What is a USB Flash Drive?

A USB flash drive is a type of data storage device that is most often removeable, portable, and features the capability of being rewritten for continued reuse. They are often very small and light in design, making them very portable and suitable for storing, back-up, and transferring of data. What makes USB as a platform so useful for data storage is that all operating systems (OS) and BIOS nowadays support USB flash drives. With the adoption of USB technology by all major systems and manufacturers, these data storage devices have also faced constant improvement of speed to make reading and writing much quicker.

A typical USB flash drive consists of the USB plug to attach to a device port, a storage controller for reading and writing data, a crystal oscillator for data output, and a flash memory chip in which data is stored. Components such as the storage controller and flash memory chip can be found within the protective casing of the USB drive, in which one would find a circuit board fitted with various integrated circuits that make up the drive. The protective housing may vary greatly based on the manufacture, ranging from simple plastics and rubbers to bulky designs based on characters, foods, etc.

The USB flash drive has also come a long way in technological ability since its original release. Beforehand, the small drive market was dominated by products such as floppy discs and microdrives, but these were soon rendered obsolete with the capabilities of USB. As electronic data storage abilities improved and could be produced in smaller sizes, the flash drive itself also shrank in size. Nowadays, USB flash drives can hold upwards of terabytes of data, and some are barely bigger than the USB plug itself. Speeds are also seeing gradual increases, as transfer rates have gone from 1.5 MB/s to 530 MB/s from USB 1.1 to USB 3.1 type-C technologies. As technology has improved, prices have steadily dropped and higher capacity drives are now much more affordable than they once were when the technology was still in its infant stages.

As with any type of data storage device, there is bound to be a loss of integrity and storage health over time. With its design and housing, the USB flash drive itself is fairly sturdy, as it has no moving parts that can be damaged and its casing protects the inner circuit board from any contact or contaminate. Therefore, if kept in the right conditions, a USB flash drive should last an extremely long time. Nevertheless, its wear comes mostly from reading, writing, and constant operation. As with most flash memory, health deteriorates with write cycles, and a typical USB flash drive has a lifespan of 10,000 to 100,000 write and erase cycles. Therefore, while the age may not affect its life as much, constant use can cause degradation and eventual corruption of data after a great amount of time.


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August 6, 2019

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