[Electric Bungalow] Some Tricks to Get the Most out of USB Sticks & Preserving Data

9 Jun

IMG_0993By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

Ever since USB Flash Drives have replaced magnetic media as the de facto method of shuffling data around, I have found not all are built equally. Depending on how well the actual medium, (the chip where all the data is stored) is tested for fault tolerance, those that do not fall within specification will get discarded. A season 20 episode of How It’s Made shows how a computer memory chip can be put into different containers for use in varying devices; it is all built from one common product.

After using these devices since 2006 (my oldest stick being a SanDisk 2gb Cruzer) I believe I have figured out which company’s products perform better. In the world of digital photography where an image is counted by the megabyte, the faster a chip can perform to write the data, the better for those successive shots to be stored instantaneously. In digital videography, any skip of a frame is not welcome. Ranker.com shows which brands are favoured more than others. SandiskKingston and HP are in the top three [1]. Personally, and by order of personal preference, I like Transcend, Kingston and Sandisk the best.

Lexar has fallen out of my top five because I had more of their USB drives fail on me after a year of use. When I think about why I stuck with this company, the reason is because I see their various storage mediums regularly on sale. I’m suspecting they are providing quantity over quality. I find issues develop quicker based on how I’ve literally handled the flash drive. Putting physical stress along certain parts of the enclosure can affect the internal parts. This company’s S25 and S75 series are not the best because I have put those models through the paces the most and found they develop issues sooner than later.

In general, most connectors are rated to sustain 1500 insert/removals before bridging problems start to begin. [2] Plastic made ends tend to go faster than metal, so buyers are best advised to look at the product they are buying. Even the Lexar Tech Support team advise spending the extra money on their devices with metal construction. No matter which company’s product a user prefers, the USB connector hardware tends to be the first to go. The controller microchip which allows the two units to communicate is second.

In general, if a user wants to use USB sticks like a floppy drive, the best technique to ensure optimal use is to treat them like Write Once Read Many (WORM) drives. This piece of advice imparted to me by Mike Smith, sales representative of Kingston Technology, changed how often I use my flash drives and what I use them for. If I want to use flash memory for archival purposes, I prefer SDHC instead of USB Flash because they are easier to label and file away. More computers, especially laptops these days, have a built-in slot for them.

For proper preservation, I keep a copy of my important memories on conservation-grade optical media (using either Verbatim Gold or MAM-A Inc.’s [Mitsui]) instead of volatile chip memory. They are rated to last for decades instead of years. Not even the Hard Drive versus Solid State Drives debate are perfect for long term use.

One of these days, I will have to find a non-erodible substance to chip all my data onto. I just need to access all of Fort Knox’s gold so I can build my own Hall of Records underneath the Sphinx.

[1] http://www.ranker.com/list/the-best-usb-flash-drive-manufacturers/computer-hardware
[2] http://www.getusb.info/what-is-the-life-cycle-of-a-usb-flash-drive/

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