How reliable do you consider USB Thumb Drives to be?

The cost for Flash drive storage is getting unbelievably cheap. I just picked up three
PNYCompact 64GB USB 2.0 Thumb Drives for $16 each (on sale) at Best Buy. They’re clearing out the USB 2.0 for 3.0. I don’t have a 3.0 hub anyhow, so grabbed these 2.0’s. Local store didn’t have any, but it was only on back order for a few days and I picked them up at my local store.

I’m still reluctant to put too much trust in a flash drive. They are so tiny. Insignificant looking. But 64 GB is some very serious storage. That will hold an entire season of my favorite tv show in x264 format. Four 64GB flash drives can backup my entire MP3 music collection.

But, how reliable are they? Are we being lead on a fools folly to trust them for anything but temporary file use?

I’m thinking USB thumb drives for Daily backups. Four times a year (beginning of each Quarter) backup the Thumb Drives to a real, External HD.


I think they are less reliable than spinning hard drives, and also less reliable than optical media, but they are getting better. I wouldn’t trust one to store critical data that had no backup.

They are pretty reliable. I work in IT and use them daily including a large 64 GB one that contains several years worth of work life tools on it. I have had exactly one failure of a small one several years ago but none since then. If you have something important on one, you absolutely need to have a backup but that goes for other storage media as well. In my experience, they tend to last for a few years before you need to copy the contents to the new best thing. There are few that start to fail right out of the box. You need to discard those and get a replacement if you have that bad luck but otherwise they are fairly resilient as long as you don’t send them through the washing machine (some of them work even after that).

As long as you don’t put all your trust on an individual thumb drive and have backups of truly important data somewhere independent, they are one of the cheapest and most useful tools you can have,

ANY DATA that exists on one hard drive you WILL lose.

ANY DATA that exists on one flash drive(like a thumbdrive) you WILL lose.

Redundancy, redundancy, redundancy…

As you say they are so damn cheap you should buy four thumbdrives of different brands, copy the same data to all four. Then copy the data to a DVD-R and a portable hard drive too just for again redundancy.

Now it is likely you won’t lose it.

But I’m 100% serious for personal precious data you need multiple copies on different mediums.

Flash memory like thumbdrives are vulnerable to a EMP, strong magnetic fields and the like. So are hard drives but to a lesser extent. DVD-R and other optical writable media is immune to this. So your best bet is having copies on different types of storage media, and every 5 years copy it to brand new media.


A large capacity external hard drive is only $50 - $100. You can use flash drives for daily use and then do a backup to one of those every three - six months. No individual person has so much essential and irreplaceable data that they can make full use of even an inexpensive hard drive. Put it in a safe place in between uses and you are mostly covered. Truly essential files should go into the Cloud whether through semi-free services like Google Docs or through an other online backup vendor. That should cover you even if your house burns down and we go into nuclear war in the same week no matter where you end up.

I’m just amazed at the tech develop of flash memory. I bought a kodak digital camera with a 64MB compact flash card in 1999. Upgraded the compact flash to 256 MB around 2003. Still use the camera and have 8 cards for it.

I bought a Zoom Handy H4N multi-track recorder for my music last year. It holds a 8,16, or 32 GB SDHC class 10 memory card. The 32 GB was very expensive even three years ago and most people used 8’s or 16’s. Best Buy put the 32 GB card on sale for $20. Just amazing, unbelievably cheap. I bought 4 of them. Now I can get 4 to 6 hours of recording on one card. Depends on whether I record in stereo or multi-track (4 tracks) . I get more hours with Stereo. That’s uncompressed wav files.

I can’t wait to see what they are using in another 12 years. They are selling terabyte cards already.

To imagine I attended college with a micro cassette recorder to tape my lectures. Felt like I had the greatest setup in the world. A massive upgrade from lugging around a standard cassette recorder to my high school classes. Kids today wouldn’t have a clue how to even use it.

I remember when flash storage was $1 per KB.

at home we have around 4 1 tera hard drive.
My laptop also 1 tera.
Whenever I think about it I am flabbergasted.

Yep, a few years ago I bought a 2 TB hard drive for $75. While I’ll never fill that one, I keep thinking I should buy another just for redundancy, as was previously said. We have virtually irreplaceable files like old family photos stored on it. But I use thumbdrives all the time, then for stuff I want to keep, I back it up either on my computer or the 2 TB drive.

