Flash Drive vs. Memory Stick

By Gerry Poulos

With a multitude of memory options available, knowing the differences will help you pick one.
i sd memory card broken image by Tom Stewart from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Two major competitors in the battle for your memory-buying dollars are the memory stick and the flash drive. These two technologies are similar if not identical in many ways, but significant differences exist. While some of the differences are minor, some bear careful scrutiny before deciding which type of device is right for your application.

Under the Hood

Inside the plastic case, memory sticks and flash drives are nearly identical. Most importantly, both use Nand flash technology, which, regardless of the device it serves, suffers from memory wear. Memory wear means data can only be written so many times before the memory fails. This can vary from 10,000 rewrites for single-level cell (SLC)-based Nand Flash to 100,000 for multilevel cell (MLC)-based devices. While this seems like a problem, if you completely filled and erased a device once per day, it would take 27.39 years to wear it out.


Significant differences in cost exist between memory sticks and flash drives. The retail prices for memory sticks are five to 20 times that of a flash drive of comparable memory capacity. Universal serial bus (USB) flash drives, on the other hand, are cheap and seem to be constantly getting cheaper. In fact, flash drives are often given away in product promotions.


The physical durability of flash drives and memory sticks is a serious consideration. Flash drive designers intend for them to be in pockets, purses, backpacks and on key chains. You can step on the more durable models then kick them into a lake and they will still work. The weakest part of a flash drive is the USB connector, and most come with a cover to protect that. Memory sticks are not so hearty. Memory sticks designers intend them to be enclosed and sheltered inside a camera or other device.


Compatibility will most likely be the deciding factor for you. Flash drives can be used with anything that has a USB port. Every major operating system, and a great many other devices such as gaming consoles, support flash drives. Memory sticks are device-specific and not directly readable by a standard personal computer unless it has a card reader compatible with memory sticks. However, if a device you are using, such as a digital camera, uses memory sticks, you have little choice but to get one.


Memory sticks are competing with flash drives to be the memory format used in everything from cameras to cell phones. In this war, the memory sticks have managed to survive, but almost all formats have taken a back seat to the flash drive. To put it simply, memory sticks are fighting to survive while flash drives are on the ascendancy.