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The USB drive thread?

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Hi people!


Whether you're running unraid in an refurb enterprise server or in a brand new case boasting a ludicrous amount of DDR4 and an Epyc processor, or have a threadripper or a janktastic set of garbagio parts that assembled themselves through dark magic into a server, there is one thing we, at 99.9% have all in common with unraid: we use an USB stick to boot.


And that's where I'm having some concern today.
No, I won't be like 'why not use something else', that's not the point. It's more like "what usb drive to use"


My unraid server has been running strong for 3 years on the same USB stick. No write error, nothing, everything's great! Or almost.

That drive is an idon'tremmemberhowmany years old 8GB JetFlash drive that's missing its plastic housing, wraped in kapton tape.


I have an esxi box with a drive from 2007, missing its housing too, wrapped in greasy electrician tape.

(I also have a "naked" SSD... I'm a monster 😲)


And since I'll be expanding the number of servers in my humble ratsnest of a flat, I decided to replace the old drives from which my boxes are booting, and buy some extra for the new ones.


The issue is, it's proven quite hard knowing which drive manufacturer to trust when it comes to this.


I already completely ruled out Sandisk. They have been known to produce drives that aren't capable of being boot drive, not following official USB specs. How the f.

This thread is quite interresing on the matter, basically linux can't enumerate the drive. Since I'm gonna order like 10 keys, I don't want to have 10 useless tokens of industrial failure.

Kingston I had a bad time with once, Transcend several times, but I also owned a lot of transcend keys, and some... well are still holding so far 13years strong.

And looking at customer review, basically every key I look up has its fair share of catastrophic failures (like breaking randomely, DoA or stupidly slow speeds, USB3.1 drives running at 1.1 speed).


And most comparative reviews are made on sheer speed-and-housinglook&sturdiness-to-price, not durability over years of being powered on.




So here's what I'm looking for: Is there some of you who have been running multiple identical pendrives over the years who can give a fair opinion on their speed and, most importantly, reliability?

I'm basically looking for 8gig (max 16gigs) pendrives with usb3.0 and up, and just decent enough speeds, that with your experience with that particular drive, you would say it won't mind living next a PSU inside a server, with a raging hot CPU and ram bank puking an heat-wave at it, for years, 24/7.


I'm keeping religious backups of my bootdrives, but since I host services for other people, including on opposing time zones, I have no hour acceptable to be a down time longer than a simple reboot (which is long enough already, long POST board.), and I prefer stuff to just WORK and not fail, for some madly inconceivable reason.

TLDR: if it's easy for most components, a "server-booting usb drives: almanac of great ones" post is hard to come across. 

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Yes, I know, they are a brand you don't like. Also, I don't recommend ANY usb 3.0 sticks.


The SE9's are rugged, have been reliable for me, good heatsinking (all metal case), and are still available in USB 2.0, which is important to me.


I think (personal opinion here) the extra speed of the 3.0 sticks causes pinpoint heat buildup in the on stick controller chips and contributes to their demise.


I personally have 4 for my servers, and a handful more scattered around on keychains and elsewhere.

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Thanks for the input. Kingston as I said I had only ONCE a bad experience with (a slow af drive that I gave to my mother, which stored quite important documents on, and basically failed the day of an important meeting just 2 months after purchase!).


And given that I only ever had 3 Kingston key, I was just able to give a proper evaluation of their USB keys, nor willing to risk to waste money into potentially defective drives.

And with the particular environmental parameters inside a server compared to what most people do with USBkeys, I would have had to risk having servers bootings off of keys I don't trust already? Yeah no.


Also, the reason I was questioning about usb 3.0key over 2.0 even on USB2.0 port, was for the simple reason I would think that 2.0 nowadays could be a good reason to cut down on flash chip quality to cut costs for manufacturer. Aka, nice chips going to 3.x keys, shitty slow chips going to 2.0 keys.



But if you tell me you have 4 running strong and reliably, and at the back of/inside servers, I may try these!

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Posted (edited)

SanDisk 64GB Cruzer Fit USB Flash Drive - SDCZ33-064G-G35


This is a 2.0 and runs fine and at a very low temperatures.  Read the reviews on them. I use them on my PBX and they've been running fine for years.


