Life Expectancy of a USB Flash Drive

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USB flash drives are great to use for storing digital files and are replacing CDs & DVDs as the preferred storage media of choice.

The advantages of flash drives is that they are portable, durable, and have incredible storage capacity (ranges from 64MB to 256GB as of 2010). Furthermore, they are able to retain the memory even after the power is turned off. But does the memory last forever though? Should you use them to store important documents and files? How long do they last?

If you simply write data to a USB flash drive and put it away in a safe place for 10 years, it will work again and all the data will still be there.

But if you continue to use it over and over again, it will definitely wear out eventually.

USB Flash Drives Have Finite Number of Write/Erase Cycles

The life expectancy of a USB Flash Drive can be measured by the number of write or erase cycles. USB flash drives can withstand between 10,000 to 100,000 write/erase cycles, depending on the memory technology used.

When the limit is reached, some portion of the memory may not function properly, leading to lost of data and corruption.

Of course, the flash drive’s life can also end prematurely if you abuse it or subject it to extreme environmental conditions. Additionally, if low quality memory components are used, the flash drives can fail at a much earlier time.

Beware of unknown brands, as they may use low quality components and cut corners in the manufacturing processes in order to keep cost low. If you are looking for high quality usb flash drives, find vendors that use only grade A memory and have ISO-9001:2008 certified factories.

Should You Use Flash Drives to Store Important Files?

The best usage of flash drives is to copy and transfer files from one computer to another. If you want to use it to store important files such as family photos and videos, it is recommended to make duplicate copies.

Caring for Your Flash Drive

To prolong the life of your flash drive and ensure that it operates properly for years to come, here are some precautions to follow:

  • When not using the flash drive, be sure to cover it with a cap to prevent the accumulation of dusts and contaminants on the contacts.
  • Do not expose your flash drive to harsh conditions, such as extreme temperatures and humidity.
  • Never yank the flash drive out of the USB port while it is still in operation. Also, you should “Eject” the drive (Do a right click on the USB drive and select “Eject”) before removing it from your computer.
  • Do not leave it plugged to the computer for prolonged period of time. If you do not use it, just unplug it from your computer.

flashbay Author: Peter Cardin

18 Comments | Leave yours
Rock Normand | 22 Feb, 2013
Hi there
It would have been nice to know the theoritical length of data retention for the stick sitting in the safe. A million years?
Regards.
Sam Sanchez, Flashbay | 22 Feb, 2013
Hi Rock,

We reckon at least 60 to 80 years if left in a safe in the perfect environment. Over these time periods I think oxidation would be the rate determining step to failure. But from real world test, as this technology is new, 10 years is certainly attainable.

Sam
Robert Bystrom | 19 Feb, 2014
If I had a 64GB USB 3.0, made in 2013, and I have it almost always plugged in, as I use it for Readyboost 24/7 wherever I go, how long should I expect the drive to work?

Drive is Kingston DataTraveler HyperX 3.0 64GB
Monica , Flashbay | 20 Feb, 2014
Hi Robert,

According to the Windows ReadyBoost team you should get more than 10 years usage out of a flash drive used with their technology but unfortunately we can't comment on your specific model. 

However, we can certainly say that all Flashbay flash drives come with a 10 year warranty and are compatible with Windows ReadyBoost.

Thanks,
Monica
jonathanfgh | 14 Mar, 2014
I have had many hard drives fail but never a USB, yet .............
Movie Viewer | 23 May, 2014
Hello,
1.  If I have really important files to store for indefinite period of time, what media would you recommend:  a choice of external hard-drives, pen-drives, DVD+/-Rs, DVD+/-RWs?
Thank you.
Monica , Flashbay | 23 May, 2014
Hi,

Thank you for your message.

The lifespan of storage media can vary depending on a range of factors. The most important thing to do when storing important information is to preserve the storage device under optimal conditions.

The degradation level of flash memory / pen-drives is linked to the number of write cycles, which is typically around 100,000, and more than enough for average use. Also, as flash drives don't use magnetic fields to store data they aren't susceptible to magnets – making a flash memory safe and long-lasting devices for storing important files and documents.
 
Many thanks,
Monica at Flashbay
Jesse | 15 Sep, 2014
Hi

one where you say you will continue it over and over again then it will wear out, it meant if i use it for 7 days a week and 24 hours then it will wear out? what about Every Sundays like today?
Chris , Flashbay | 15 Sep, 2014
Hi Jesse,

If you're only using your Flash Drive once a week it will serve you well for many years to come. Remember, as mentioned in the article, it's important to use a Flash Drive supplier that uses 'Grade A Memory' and you obviously shouldn't subject the Flash Drive to any harsh conditions such as high temperatures or humidity. This will ensure a long life for your Flash Drive. 

