USB drive

Contributor(s): Sarah Wilson

A USB drive -- also known as a flash drive or keychain drive -- is a plug-and-play portable storage device that uses flash memory and is lightweight enough to attach to a keychain. A USB drive can be used in place of a floppy disk, Zip drive disk or CD. When the user plugs the device into the USB port, the computer's operating system recognizes the device as a removable drive and assigns it a drive letter.

Unlike most removable drives, a USB drive does not require rebooting after it's attached, does not require batteries or an external power supply, and is not platform dependent. Several manufacturers offer additional features such as password protection, and downloadable drivers that allow the device to be compatible with older systems that do not have USB ports. USB drives are available in capacities ranging up to approximately 65 gigabytes (GB), depending on manufacturer, in a corresponding range of prices.

USB stick

With a USB drive, data can be retained for long periods when the device is unplugged from the computer, or when the computer is powered-down with the drive left in. This makes the USB drive convenient for transferring data between a desktop computer and a notebook computer or for personal backup needs.

USB specifications

There are three main USB specifications that USB drives can connect through: 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Each specification publication allows for faster data transfer rates than the previous version. There have also been several pre-releases and various updates in addition to these three versions.

USB 1.0 was released in January 1996. It was available in two versions:

  • USB 1.0 low-speed: Provides a data transfer rate of 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps).
  • USB 1.0 high-speed: Has a data transfer rate of 12 Mbps.

Version 1.1, an update that fixed various issues in 1.0, was released in September 1998 and was more widely adopted

USB drive specs

USB 2.0, also known as Hi-Speed USB, was released in April 2000. It was developed by the USB 2.0 Promoter Group, an organization led by Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Lucent, Microsoft, NEC and Philips. USB 2.0 features a maximum data transfer rate of 480 Mbps. This boosted performance by up to 40 times. It is backward-compatible so USB drives using original USB technology can easily transition.

USB 3.0, also known as SuperSpeed USB, was introduced in November 2008. The first 3.0-compatible USB storage began shipping in January 2010. SuperSpeed USB was developed by the USB Promoter Group to increase the data transfer rate and lower power consumption. With SuperSpeed USB, the data transfer rate increased 10 times from Hi-Speed USB to 5 Gigabits per second (Gbps). It features lower power requirements when active and idle, and is backward-compatible with USB 2.0. USB 3.1, known as SuperSpeed+ or SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps, was released in July 2013. It bumped up the data transfer rate and improved data encoding for higher throughput.

This was last updated in March 2015

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what is flash drive
it is the same as usb drive
I have a "usb storage", but when I connect it to my pc I can not use it because it does not appear despite already installed, seems to be hidden. as I do?
Hi qmoore,

USB drives are also sometimes referred to as "flash drives." This definition of "flash storage" might help explain it further:
Hi jorge031,

Try taking a look at this tip – it explains some possible causes of the issue you're having and how to solve it:
For what purposes do you use USB drives in your day-to-day workflow?
For me it's to take work home. Copy the files I'm working with and then opening on my home system. The key to remember is if you have the file on your work system and the USB you need to keep them in sync. 
Yes, I'm with Todd on this one. I still copy records, files, etc., from my office computer over to my home system. My problem is that I don't always safely eject it (I have to remember that).
I forget to eject safely sometimes myself. On the plus side I have never had an issue and still have been able to use the USB drive as if I had ejected it, Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day and I need to finish up something at home.
I pretty much only use USB drives as a backup these days - for example, if I'm giving a presentation at an unfamiliar location, and know I may not be able to plug in my laptop, I store a copy of the necessary file on a USB that I can easily plug in. Gives me some peace of mind, too. I'm with both Todd and Michael on ejecting, though - I regularly forget that part, but have seen no ill effects to this point. 
I don't use them for work any longer, only for personal use, mostly to back up photos and documents, etc.

In fact, at my company they have disabled the use of USB drives or other types of removable media on company desktops and laptops. The purpose is to prevent people from taking sensitive information off of their work computers, where data is encrypted for security. They have also blocked access to cloud storage. If I want to take work home, I have to take my laptop with me. 
I use them all the time.  Especially if I have to do software updates to systems other than my own.  We had have multiple speeds running on the WAN, and so we discovered that pushing out any major updates over the WAN, ate up our bandwidth, and since we were running realtime as a financial institution, we could not afford slowing the WAN down due to bandwidth issues.  Any major patches, I downloaded to my USB Flash drive and took them with me, and then put them on the local server, and then I remote in and do the patching from the local server.

Another way I use them is to fix others computers. I load all my utility programs and anti-virus downloads so I can install them on their system. It's sad to see just how many people lack even the basics protection for their computers.

In our organization, we use USB drives for backup to critical files and data that we might need. We use the cloud to back up most of our data, but we like to have the USB drives for a just-in-case backup. We also have clients that prefer us to transfer information using encrypted USB drives over standard methods.
It sounds like people are still using USB drives for a few different reasons -- for me it's usually in a similar way to what Todd was describing above -- mostly to take work home. I have run into problems too with keeping files up to date with the latest versions when moving back and forth between home and work devices. Has anybody run into any other issues or difficulties with USB drives?
I have not done this but I have a few devices at home that will let you update the Firmware using a USB flash drive. As anyone done this?? I'd hate to screw it up and render my device useless.



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