Why are USB drives larger than other USB devices?
January 17, 2009 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Why are USB drives larger than other USB devices?

I've noticed that USB drives tend to be wider than most other USB devices and connectors, so that it is difficult to connect two drives side-by-side or to connect a drive and then a cable for some other device. Is there some reason for this, or are designers just trying to annoy me?
posted by Grinder to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
The latter.
posted by rokusan at 8:14 AM on January 17, 2009

The difference is that these devices use a cable instead of hanging off the bus. You can add an extension cable to your USB flash drive. It nice to have one of these on your desk so you dont have to crawl down to PC to plug the drive in.

The drives are a certain width because flash chips are a certain width. You'll need a controller chip in there too. Now add a plastic casing strong enough to protect the innards and you have a device wider than the slot. Ive seen some that are pretty slim, but thats not a guarantee that it wont block the adjacent port. Get a cable.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:17 AM on January 17, 2009

I've seen some, and owned, some tiny USB drives. The larger drives usually just have more plastic, the insides are almost always small. I can only imagine the size of the drive is determined after some input from the marketing department...

By the way, my favorite USB drive I own is "Y" shaped, with two USB ports on ends of the "Y". So it's a little hub and ends up adding to my supply of available USB ports.
posted by PhillC at 8:20 AM on January 17, 2009

My Sony USB doesn't have that problem.

The people that make USB 3G data devices are also in on the conspiracy.

There are little USB cable extensions that you can get so you can plug in items side by side.
posted by birdherder at 8:21 AM on January 17, 2009

Many flash drives are larger because the designers are concerned you will lose them, or want to put a LED status indicator in, or some other silly reason.

If you need serious smallness, check these out.
posted by selfnoise at 8:38 AM on January 17, 2009

I knew it was all a conspiracy. Thanks.
posted by Grinder at 9:04 AM on January 17, 2009

Its not a conspiracy. Yes, manufacturing flash chips has changed in the last couple of years and theyre able to make tiny chips and tiny controllers for modern flash drives, but all the ones Ive opened (and that has been quite a few since they first came out) nearly fit the plastic shell. There's no half inch of "useless plastic dictated by marketing." Sometimes there's a little more plastic on the end so you can attach it to a keychain, but that's really it.

Just because a few companies have started recently selling ultra-small USB drives doesnt really mean that the one if your pocket or the one sold two years ago is 90% plastic.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:12 AM on January 17, 2009

This project might interest you.
posted by fatllama at 9:24 AM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Actually, a lot of drives are wider than a USB connector simply because they have a cap covering the plug. The cap dictates the width of the rest of the drive. While older drives tend to require a circuit board that's a few centimetres long, newer ones often have a really tiny PCB inside a largely empty shell.

I recently modded one of these by removing all the plastic and replacing it with some mouldable epoxy. The result is a USB drive that is the same size as the one selfnoise linked to.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:34 AM on January 17, 2009

Actually I think thumbdrives are already as small as they can be from a useability standpoint. The average user is an overweight, male, desk-bound office worker who has fat, clumsy fingers. Ultra-small thumbdrives would be really annoying to handle and would get lost all the time (just like Micro-SD cards). Just because further miniaturization is possible doesn't mean that it should be done.
posted by randomstriker at 10:43 AM on January 17, 2009

Afaik the USB specification demands that a USB unit should not block access to adjacentports. If this occurs then they must supply an usb extension cable. For this reason i now have about 5 extension cables laying around, since i own too many large usb drives :)
posted by kampken at 6:25 PM on January 17, 2009

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