I think you're over engineering this one :) 

Edited by johnwhicker

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Posted (edited)

Well, concerning SanDisk, I did linked a bit long post and didn't really pointed out some important piece of informations, to keep it short.
Here are the main points:

For the same "Product Name", they discovered that SanDisk sells under the same name (in this post the user Nejko had a SanDisk Ultra Fit 32 GB, and later bought more) at least 3 different product codes (BM141024848V, BM141224848V and BM150224846D), only the first of the 3 actually successfully booting linux, the two others getting stuck early on on a "(initramfs) Unable to find a medium containg a live file system" issue, accross multiple distros.


Worse, same user, Nejko, got a hang of a Sandisk Rep through mail, and here's what they got told:



Dear Nejc,

We understand that you cannot use your Ultra Fit drives as bootable devices. We would like to inform you that we at SanDisk have not tested our flash drive as a bootable device. SanDisk does not provide any utility or instructions to make the flash drives bootable.

So in that case we cannot assist you further with this issue.



You heard that. They don't test their keys to see if they are bootable!!

Pretty dismissive, and the kind of BS that doesn't make me want to do any business with them when it comes to USB sticks. At least their SSDs are tested to be able to boot... so far.

Later in the post, the user jdb2 went deeper on the issue on their own SanDisk key:



I did extensive debugging : I enabled early kernel debug/printk messages, maximum loglevel, “set -vx” in init and /scripts/casper in a custom initrd.lz and sent everything over to a another machine running “netcat -u -l 6666” with the netconsole directive properly configured on the problem flash drive.

I looked at casper.log but I couldn’t trace down the problem, even with “set -vx” enabled and debugging echos inserted into critical places. The netconsole output did show the possible cause though :

[21.546102] usb 2-1.2: device descriptor read/64, error -110 
[26.733116] usb 2-1.2: device descriptor read/64, error -71 
[26.909409] usb 2-1.2: new high-speed USB device number 4 using ehci-pci 
[26.993284] usb 2-1.2: device descriptor read/64, error -71 
[27.181399] usb 2-1.2: device descriptor read/64, error -71 
[27.357527] usb 2-1.2: new high-speed USB device number 5 using ehci-pci 
[27.773693] usb 2-1.2: device not accepting address 5, error -71 
[27.845809] usb 2-1.2: new high-speed USB device number 6 using ehci-pci 
[28.262016] usb 2-1.2: device not accepting address 6, error -71 
[28.262219] hub 2-1:1.0: unable to enumerate USB device on port 2

So Linux is trying to enumerate the drive but fails, therefore it fails to mount the fat32/vfat partition which contains the filesystem.squashfs and hence “Unable to find a medium containing a live file system.”

I tried this on four different machines, with different hardware.

As a last resort I wanted to rule out the possibility that my byte-by-byte copy from the previous drive had somehow screwed up the new drive’s bootup process, so I wiped the disk and performed a fresh install of Linux Mint 17.1 Cinnamon 64-bit using Unetbootin – same result, on all 4 different machines.

Today I RMA-ed the drive. I own dozens of flash sticks and I have never had a problem with any of them booting Linux. If SanDisk produces devices that somehow deviate from the official USB spec, then I’d strongly recommend anyone looking to boot Linux off of a USB flash drive select another manufacturer. We’ll see – In my RMA I said I wanted a drive with the same specs but with its firmware updated so as to support booting Linux.



That's why I completely ruled out SanDisk when it comes to bootable USB disks.


I may be over-engineering the question, but since I'm planning on buying a pack of 10 keys, I don't wanna play lottery with product codes.

And yes, your Sandisk USB keys boot fine, I have 1 that does too, and doesn't heat up or anything... but had one that never booted and that I gave to a friend for their university stuff.

The user Nejko had one, then went to buy more of the same model "Name", and got done in the rear IO.

Given the issues I encountered, that a lot of other people encountered, and SanDisk's apparent policy, if I'm ready to give a chance to any other brand, SanDisk is simply completely ruled out to me.

Edited by Keexrean

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