When you shut down your laptop for the day, you expect to log back in tomorrow and find all your files, photos, and saved data still there. Unfortunately, sometimes things crash, which is why you should always have a backup. This is the power of USB flash drives!

In a world of Google, cookies, and cloud storage, it may seem like flash drives are outdated technology. However, don’t rule them out quite yet! Take a minute to learn how these drives work and just why you should own at least one.

What is a Flash Drive?

A USB flash drive is a small external device that plugs into your laptop, camera, or phone in order to save digital data. Most flash drives offer between 2GB (gigabytes) and 64GB of storage space, depending on which model you buy.

If you’ve ever lost an essay or misplaced hundreds of photos, you know how much of a bummer it is when technology fails. Since flash drives are external, you can count on always having a tangible way to access your most important files. Plus, they’re lightweight and small enough to attach to lanyards or keychains, making them easy to bring with you on the go!

There are many different versions of USB, from USB 1.0 to USB 3.2. Each one has a different port from A to C, which means they’re not always cross compatible with all of your devices.

What Are Other Names for USB Flash Drives?

You will hear USB flash drives referred to by many names. Other words for “flash drive” include:

  • USBs
  • USB devices
  • USB sticks
  • Flash sticks
  • Thumb drives
  • Flash memory
  • Flash memory sticks
  • Jump drives
  • Keychain drives
  • Pen drives
  • Memory units
  • Memory sticks
  • Data drives
  • Hard drives

These phrases are interchangeable and all refer to the same storage device. Keep in mind, “external hard drives” refer to storage devices that are similar to flash drives, but are typically larger and have more data space.

What Can You Put on a Flash Drive?

Now that you know what a USB flash drive is all about, what can you do with one of your own? After all, the last thing you want to do is throw it in a drawer somewhere and forget about it!

Store all of the following on a USB flash drive:

  • Files like Word docs & Excel sheets
  • Photos
  • Personal information
  • Music
  • Movies
  • Games
  • Audiobooks
  • Podcasts
  • Apps
  • Website URLs
  • Virus removers

Word Docs & Excel Sheets

College students take note – you should always have your essays backed up on a USB drive. The same goes for accountants or data analysts who keep their numbers in a spreadsheet. You don’t want to lose your work, and you also want a good way to access it later.

Photos

Can you imagine losing all of your vacation photos, or the pictures from your wedding? Back up your most precious memories by keeping them stored on a flash drive. You can then print the pictures out and make a scrapbook or photo album!

Personal Information

Credit card statements, tax returns, credit scores, and even digital copies of your passport can be saved on a thumb drive. This keeps your important information easy to access when you need it, which will make your life easier for everything from creating a budget to traveling.

Music

All you need is Windows Media Player and a good pair of headphones, and you can use your flash drive to play music. Save the playlists you listen to the most, whether it’s the one you use while working out or the one you blast when going out with friends.

Movies

Depending on the storage space, you may be able to fit a few movies on your flash drive. This is handy when you’re in an area with spotty Wi-Fi connection like a campground or in the mountains. You can either download movies directly from streaming sites like Netflix or copy a DVD.

Games

While you can’t download any video game to a flash drive, you do have access to certain portable titles like “Minecraft.” You can also use it to play classics like solitaire and chess. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are even able to support flash drives.

Audiobooks

Copy your favorite audiobooks from your computer to a flash drive so you can listen to them anywhere! This is great way to save your phone battery while you’re on vacation.

Podcasts

Just like you can transfer audiobooks, you can also put your podcasts on a flash drive. Download them first, and you can move those files over to your USB for listening on another computer.

Apps

A person spends nearly 90% of their mobile internet time in apps. Your programs can be downloaded and stored on a flash drive by using a site like portableapps.com. Boom – you now have access to your favorite apps on your laptop!

Website URLs

Do you have all your Google information saved when you use the internet? Bring your home screen on the go by running Chrome on other computers. You just need to install Google Chrome Portable, and you can put your personal web browser on a flash drive.

Virus Removers

Clean up your computer with a little help from a USB drive! You can purchase a portable scanner, like Anvi Rescue Disc or Clamwin, store it on your flash drive, and use it to remove any pesky viruses on your PC.

With help from a website called Predator, you can use a flash drive to lock and unlock your PC. You’ll be the only one with access to your computer, which is great for extra security!

How Does a USB Flash Drive Work?

Flash drives may be small, but they’re insanely powerful! They work through an electronic storage process known as flash memory, which saves data in blocks and rewrites the information as bytes.

A flash drive has many parts that make it work. The most important are the printed circuit board (PCB), which is hidden beneath a case made from plastic, rubber, or aluminum, and the memory chip, which is essentially the “brain” where all of your data is stored. When you plug the flash drive into a USB port, the operating system is then able to detect the connection.

