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Guide to Choosing USB Flash Drives

Asia Grentech Electronic Co.,Ltd | Updated: May 06, 2015

USB flash drives are a convenient and powerful storage tool used by students, business professionals, and anyone with a need to back up and transport their files quickly and easily. USB ports were designed to standardize connections of keyboards, printers, portable media devices, and other units to a computer system. Flash drives make use of these ports and grant users fast access to the storage devices. Flash drives quickly replaced floppy disks when they were introduced at the beginning of the 21st century, and are capable of holding far more information than their predecessors. Determine how you will use your flash drive in order to find one that will be the most useful to you.
 

Choosing USB Flash Drives

There are many types of flash drives available on the market, and buyers may find themselves with several decisions to make when shopping for one. Storage capacity, file transfer speeds, and unit design are among the primary things to keep in mind while shopping.

Determining the Appropriate Size of Your Flash Drive

The biggest question that most buyers of USB flash drives will ask themselves is, "how much storage capacity do I need?" The answer to this will largely depend on the type of files that you will be saving. To understand how your files will affect which flash drive you need, a quick rundown of bytes and drive sizes can be useful.

Nearly all modern flash drives list their storage capacity in gigabytes, or GB for short. A gigabyte is approximately 1 billion bytes, 1 million kilobytes (KB), or 1,000 megabytes (MB). Storage capacity for a flash drive can vary greatly, from 4GB or less to well over 100GB. As you might expect, larger storage capacities mean larger price tags. To be sure that you have enough room for your files without paying for a device that will never reach its potential, inspect your file sizes and find the appropriate flash drive.

4 or 8GB Flash Drive

Text documents are very small in terms of storage, and a high number of files can be saved on a flash drive with a low storage capacity. Most text documents are less than 200 KB, which means that a 4 GB flash drive could hold hundreds of standard text documents.

Most JPEG photos meant for online use are also quite small, and take up little more room than a standard text document. If you are only using your flash drive to back up text documents and JPEG photos, a 4 or 8 GB flash drive should provide more than enough storage for moving content from one device to another.

16GB Flash Drive

Large, high-quality photos can occupy much more space on a drive and will require a larger storage capacity. Tables, charts, and other documents with graphics and organized information can also take up more room than text documents. Music files, though small, can add up very quickly when saving entire albums. If you are moving many large photos, charts, or MP3s, consider a 16 GB drive.

32GB Flash Drive

Audio and video clips are very large files, and will require larger storage capacities. If you are working with videos, art files, or complex graphics technology, it will be worth investing in a 32 GB or higher flash drive.

Before making a purchase, check the average size of the files you will be storing or transporting. The method for doing this varies by operating system, though if you are able to find an option to show you the information on a specific file, it will list its size in the most appropriate format: KB, MB, GB, or other.

File Transfer Speeds

Transfer speeds are most commonly designated in MB/sec (megabyte per second). Variations of this are written as Mbyte/sec or other, though most flash drives will list their transfer rate in megabytes. This refers to how quickly the unit can retrieve and write data. Many flash drives will have two separate speeds listed, one for its reading speed and one for writing. This refers to how fast the unit can access documents stored on it and how fast it can save new content, respectively.

Generations of USB Flash Drives

The technology of USB flash drives has developed significantly since their inception at the beginning of the 21st century, and many new versions have been created in order to expand storage capacity, increase transfer speeds, and keep up with newer forms of USB ports. Flash drives can be categorized according to the "generation" of USB port with which they correspond. The following table lists the USB generations along with a description of each.
 

Flash Drive Generation

Description

First

Flash drives were first prepared for commercial sale in 2000, and had a storage capacity of only a few MB. This first generation of flash drives was a revolution in portable storage for its time, but was quickly eclipsed in terms of functionality and storage capacity.

Second (USB 2.0)

The second generation of USB flash drives offers vastly improved transfer rates and significantly greater storage capacities than the first wave. Upper-end flash 2.0 drives are capable of writing data at nearly 20 times the rate of the earliest units, and are able to store several GB instead of MB.

Third (USB 3.0)

USB 3.0 flash drives again offer a marked increase in storage capacity and transfer rate over their predecessors, and are able to read and write data at approximately 10 times the rate of 2.0.

 

When shopping, keep in mind that flash drives require a USB port of the corresponding generation to reach their full functionality. For example, USB 3.0 flash drives will only be faster than 2.0 when they are used in a 3.0 port. However, third-generation USB flash drives are reverse-compatible with second generation ports. This means that your 3.0 flash drive will still copy, save, and allow you to open files while it is plugged into a second-generation port, though it will do so at the 2.0 transfer rate.

Other Considerations

While storage capacity and transfer speed are important to keep in mind while shopping, there are several other things that will affect the usefulness and value of a flash drive. Price, design, and durability should also be considered while shopping.

Price

The price of USB flash drives can vary greatly between manufacturers and models. While it is often useful to shop around to find the best prices, keep in mind that products with low prices are sometimes the result of a compromise in materials or craftsmanship. Before making any purchase of a USB flash drive, be sure to read reviews of the specific item. Other buyers will detail any problems they encountered during use of the item, including compatibility or longevity. In some cases, these complaints may revolve around the physical design of an item.

Design

Flash drives are created in many different styles in the hopes of improving convenience. Some of these are legitimately useful, while others simply complicate use of the product. For example, some flash drives come with an attached lanyard, making them ideal for clasping to a bag or hanging around your neck for quick access. Others feature detachable caps that are liable to fall off and become lost, leaving the plug-in area of your flash drive exposed and prone to dirt or damage. Browse items and read reviews to determine which features will suit your individual needs.

Durability

If you are simply using a flash drive to move data between two computers in a home or office, it may not be necessary to worry about its casing or durability. But if you will regularly be tucking a flash drive into your pocket and taking it with you, be sure to check reviews for durability. Flash drives with swiveling or moving components are liable to break or wear out over time, and some poorly made devices may even split down the seams of the external case, leaving the electronics bare. Some of the most durable and efficient flash drives are those that can extend or retract from the case with the use of a plastic slider, such as those made by

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