The Top Advantages and Disadvantages of USB Flash Drives

All you need to know about USB flash drives

USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and has been with us since 1995.

Ajay Bhatt created the technology after getting frustrated at how long adding devices to computers took, and so designed something that would make devices a lot easier!

The rest, as they say, is history, but suffice to say, USB connectivity has made the plug n play nature of devices far easier than it would have been!

Many people get confused when it comes to USB’s as they believe that the USB aspect is the actual device that they intend to use, but it is merely how it connects to a computer or tablet.

For example, USB Hard Drive, USB Flash Drive, USB Monitor, USB Charger, USB Keyboard, USB Mouse etc are all end-user devices that use USB connectivity to connect to the computer.

The History of the Universal Serial Bus device


What are USB Flash Drives?

USB Flash Drives are known as a few other names such as pen drives, thumb drives, USB stick, external drive to name a few. 


They are small external and mobile storage drives that allow you to connect to a computer and transfer data on and off devices. 


Storage capacity is extremely cheap in recent years so the cost of a multi-GB USB flash drive is relatively cheap. Storage sizes can range from 256MB to multi TB’s of capacity and so their use can be for personal as well as business.

How much do USB flash drives cost?

USB flash drives range from $3 to $500 depending on the capacity and type needed.

Why do people use a USB flash drive?

USB flash drives enable people to transfer large number of files between devices very quickly. This provides a further element of security as it means they do not need to send the data over the internet or network.

How fast are USB Flash Drives?

The data transfer rate of USB Flash Drives depends on the USB type and the storage medium used (NAND, SSD, etc) but the following information will give you an idea on transfer speeds


Type : USB 2.0:
Sequential write speed range = 3~10 MB/s
Sequential read speed range = 10~25 MB/s


Type : USB 3.0:
Sequential write speed range = 10~45 MB/s
Sequential read speed range = 60~150 MB/s

What is inside a USB flash drive?

USB flash drives are made up of 5 key components.  These can be described as:

  1. Standard USB Plug
  2. USB Mass Storage Controller
  3. NAND Flash Memory Chip
  4. Crystal Oscillator
  5. Cover
Let’s look at these components in a little bit more detail

1. Standard USB Plug

This is the external USB plug that you would see on the USB Drive similar to below



These connection plugs are usually flat and rectangular in shape and would fit in to the USB port on the device. 


The USB plugs can range from USB Type A, B,C, Mini or Micro as below  


2. USB Mass Storage Controller

This can be described as the helper or bridge between the device and the USB storage chip. The Mass Storage Controller managed the data transfer between both devices. It does have an onboard chip comprised of ROM and RAM.

Below is an image of a USB Mass Storage Controller 

3. NAND Flash Memory Chip

NAND flash memory is a non-volatile form of data storage and is essentially the brain of the device as it gives it power and storage allocation.

Below is an image of a NAND chip.


4. Crystal Oscillator

Controlling the flow of information is key to ensuring the drive operates optimally. As such, the Crystal Oscillator performs as a clock signal to ensure that the electronics operate as and when required but under a regular chain.

Below is an image of a Crystal Oscillator

5. Cover

This is the shell of the USB drive and is what protects the device from the elements and general wear and tear. 

Below is an image of a Cover


What are the advantages of a USB flash drive?

#1 – USB drives are easy to carry 

A USB flash drive is portable in nature and design and so it can be placed in your pocket or purse and can be taken practically anywhere.

#2 – USB drives have large capacity

A USB drive can range in size from 256MB to 2+TB. This means that it can transfer large amounts of data in a small space.

#3 – USB drives have fast performance

Being able to transfer 1GB of data in 10 to 50 seconds is impressive and can save a lot of time.

#4 – USB drives are compatible with practically any device

USB drives can be connected to any device that has a USB connector and even if it does not have one, there are USB adapters you can use to convert ports to accept USB. 

#5 – USB drives are rugged and durable

USB drives are made to withstand shock and falls and the inner electronics is well protected from the elements. 

#6 – USB drives are cheap

USB drives are relatively cheap in comparison to other hard drives. A 1GB USB drive retails at USD2

#7 – USB drives offer increased security

USB drives can offer inbuilt encryption capability and many vendors provide this as a turn key capability. All you need to do is setup a passphrase on first-use and away you go

What are the disadvantages of a USB flash drive?

#1 - USB drives are easy to lose

With great portability comes the risk of losing the device with ease. USB flash drives are small in size and so are prone to fall out of pockets or open bags. Ensuring you zip them up carefully will go along way in ensuring they do get lost. 

#2 - USB drives are prone to corruption

USB drives, whilst portable, do open themselves up to data corruption by virtue of viruses or strong electromagnetic fields. Both events tend to render the device useless and so being careful where you plug them is key. 

#3 - USB drives have a limited data write life

USB flash drives will have write and rewrite limitations and this means that the device will have a limited usability life. The more times you transfer data the more it will get used and so will get closer to fail. However, the good news is that this rewrite limitation runs in the 100k rewrites and so by the time you reach this the device will be extremely old anyway. 

#4 - USB drives have retractable designs

USB flash drives work via the USB plug and so many vendors now produce flash drives that have a retractable USB plug. This allows for the USB plug to be damaged easily. 

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About the author

Emma Fenwick - ReviewAllTech

I am Emma Fenwick, the owner of ReviewAllTech. An experienced product designer; I wanted to create a site where I could work with like minded people to review products without any bias or commercial pressure.

All reviews that you read on this website are genuine and based on real world use. We do not receive any money in advance of writing our reviews and so you can be rest assured what you read is based on honest feedback. 

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