Kingston's new products in the portable flash-based external storage space have met with good market reception over the last year or so. Two products in particular - the Kingston XS2000 and the DataTraveler Max - continue to remain unique in the market with no other comparable products being widely available.

The XS2000 remains the only portable SSD with a USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (20Gbps) interface equipped with a native flash controller (that brings cost and power-efficiency benefits 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 1GBps-class speeds, low power consumption, and a Type-C interface - all in a thumb drive form-factor. Today, Kingston is expanding the DT Max series with three new drives - all sporting a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A interface.

This review digs into all the three capacity points - 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB - in the new DTMAXA series sampled by Kingston. We'll be taking a look at the performance, power efficiency, and value proposition of the DTMAXA. We've also cracked the drive open in order to determine 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 both in storage capacity and speeds over the last decade. Thanks to rapid advancements in flash technology (including the advent of 3D NAND and NVMe) as well as faster host interfaces (such as Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen 2x2), the market has seen the introduction of palm-sized flash-based storage devices capable of delivering 2GBps+ speeds.

The thumb drive form factor is attractive for multiple reasons - there is no separate cable to carry around, and the casing can be designed to include a keyring loop for portability. Vendors such as Corsair and Mushkin briefly experimented with SATA SSDs behind a USB bridge chip, but the thermal solution and size made the UFDs slightly unwieldy. The introduction of high-performance native UFD controllers last year from Phison and Silicon Motion has made this category viable again.

Kingston's DT Max series retains the traditional DataTraveler thumb drive form-factor. However, it takes full advantage of the USB 3.2 Gen 2 connector by promising 1GBps speeds. Available in three capacities - 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB, and in both Type-C and Type-A connector versions, Kingston says that they can deliver those high speeds across all six SKUs. We had done a thorough investigation into the 1TB capacity point of the DT Max Type-C version last year. 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, except for minor changes to the color and Type-A connector. We set out to confirm those claims.

The new Type-A series shares the same sliding cap design to protect the connector. The blue LED power indicator and keyring loop are retained. The new connector makes it necessary to slightly lengthen the UFD and also adds a couple of grams to the weight - specifics in the table at the end of this section.

The teardown 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 spot 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 is not clear whether newer production runs of the Type-C versions have also shifted the flash parts - we can only comment on our review samples. Kingston continues to retain the Silicon Motion SM2320 native UFD controller.

Since the publication of our DataTraveler Max Type-C review, we have processed a number of different drives with our updated testbed and test suite. For comparison purposes, we have chosen a number of 1TB and smaller-sized direct-attached storage (DAS) devices.

CrystalDiskInfo provides a quick overview of the capabilities of the internal storage device. Since the program handles each bridge chip / controller differently, and the SM2320 has not yet found its way into the tracked controllers, many of the entries are marked as vendor-specific, and some of the capabilities (such as the interface) are deciphered incorrectly. The temperature monitoring worked well, though - just like it did for the Type-C version.

S.M.A.R.T Passthrough - CrystalDiskInfo

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

Comparative Direct-Attached Storage Devices Configuration
Downstream Port Native Flash Native Flash
Upstream Port USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (Male) USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Male)
Bridge Chip Silicon Motion SM2320 Silicon Motion SM2320
Power Bus Powered Bus Powered
Use Case 1GBps-class, compact USB thumb drive with retractable cover for Type-A connector 1GBps-class, compact USB thumb drive 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
S.M.A.R.T Passthrough Yes Yes
UASP Support Yes Yes
TRIM Passthrough Yes Yes
Hardware Encryption Not Available Not Available
Evaluated Storage Toshiba BiCS5 112L 3D TLC Micron 96L 3D TLC
Price USD 180 USD 180
Review Link Kingston DTMAXA/1TB Review Kingston DT Max 1TB Review

Prior to looking at the benchmark numbers, power consumption, and thermal solution effectiveness, a description of the testbed setup and evaluation methodology is provided.

Testbed Setup and Evaluation Methodology

Direct-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 (electrically, x16 and x4) for add-in cards. In the absence of a discrete GPU - for which there is no need in a DAS testbed - both slots are available. In fact, we also added a spare SanDisk Extreme PRO M.2 NVMe SSD to the CPU direct-attached M.2 22110 slot in the baseboard in order to avoid DMI bottlenecks when evaluating Thunderbolt 3 devices. This still allows for two add-in cards operating at x8 (x16 electrical) and x4 (x4 electrical). Since the Quartz Canyon NUC doesn't have a native USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 port, Silverstone's SST-ECU06 add-in card was installed in the x4 slot. All non-Thunderbolt devices are tested using the Type-C port enabled by the SST-ECU06.

The specifications of the testbed 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
32 GB (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
Add-on Card SilverStone Tek SST-ECU06 USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C Host
OS Windows 10 Enterprise x64 (21H1)
Thanks to ADATA, Intel, and SilverStone Tek for the build components

The testbed hardware is only one segment of the evaluation. Over the last few years, the typical direct-attached storage workloads for memory cards have also evolved. High bit-rate 4K videos at 60fps have become quite common, and 8K videos are starting to make an appearance. Game install sizes have also grown steadily even in portable game consoles, thanks to high resolution textures and artwork. Keeping these in mind, our evaluation scheme for portable SSDs and UFDs involves multiple workloads which are described in detail in the corresponding sections.

