult to spot because when they are plugged into a PC they will show 2GB of space available but if you try to load 2GB of data onto them and then take them out and plug them back in again the data won’t be there.

Masked USB memory sticks or memory sticks assembled using cheap(er) internal components will have a high failure rate, very poor read/write speeds and a short life span. But they will be cheap but like most things in life you get what you pay for!

Our advice is to buy from a local reputable supplier (check review sites to see what other customers are saying about them and the USB sticks they’ve bought from them), get as much information as you can on the technical details of the USB sticks you’re being quoted for and read any T&C’s carefully so that you understand what warranty you’re being offered, what recourse you have if things go wrong and finally test them when they arrive! Good Luck!

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