In order to save your information, flash drives use an electrical signaling power source known as a transistor semiconductor. This includes:

  1. Source
  2. Floating gate
  3. Control gate
  4. Drain


Source: The source is the channel between the circuit board and the device that the USB is plugged into. The data moves through this channel via an electrical charge and is then “pushed” through the floating gate.

Floating Gate: The floating gate is where all of the data is gathered.

Control Gate: The control gate prevents the data from traveling back to the source.

Drain: Any excess energy is forced to the drain, which then pushes the energy through the rest of the device to keep it powered.


This sounds pretty complicated, but it’s really cut and dry. Your data is stored within the flash drive, and thanks to the power of technology, you can access it whenever you want!

A Japanese engineer for Toshiba named Fujio Masuoka invented flash memory in the 80’s. He presented the invention for the first time at the Integrated Electronics Devices Meeting in California.

How to Use a Flash Drive

Some of us are bad with technology. If that sounds like you, the good news is flash drives are insanely easy to use. You just need to plug one in and be familiar with copying and pasting. Certain files can even be dragged into the folder when you click and hold your mouse.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to use a flash drive:


Step One

Plug the flash drive into your device’s USB port or hub.

Step Two

Find and open the flash drive. It’s usually easy to find as it will pop right up after you plug it into the device. If not, look in “My Computer” for a drive labeled “Removable Disk,” “Flash Drive,” or the USB manufacturer’s name.

Step Three

Copy and paste any files that you want saved on the flash drive. You can also drag them over by holding down the mouse.

Step Four

Right click on the flash drive and select “disconnect” or “eject.” This helps ensure your files aren’t corrupted.

Follow these steps to ensure you’re using your flash drive properly. This will extend its life and prevent you from losing any important information.

Why Do You Have to Eject a USB?

You have to eject a USB before disconnecting because of a process known as “write caching.” This is where data may still be pending in the random-access memory, or RAM, of the USB.

Ejecting lets the device known you’re done with the data transfer and also eliminates the possibility of any corruption. It’s worth taking this extra step to make sure you don’t lose any information.

Can You Leave a Flash Drive Plugged in All the Time?

Some people like to leave their USB plugged into their computer or car. However, this poses the risk of you wearing it out quickly, especially if you’re working with a low quality drive. It’s much better to remove your USB flash drive when it’s not in use.

How Long Will Data Last on a USB Flash Drive?

The data on most flash drives will last for about 10 years. The memory isn’t designed for long-term use, which is why you should always back up your data on another device, or through cloud storage on sites like Dropbox.

Technology is amazing, but it certainly isn’t foolproof. Flash drives can handle somewhere between 10,000 to 100,000 write/erase cycles, depending on the quality. Ultimately, the more you use the USB, the sooner it will wear out.

Try to avoid editing files on your flash drive. This will extend the shelf life of your USB.

Can You Use Flash Drives on Tablets?

You can use a flash drive on your tablet as long as it has a compatible USB port. You may also need a cable.

The good news is most tablets come with at least one mini USB port, and some Androids even have full size ports that you can use for connecting a keyboard and computer mouse. Do your research if flash compatibility is important to you.

What Are the Benefits of USB Flash Drives?

While they may be small and easy to misplace, it’s definitely worth owning at least one USB flash drive. These pocket-sized storage devices can be used to back up your most important files and are particularly handy when it comes to traveling.

The benefits of using USB flash drives include:


Portable

If you’ve got a busy day ahead of you, a flash drive can be a real lifesaver. It’s lightweight, small, and can fit in your bag or pocket. You’ll be happy to not carry around a bulky laptop or a bunch of loose papers, whether it be your dissertation or the first draft of your novel.

Affordable

You can find flash drives as cheap as $5 each, making them a very budget-friendly way to back up your data. The higher the storage space, the more money the USB will cost, but it’s usually very reasonably priced.

Easy to Use

Even if you’re not a tech whiz, you can still easily use a USB. All you have to do is plug it into your device, copy and paste the files, and eject before disconnecting. If only all gadgets were this simple and user-friendly!

Fast

Who has time to sit there and wait for their files to transfer? USB flash drives work lightning fast with a data speed that’s sometimes as quick as 4.8 gigabytes per second.

Widely Compatible

Copy and paste any files that you want saved on the flash drive. You can also drag them over by holding down the mouse.


Why Are Flash Drives So Popular?

The world of technology is always changing, but flash drives are still popular. With their small size and easy portability, they’re an easy way to back up your data. Students, professionals, gamers, photographers, and frequent travelers can get the most use out of a good USB.

It’s no wonder why the market for flash drives continues to grow year after year. In 2021 alone, the market revenue from flash memory was valued at over $64 billion. Time will tell what’s in store for this tech in the future!

The Bottom Line

As long as you don’t accidentally forget your flash drive in a computer lab, you can expect to use it time and time again! It’s a gadget that you’ll be happy to have when you need it, especially if you’re a hard-working student or do a lot of traveling. So get out of the Cloud and come back to Earth with a handy USB!

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About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.