It's not how big it is, it's how you use it
January 26, 2006 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Getting a USB drive - should it be flash memory or mini hard drive?

I want a USB drive, primarily as a handy daily backup for in between monthly backups, but also for having portable data (and portable Firefox and OpenOffice seems useful too).

It seems that for the same price you can generally get three to four times more storage on a mini drive than a flash drive... so what are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Should the fact that the mini drives have moving parts be much of a concern? And has anyone actually found a way to use all the space on a 4GB portable drive yet?
posted by poweredbybeard to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
having gone through countless mp3 players I'm a fan of solid state stuff. No moving parts, more durable, less likely to break down. I'd reccomend flash drive, and lurk around newegg for the reviews, you dont have to but it there but from what ive read it pays to get a quality brand name drive.
posted by psychobum at 10:08 AM on January 26, 2006

Flash-based drives have two main advantages: durability and size. They're extremely durable (many have been run through a washing machine and still worked) and very small, which makes them easy to keep with you all the time. The downside to them is that (as you've noted) they're more expensive. That said, if you're not backing up a lot of data, a 512MB drive should be adequate, and they can be had for under $40.

I have a 512MB OCZ Rally USB drive that has extremely fast read/write speeds, and a lifetime warranty. Aside from being flash-based, it's freakishly small - I keep it on my keyring and it's narrower than any of my keys.
posted by gwenzel at 10:12 AM on January 26, 2006

The difference is you can drop a flash drive on the ground, and probably run it over with your car, and then use it again like normal. A hard drive stands a good chance of dying if it's dropped even once.
posted by knave at 11:04 AM on January 26, 2006

Durability and size are on the side of the flash drive. Cost and capacity are on the side of the mini hard drive. I use both. I have a 2GB flash drive that goes almost everywhere with me and contains portable applications, the most recent copies of my most important files, etc. I also use part of my iPod as a hard drive, and keep a larger quantity of important files. It's not as portable, requires a cable to connect, and its not as durable. But both have their place.
posted by lhauser at 11:17 AM on January 26, 2006

I bought my first ever mp3 player over Christmas, and it's HD storage. That's my only regret about it, but it's a pretty big one. I don't feel comfortable jogging with it, which is a pretty big limitation.

I realize the needs of an actual drive are different from those of a player, but still, you can run flash sticks through the washer, let 'em dry out, and they work fine.

In fact, unless you need more than a few gigs of storage, I'd actually recommend getting a nice, big flash mp3 player -- not an iPod, but one that can be mounted like a plain ol' removable drive -- and dedicate a portion of the space to file storage. You'll pay more, but you'll get something that you'll want to take with you everywhere you go, both useful and fun as hell.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:44 AM on January 26, 2006

Not to derail, but there's a timely article over on Wired News regarding personal security issues in these days of every more capacious portable data storage devices.

That said, your question "And has anyone actually found a way to use all the space on a 4GB portable drive yet?" might contain it's own answer, for your circumstances and uses. If your storage needs fit flash drives, they are generally the way to go. But a lot of people fill them up with photos, voice annotated documents, fax and scanned document archives related to current projects, AutoCAD drawing collections, presentations, and other business related byte monsters... Not me, natch!

Generally, flash drives have a finite number of erase/rewrite cycles, typically tens of thousands of writes, so for ordinary data storage, they are fine, and can retain stored data for years, if not exposed to heat or radiation conditions outside their ratings. But if you do something where certian areas of the device are written to frequently, like temp files, they are not such a good choice. In those situation, disk is still the way to go.
posted by paulsc at 11:47 AM on January 26, 2006

I've got both and never use my portable hard drives anymore, they're bulky, have cables and issues. My USB thumb drive is tiny in size but holds a half gig of info. It works perfectly for me.
posted by fenriq at 1:51 PM on January 26, 2006

And has anyone actually found a way to use all the space on a 4GB portable drive yet?

I use a 2.5" bus-powered portable hard drive that is currently filled with 10MB. Although a quick du reveals that I can probably lose about 5.3 Gig of space in audio files that don't listen to often. In terms of size, it's small enough to fit comfortably in a jacket pocket, or less comfortably in a pants pocket. My only beef with it is that some USB ports don't have enough power for it, but that happens only about twice a year. It's also been dropped a few times without damage. Here is what I see as the breakdown:

- Low power consumption
- Durable
- Tiny form factor
- Slow transfer rate
- Higher cost/MB
- Limited number of read/write cycles

Hard Drives:
- Higher transfer rates
- High capacity for your cost
- Higher read/write cycles.
- Higher power consumption.
- Larger form factor.
- More fragile.

IMNSHO, if you need higher speed or capacity, go with an external hard drive. If you want something more durable and smaller, go with a flash drive.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:02 PM on January 26, 2006

I have a pile of USB Flash drives and a Seagate 5Gig harddrive-based USB storage device. I carry around a 128MB Flash drive all the time (Victorinox Swissbit on my keyring) but it's always running out of room, especially with all the cool Hi Def vlog stuff coming out from the DivX people. So my Seagate drive is what I use to queue up all the videos I've downloaded before I watch them on my Zensonic media player.

As far as reliability and robustness go, I've seen more little Flash drives die than mini hard drives. Usually it's the solder joint between the USB plug and the circuit board.

No moving parts is nice, but flash isn't necessarily more reliable and it's hard to beat the capacity of a little hard drive.
posted by krisjohn at 5:13 PM on January 26, 2006

I believe that a good quality flash drive is the way to go. I bought a 1GB drive recently. It's very fast, very very tiny, and I don't have to worry about dropping it or exposing it to magnets. I have also heard multiple stories about such drives surviving a washing machine trip.

I can upload a 1gb to it in around 5 minutes, which is more than fast enough seeing as how I use nowhere near that capacity for daily backups.
posted by tomble at 6:38 PM on January 26, 2006

USB Flash drive is my choice.

I've run mine through the wash;
driven off and left on top of the car, and backed over it when trying to retrieve it;
buried it in the bottom of the purse with the protected cap off amongst the crumbs;
stepped on it;
spilled soda on it;
and in the most memorable incident yet, had it in a pocket with a bottle of nail polish that got crushed.

In all cases, cleaned it off, and it worked just fine. It's the same one. SanDisk Cruzer® Micro USB Flash Drive.
Not affiliated, just amazed. YMMV.
posted by erisraven at 10:59 PM on January 26, 2006

I too have put (multiple) SanDisk drives through the wash. I'm such a bonehead. Hasn't hurt any of them. I'm a complete convert.

Also, I've been using my Cruzer 512MB drive now as daily scratch pad to move files between work and home since late 2003. No apparent degredation or data loss. I think the limited read/writes for flash memory is largely overplayed.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned: look for a drive that's got a small form factor---it can be impossible to plug some of the Lexars and Sonys into laptop usb ports because the cases are too big.
posted by bonehead at 6:33 AM on January 27, 2006

« Older Recipes needed for a family gathering   |   foothills hotel recommendation? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.