I have had the same problem with Leopard, Snow Leopard, and Lion, with innumerable different brands and sizes of USB sticks. I've formatted them as FAT, FAT32, NTFS, and HFS, and nothing seems to make any difference. No matter what I do, I'm still getting a third and sometimes even a quarter of the read/write speeds our worn-out old Windows XP printer RIP can manage.
I'm replying like this in the hope someone has a solution of some sort, because it's annoyed me for years.
I found the problem, or more accurately, the feature that causes the slow transfer times. Your OS is indexing all the files on the memory stick so it can be easily searched.
Try turning off this feature and let us know if that fixes you "years of annoyance".
Insert your USB Drive
Go to System Preferences -> Spotlight -> Privacy
Select Add "+"
Select your flash drive to add to this list
It's opt-out, not opt-in, so while you're there add whatever else you don't want Spotlighted.
I'm having the same issue. I tried copy the a 1.4 gb file on my macbook pro retina with 2.7ghz cpu and 16gb ram and it took around 9 minutes.
Did the same thing on an old 2.1.ghz core 2 duo pc with 2gb ram and it did the exact same file in just over 3 1/2 minutes.
Not the sort of performance i expect from a 4K+ machine...
I am used to copying about 700 mb of data in around 3 minutes from the hard disk to a usb stick. With the upgrade to Lion, the rate slowed to about 9 minutes for the same amoun of data.
Following Alexander Hood's tip (excluding the usb from Spotlight), my transfer speeds are now back to what I expect.
Have a Patriot 64GB stick and after my new MacBook Pro Retina decided to tell me I had removed it too soon. (no, I hadn't) things got wonky with the stick so I formatted it using Disk Utility and Tuxera's NTFS feature so I could copy >4GB files.
After I formatted the stick I started the copy process back to the stick and little files took forever. I didn't do a bench mark/thoroughput test, but a 1GB file that used to take 2-3 minutes is now sitting at 3 HOURS to complete and even then it will probably increase in time. Oops, yes, now it says 4 HOURS.
it slowly ticks up 21.2 MB, 21.3 MB, 21.4 MB excruciating to say the least.
I expect the 40+GB I had to take at most 40 minutes ~ 1 Hour, not dog slow like it is.
So I thought maybe there was some issue with the format, I plugged it into a Windows 7 PC and formatted it 'normal/not quick' for NTFS - took about an hour to format. By now I'm thinking there is something wrong with the stick.
I then copied a 1GB folder to the stick from Win 7 and it took 2 minutes - reasonable.
Ejected it, plugged it into the MacBook Pro Retina and as you see 3 to 4 hours.
I should say before I started the copy I did like Alexander Hood said with the indexing thing opended preferences and dragged the Patriot drive to Privicy then started the copy.
Sitting at 5 hours now. Gonna cancel it.
I tried both sides of the MacBook just incase perhaps the port was having issues.
I finally got my WD MY Passport and plugged it in (no privacy/index settings with that) and the same file took 3 minutes on the MacBook.
I guess I'll turn in the stick and see if the warranty will cover when a MacBook eats a stick...
it is not a reply but i am having the same problem.......
i bought a 13" macbook pro with retina display with 128gb ssd with a hope that i can transfer my files to my external hard drive very fast so 128gb storage wont be a problem bt.......files transfer speed is extremely slow......
What are you trying to transfer your files to?