Advantages & Disadvantages of a Flash Memory Stick
By Laurel Storm
If you've ever attended a trade fair, convention or conference, or even just purchased the premium version of a program or other computer-related product, you may have been given a USB flash drive for free. Although their usefulness as a way to transfer files between computers has somewhat diminished due to the advent of cheap cloud storage, flash memory sticks still have their advantages. If you choose to use one, however, you should also be aware of issues that may arise.
One of the greatest advantages of a flash drive is its portability. Modern flash drives can hold several gigabytes of data, upwards of 64GB for high-end models, and remain roughly the size of a lighter. This makes them appropriate not only for transferring files, but also to store portable versions of commonly used programs such as browsers, instant messaging clients, graphics editing software and productivity suites. After setting up your favorite programs on a flash drive, all you need to do when you're using a computer that isn't your normal one is plug in the drive and launch the program you want to use directly from it. Once you remove the drive, no personal data or information is left behind.
If you frequently need to transfer files between computers that may not have access to the Internet, a flash drive is the best option. The alternative, using single-use or rewritable CD or DVD, is fairly inefficient, requiring some time to transfer the data. In contrast, moving files using a flash drive is simply a matter of plugging it into a USB port, copying the files from it and unplugging it.
The small size of portable flash drives can be a benefit or a drawback. You can place a flash drive in your pocket or hang it from your neck without causing yourself much discomfort, which makes it very convenient. However, because it's so small, it can also be quite easy to lose it -- either by absentmindedly leaving it plugged into a public computer or by not noticing it slip out of your pocket.
Because flash drives have no moving parts, they are extremely durable. Although "indestructible" USB flash drives such as the LaCie XtremKey do exist for extreme situations, even a normal plastic or metal flash drive is likely to still work fine even if you accidentally drop it.
USB flash drives, like all storage based on flash memory, has a limited lifespan; there is a limit to the number of times data can be written to this type of memory before it wears out and stops working. The number of write operations is quite high, in the tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands, and it is quite unlikely a flash drive will wear out from occasional use. However, you should always ensure that you keep a backup copy of any files on your flash drive to avoid data loss if the drive fails.
Laurel Storm has been writing since 2001, and helping people with technology for far longer than that. Some of her articles have been published in "Messaggero dei Ragazzi", an Italian magazine for teenagers. She holds a Master of Arts in writing for television and new media from the University of Turin.