Frequently Asked Questions About USB Flash Drives

Everything you need to know about ultra portable storage

Portable USB flash drives remain one of the most curious computer peripherals available. Some people wonder what in the world they're used for, while others wonder what in the world they can't be used for.

This flash drive FAQ covers basic questions about those miniature memory sticks you often see dangling from people's key chains.

A batch of USB flash drives
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What's the Difference Between a USB Flash Drive and a Regular Flash Drive?

A flash drive is solid-state drive (SSD) technology that stores data in a manner that is similar to the typical hard drive found in most PCs—but without moving parts. Flash drives come in many forms, including external storage devices, portable USB drives, and as the primary storage drive in some laptops.

A USB flash drive is the industry term for a small, extremely portable flash drive that connects to a computer via a USB port. USB flash drives are so small that some are designed to attach to a key ring.

What Do People Use USB Flash Drives For?

Because of their extreme portability—most weigh in at an ounce or less—USB flash drives are often used to transfers files between computers at different locations. As their storage capacity has increased, they have also become useful for backing up important files from your PC's hard drive and storing them in a secure location.

What Are the Benefits of Using a USB Flash Drive?

USB flash drives are popular today because they are faster, easier to use, and more convenient than other methods of file transfer or storage.

USB flash drive and multiple USB port malfunctions
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Transferring files directly from computer to computer can be oddly complicated, and in some cases, you need the two devices to be right next to each other. With a USB flash drive, that isn't necessary. The transfer process is as simple as plugging the flash drive into a computer and dragging and dropping files and folders onto the it. Then, plug the same flash drive into a different computer and drag and drop the files wherever you want them.

What Does Mbps Mean and Why Is It Important?

Mbps is an abbreviation for megabits per second. It refers to the speed at which files are transferred between two devices—in many cases, a USB flash drive and a computer.

A USB 2.0 flash drive transports data at a maximum rate of 480 Mbps. If it's transfer speed you are after, look for a USB 3.0 flash drive. USB 3.0 is blazing fast and transfers data at a maximum rate of 5 gigabits per second (Gbps). A USB 3.0 flash drive is 10 times as fast as a USB 2.0 flash drive.

Speed is important when you are transferring large files or entire movies.

How Much Space Is on USB Flash Drives?

Drives are almost exclusively available in the gigabyte range these days. You used to be able to find 512 MB flash drives, but due to lowered costs and increased transfer speeds, such a comparatively small capacity is outdated.

Sizes typically range from 8 gigabytes to a massive 2 terabytes, with a sliding price scale to go along with it. You can get the smaller capacity drives for less than $20, but a 2 terabyte USB flash drive sets you back hundreds.

A USB flash drive

How Can USB Flash Drives Be So Small?

USB flash drives use solid-state flash memory technology, which stores data without using moving parts. Over the years, solid-state memory has been able to decrease the size required to store data many times, resulting in more memory being stored on a tiny memory chip.

How Secure Are USB Flash Drives?

If you're storing important information about your job or valuable copyrighted files, you need the encryption features available on some USB flash drives to protect your files from prying eyes. Encryption is not a standard feature on USB flash drives, but it is available and can be invaluable to someone who might leave the flash drive on a busy train or in a locker somewhere.

Physically speaking, USB flash drives are incredibly robust. Without moving parts, the lightweight flash drives can withstand being jostled around, dropped, or stepped on without sustaining internal damage. Most also come in a sturdy encasement that can withstand plenty of roughhousing.