  • Synthetic workloads using CrystalDiskMark and ATTO
  • Real-world access traces using PCMark 10's storage benchmark
  • Custom robocopy workloads reflective of 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. Prior to providing concluding remarks, we have some observations on the UFD's power consumption numbers and thermal solution also.

Performance Benchmarks
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  • LonnieG - Monday, July 11, 2022 - link

    In all the power consumption charts, I request give you provide a total energy consumed for the duration of the test (assuming it is the same time interval), not just the instantaneous consumption vs time. Peak power is good to figure out the power supply requirements - but we should be more concerned with the total energy consumed. Obviously, this is not very important for a thumb drive, but for the more power hungry components it may be a large contributor to the total cost of ownership.
  • DanNeely - Monday, July 11, 2022 - link

    Even if it drew 5W at all time and was plugged in 24/7 the yearly energy cost would only be in the $5-15 range (10-30 cents/kwh). In more realistic scenarios the dollar cost is going to be much lower. Where the absolute amount of power consumed might matter is scenarios where it's plugged into a phone or other device with a relatively small battery instead of wall power.
  • YaBaBom - Friday, July 15, 2022 - link

    A 5W constant draw could cut the battery life on many laptops by 20-50%--I'd say that's very significant, though unlikely (the pictured case couldn't dissipate 5W). Still, knowing the watts/hour consumed by this device would be a useful metric.
  • DanNeely - Monday, July 11, 2022 - link

    Could you review the SanDisk 256GB Ultra Dual Drive, or another model with dual USB A and C ports on it? If/when I buy a new flash drive, I'd like a model that will work both with my older PCs and newer laptops/mobile devices without needing dongles.
  • Silver5urfer - Monday, July 11, 2022 - link

    SanDisk Extreme PRO USB 3.2 Gen1 Flash Drive is probably also a good choice, because it's made of Metal and has consistent speeds. Samsung MUF version cannot compete with SanDisk Extreme PRO as it has faster write speed sustainability over 150-200MBps (after dropping the speed). I think you should have reviewed that too. It's Type-A USB drive.
  • hubick - Monday, July 11, 2022 - link

    Came here to say this. I'm confused if the SanDisk Extreme PRO USB 3.2 supports UASP/Trim or not (I've seen several reports saying not), and would like to see a review covering that.
  • erinadreno - Tuesday, July 12, 2022 - link

    I had two of them and they certainly don't support UASP. They use internal disk driver like sata devices. As for trim, I guess you had to do it manually via optimize in Windows or some cli in linux
  • short-n-round - Monday, July 11, 2022 - link

    I may have missed it, but did you check to see what speed the device was connected at with something like USBTreeView?
  • abufrejoval - Thursday, July 14, 2022 - link

    I’m not quite sure if I should blame it on my first own floppy based computers or the PDP-11/34 with its 10MB swappable hard disks that I earned my first IT money on, but I’ve always gone for swappable storage, including 5 ¼” SyQuest or even 3 ½ magneto optical disks, just for the flexibility and ease of doing backups.

    Over the last years that was mostly hot-swap tray-less 2.5” drive bays and SATA SSDs, so NVMe was really a bit of a bother, especially once it became the only option in notebooks. I’ve tried basically every USB and Thunderbolt variant for SATA-SSD and NVMe and they typically came up way short. Some wouldn’t even retain the SSD characteristics (no TRIM), but even the Thunderbolt variant turned out to only pass two lanes of PCIe 3.0 on, which halved the Samsung 970 Evo Plus performance.

    USB sticks were nothing but toys or “tape” for the longest time, but when I read your original Data Traveler Review, I decided to give it a try and bought a pair of 250GB units, especially since they were the same price as the fastest 128GB SanDisk units I’d used before, which performed at SATA levels.

    They have lived up to everything you said and deliver practically identical performance to the 970 Evo Plus on Thunderbolt, at a vastly more convenient form factor and total price point. For anything with a type USB-A connector, I use a simple passive 4cm/1.5inch USB-C to USB-A plug converter.

    They are wonderfully light, stunningly low-power for the performance (which *is* important when laptops run on batteries) and my only grief is that they are ever so slightly too wide (about a millimeter), so two of them don’t fit side-by-side into a notebook.

    I’ve come to use them like removable hard disks, install full operating systems on them or only use them as data dumps. About the only thing I haven’t yet done yet is to use them in a RAID set, for which they have one critical quality: the backside is nicely flat and not riffled so a thermoprinter sticker with a disk label just fits perfectly on there. Without that, it’s just way to easy to lose track of what’s what.
  • Flaming jizz - Sunday, July 17, 2022 - link

    Why do we have to choose between a type a and a type c? Why can't we have both on the same device.
    I know there are adapters but it's just another piece that can get lost.

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