I backup my computer (about a terabyte for a full backup) onto multiple 2.5" external hard drives. (I like the 2.5" drives because they don’t need an external power supply but work just off the power supplied by the USB port.) Last week, Best Buy had 2 TB 2.5" drives for about $80.

And as for USB flash drives, I’ve heard that the cheap ones use slower memory. So if you’re going to be reading and writing frequently to it, you might want to get a better quality one.

I consider thumb drives to not be for storage at all. They’re for moving files around. Anything you want to keep, save somewhere else as well.

In addition to threats to the data storage mechanism directly, like EMP, thumb drives are also vulnerable to physical damage and getting lost. My sister nearly lost a lot of very important files because one of her kids bumped into a thumb drive while it was sticking out of a computer and bent the USB connector.

Yeah I only use thumb drives for moving files. Quicker than transferring over network WiFi. As with all data, if it’s important, have it in multiple places. As to the actual reliability of the thumb drives, I’ve never had issue that stemmed from the drives themselves. However, one time I did pull it without telling the computer to eject the disk first and I corrupted all my files. Definitely user error there. Don’t do that.

I have found flash drives to be much more reliable than hard drives. But yes, make backups. Don’t have important data in just one (or two) places.

I’ve used SSDs (solid state drives, they use flash memory like “thumb” drives) in computers for years with no failures. I replaced a couple in servers pre-emptively because they were beyond their expected life, but they are still living a second life in desktop PCs. And everyone’s smartphone and iPod has flash memory, from all my experience it is a very fast and reliable storage medium.

I am very glad the days of floppy disks, zip disks, and mag tape are behind us. I found the reliability of those to be lacking. Although I do believe mag tape is still in use in some places.

In my introduction to computers class, when we talk about backup I recommend in order off-site storage (online), external hard drives, DVDs and finally flash drives. As far as backup goes, the second worst thing you can do is keep the backup media next to the computer that you’re trying to backup, so make sure you keep them at separate addresses (in case of fire or storm damage).

Actually the worst thing you can do is NOT do backups, so if for no other reasons having a flash drive there for backup means you actually do the backup, they’re great.

I’ve had USB flash drives simply stop working at the rate about once every two years. I use them only for file transferring now. If I was a bit more scatter-brained I’m sure I’d lose one on a monthly basis.

I still have a 256 MB flash drive from the days when that sounded big… 10 years ago maybe? It still works. I don’t see anything wrong with flash drives for backup if that’s preferable in a particular situation. Just make sure you have multiple copies and that you are periodically checking that those copies still function.

For my personal preferences, though, flash drives make more sense to me as a way to transport files. Hard drives are still a better deal in terms of $/GB and they’re harder to lose, harder to damage and have a longer average life.

I wish thumb drives and SDHC cards could more easily be labeled. Their tiny size makes that impractical. I use a sharpie to write a small number on the case. 1, 2, 3, 4 So I can more easily grab the right one from a drawer.

I often create a file in the root folder (text file) to give a fuller description of the contents. harkens back to the BBS days of the early dial up bulletin boards. explained the purpose of downloaded software, and how to run it. It didn’t replace standard documentation like a user manual.

Good post I needed this kick in the butt to buy more for more back up.
Now if I could only remember to do it in an orderly timely manner.

I’d recommend an online backup solution like Carbonite or Mozy. The disadvantage is that these services cost money. But the advantage is that they’re automatic.

In the context of a thumb drive, they’re not automatic if you don’t plug the thing into a computer running the backup agent. And if they are automatic, I don’t know if I’d want the backup agent taking the flash drive hostage long enough to perform a backup while I’m waiting for it to finish, because I usually plug a flash drive into a computer just long enough to read or write the file I’m interested in… and no longer than that.

TL;DR: you still need the discipline to plug the drive into the computer to do the backup, or the patience to allow the backup to proceed if you’re not doing it on a formal schedule.

What? The backup services I’m talking about, like Carbonite or Mozy (which is what I use), have nothing to do with USB flash drives. They install a small program on your computer that periodically uploads any new or modified files to their data center. You can retrieve individual files. And if you suffer a disaster, presumably there’s a way to get everything back at once. (Perhaps they can send the full backup on DVD?)

Pretty much this for me. I’ll copy something to get it from A to B. Or make a boot “disk” for installing/fixing something. Once the job is done, it’s in the re-use pile.