We always use Grade A memory and all our Flash Drives come with a 10 year warranty.

Many thanks,

Chris at Flashbay
Andy | 13 Oct, 2014
Hi, Flashbay team. After reading your informative item I'm a bit concerned, as I'm using a memory stick for my diary and other important documents. I recently lost a lot of important work, as I'd been using floppy discs, and a data transfer wasn't successful in retrieving all the data. It makes me think of returning to hand-written notes and a typewriter. Is it a good idea to continue writing daily to my 64GB flash drive (Phillips), for example?   
Chris , Flashbay | 13 Oct, 2014
Hi Andy,

Thanks for getting in touch.

We wouldn't recommend going back to the hand-written notes and typewriter. However, what we would recommend is 'backing up' important files and documents – i.e making copies of your important files. As with other technology (or notepads for that matter) there is always a possibility that the hardware (or pages) may get damaged, especially if not cared for properly. 

We use the best quality parts for all of our USB Flash Drives and we’d like to think that your Phillips Flash Drive is made with similar quality and care. As such, your Flash Drive should serve you well for many years if you take care of it.

Thanks,

Chris at Flashbay
Troy | 01 Nov, 2014
Hello, You only mentioned write cycles which causes wear on the drive. Do read cycles have the same effect on the drive? If I install OS (such as linux) on a flash drive and use it as a boot drive. It will be left running 24/7, and it will do reading most of the time after initial setup. How long will the drive lasts? Thanks
Chris , Flashbay | 03 Nov, 2014
Hi Troy, 

Thanks for the comment. In short we estimate 10 read operations to be equivalent to 1 write operation in terms of wear to the NAND flash memory. 

In your specific use case, the retention of the flash drive will depend on:

i) Memory type (SLC, MLC, TLC):

Single level cell (SLC) NAND will have the best data retention. It is subjected less 'read disturb' than MLC or TLC. However SLC NAND flash  is much more expensive than MLC or TLC NAND flash.

A read disturb occurs when a cell that is not being read receives elevated voltage stress and can occasionally result in a bit flip. The probability of read disturb is much lower than is a write disturb.

ii) Flash management

The controller chip does a lot of work to reduce the wear on NAND flash by employing the following techniques: Wear-levelling algorithms, bad block management, error detection and correction, write amplification and over provisioning.

We generally use controllers made by Silicon Motion (SMI) which have excellent flash management. If you buy a flash drive which is much bigger than your data storage requirement you will also benefit from better wear levelling than a drive with little free space.

Our advice would be to purchase a high-quality Flash Drive and run your chosen Operating System from there. It might cost you slightly more but it will be worth it.  People have been running Operating Systems from Flash Drives for quite a while now so there's no reason to think your Flash Drive will stop working after a couple years - if you purchase one with high-quality parts!

Kind Regards,

Chris at Flashbay
Luis , IUAV | 16 Nov, 2014
Hi, flashbay team

I am a student of Industrial Design from IUAV Univeristy of Venice.

I'm researching the subject of the Life Cycle Assessment of flash drives.

I would be particularly grateful if you could tell me where your production sites are located;
if you use one or more production sites; where the raw materials come from;
and any further information about the energy consumed in production, the amount of water used and any production waste.

If it does not break any confidentiality clauses, I would be very grateful if you could tell us the overall production cost or unit cost.

Thanks
Chris , Flashbay | 17 Nov, 2014
Hi Luis,

Thanks for contacting us. We'd be happy to help answer your questions.
Can you please contact me via my email address below? I can then respond to all of your questions.

chris@flashbay.com

Thanks,

Chris
hurairah | 21 Nov, 2014
hey, does a USB is a volatile memory? as u said it can take up to 10years of storage. ans me if yes then why? if not then why?
Chris , Flashbay | 21 Nov, 2014
Hi Hurairah, 

Thanks for contacting us.

Like most models of Flash Drive out there, our drives are non-volatile which means that once data is written to the memory the drive does not need a power source to retain the data on the drive. Volatile memory units do require power, usually provided by a battery. 
The exact period of time that data will be retained on a drive will vary depending on how much use the drive has had and how it is stored in the intervening time but in general 10 years is a good guide. 

I hope this helps answer your question.

Thanks,

Chris
hurairah | 24 Nov, 2014
Thankyou chris,
im a student of information technology and one of my professor told me that USB
is volatile memory to some extent because data will lost after a period of time if we dnt plug it on system for a long time. and also because USB cels need charge to keep data but when they dnt get charge data will be lost or corrupted. 
thanks again for your advise :)
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