Pros & Cons of USB Flash Drives and Portable Hard Drives

Written by james woudon
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Pros & Cons of USB Flash Drives and Portable Hard Drives
The earliest flash drive was 8 MB. The largest flash drives currently available are 256GB. (Jeffrey Hamilton/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Two innovations led to the ubiquity of external storage: the Universal Serial Bus (USB) port and the advances in solid state "flash" memory. Floppy discs have been rendered entirely obselete due to flash memory being smaller, more durable and capable of holding files thousands of times larger. Similarly, external hard drives are making optical-disc based backups a thing of the past as they offer much more durable storage options with greater capacity.

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Extreme Durability and Convenience

A flash drive has no moving parts and consists of the microcircuitry, the USB connector and protective housing. If a flash drive gets hot or wet, it can be air-dried for a number of hours and used as normal. Flash drives are small and slim, so they fit easily on keychains or in pockets, making data transfers extremely convenient due to the universal adoption of USB ports on laptops and PC's.

Accidental Deletion, Loss, Etc.

Flash drives are so small and portable that it also works against their favour, as this makes them easily lost and especially susceptible to theft. Since flash drives use a very simple file system, they don't have a failsafe like the Windows Recycle Bin, so if you delete something from a flash drive, it's gone unless you use recovery software.

High Capacity

External hard drives are the exact same hard drives you'd find in your computer, so this means by default they have huge capacities and are thus suited for backup. Since they are physically separate from computers and laptops and used only for storage, this means they can easily be kept clean with dedicated virus and malware scans.

Prone to Physical Damage

Unlike flash drives, external hard drives do have moving parts and are susceptible to wear and tear. They will last as long as the interior physical components stay aligned. Admittedly, damaging hard drives is much more difficult than with older models, but it's still very possible if they are unsafely unplugged during operation or dropped. External hard drives are also much slower due to the fact that they usually use USB 2.0, which is a great deal slower than the Serial ATA connector on an internal hard drive.

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