Flash vs Hard

Posted by: DT  :  Category: Comparisons

What exactly makes a USB flash drive superior to a regular hard drive? Are there also downsides?

Swivel Flash Drive

Flash Drive


Hard Drive Disk

Hard Drive

To me, there’s several factors that make it different from and for the most part better than a traditional hard disk:

1.The writing of data is not by magnetic spinning disks but purely electronic (so flash drive is actually a misnomer because there’s nothing driving). This flash technology in memory sticks makes data storage safer and more durable as outside magnetism doesn’t really effect them.

2.Since there are no moving mechanical parts there’s also no noise.

3.By the same token, there’s no heat generated and hence less power drawn.

4.Flash memory is more shock resistant and withstands extremer pressures and temperatures.

5. Writing and reading of data is faster once utilized with USB 3.0 (480 MB/sec compared to 150 MB/sec of a hard drive).

Pretty compelling points, huh?

But what about possible disadvantages. Well, there’s only three things I can come up with:

1.With magnetic drives, experts and special programs can often recover “lost” or overwritten data whereas when flash drives overwrite the data is erased for good.

2.Memory sticks can usually be rewritten up to 10,000 times while hard disks supposedly can be rewritten up to 50,000 times. However, these numbers are not a set thing and some flash drives may actually last several 100,000 read-write cycles.

3.Flash drives are easier to lose.

One could also add that storage capacities are lower but seeing that memory sticks these days can hold up to 64GB or even 128GB I think that point is becoming obsolete. So in my mind the benefits of USB flash drives pretty much outweigh those of hard disks. But maybe you disagree? If you can think of any other factors – pro or con – please feel free to join the debate.

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18 Responses to “Flash vs Hard”

  1. Christian V. Schmidt Says:

    “2.Memory sticks can usually be reprogrammed up to 100 times while hard disks supposedly can be rewritten up to 10000 times.”

    Hard drives can perform up to 50.000 read/writes before errors occur. After that the risk of data loss increases dramatically.

    Flash drives are typically specified to 10.000 writes, but may go much higher, before they simply stop being writeable.

    “5. Writing and reading of data is faster once utilized with USB 3.0 (480 MB/sec compared to 150 MB/sec of a hard drive).”

    Those are the theoretical transfer speeds of the interfaces. Modern hard disk drives can read at around 70 MB/s while high performance USB flash drives is stuck around 30 MB/s.

    USB flash drives however, have no seek time and no rotational delay, which is typically 8ms each for hard disk drives.




  2. DT Says:

    Thanks for your input Christian, very much appreciated. I fixed the cycle figures. It’s a little confusing sometimes as different sources give different numbers.

    >>“5. Writing and reading of data is faster once utilized with USB 3.0 (480 MB/sec compared to 150 MB/sec of a hard drive).”

    Those are the theoretical transfer speeds of the interfaces. Modern hard disk drives can read at around 70 MB/s while high performance USB flash drives is stuck around 30 MB/s.< <

    Either way, once USB 3.0 hits the shelves both 30 MB/s as well as 70 MB/s will be a thing of the past. :mrgreen:

  3. Cheap External Hard Drives Says:

    Hey, this is a good discussion on the topics. You provided good argument for both usb and hard drives.

    But if we can use a external HDD, then it is better than USB drives. Even if USB 3 is there, external hard drives can match it by using eSATA ports. What do you think?

  4. DT Says:

    Actually, with 4.8Gbit/s USB 3.0 is faster than eSATA. However, future versions of eSATA and FireWire are supposed to be 6 Gbit/s and up. Then again you have flash drives that also offer eSATA like the above Throttle or the Kanguru e-Flash. But yeah, an edge on fastness may speak for HDDs – that is, if you’re not concerned about mobility for instance.

  5. lab supplies Says:

    thanks for the info, I totally agree. also the compactness makes it so much more practical but this is pretty obvious. thanks

  6. Woodburning Stove Says:

    I obviously prefer a flash drive over a hard drive for the obvious reason stated above…however if you get a 64 GB flash drive 20 bucks that pretty cheap.Because a 250gb usb external hard drive is about 100 bucks, which isnt that cheap..Cant wait for flash drives to extend its capacity further!

  7. Shezard @ Printing Birmingham Says:

    Agreed, a flash drive definitely outways a portable hard drive, also I love the designs you have come up with.. I honestly got sick of the standard look of it, this is definitely something that makes it interesting!

  8. DT Says:

    It sure does. But just so you know, I havent come up with the designs myself. They are created by all kinds of people and companies. I just promote them on this blog. :)

  9. marc @ format hard drive Says:

    Yes Flash drives are really great and ideal for those who travel anywhere with great concern about the weight and reliability. I hope that hard disk drive maufacturers think of a way into making an internal drive with the features and advantages of a flash drive.

  10. Edward Ruiz Says:

    Thats a very good comparison. I love flashdrives but for mass storage, I use SATA Hard Disk.

  11. Chris @ Sales Recruitment Says:

    Hardd drives with 16 GB of storage were introduced sometime around the beginning of 1999. Barely 10 years later, we carry around that much on our keychains. Heck, my laptop only has a 32 GB solid state drive, and I manage to scrape by with that. These things are essentially miniature hard drives. I’m starting to wonder why we don’t just take our entire computing environment, operating system and all, along with us and boot it up on whatever computer we happen to encounter in the wild.

  12. Joseph @ Festival Tents Says:

    For those of us that want to carry around just ONE USB stick with everything on it (say, on our keychains:), how can I get Parted Magic (or another partition manager) to run on the same bootable USB as Knoppix?

    I’ve played around a little, but just copying the files on and browsing to them and trying to launch didn’t work :-(

    Reference article on USB Bootable Partition Managers: How to repartition your hard drive

  13. DT Says:

    I’m afraid this it out of my league (I’m neither a Linux/Knoppix user nor do I partition my flash drives). I guess it depends on what flash drive model you’re using. Did you try the Knoppix wiki? Maybe the following links will help:
    Help with USB Flash Drive Partitioning
    How to partition a USB Stick?

  14. Reynold @ White File Cabinet Says:

    this was a really interesting read. Thanks for doing all that work! I know that I’ve always wondered about the actual speeds and transfer times of my flash drives, but (like you) I end up giving them away, and right now I don’t have enough to do a reasonably thorough comparison.

  15. Anthony @ Freya Swimwear Says:

    True, I agree that flash drives are a lot better, but I tend to lose my flash drives everytime i carry it with me! so if i get portable hard disk the chances of that happening would be a lot less!
    .-= Freya Swimwear ´s last blog post ..Response cached until Fri 26 @ 4:16 GMT (Refreshes in 22.85 Hours) =-.

  16. DT Says:

    Anthony, thats why there’s Lanyards and Keyrings. ;-)

  17. Admin @ Portable Hard Drives Says:

    You can’t really compare usb flash sticks with internal hard drives if you ask me :) . The one thing is portable and small, the other is internal and big. They have different purpose.
    But if we are talking about flash and hard drive technology in general I want to say that I hateeee hard drives. They are just so damn slow. The acces time is killing me. And when they start to fragment is even worse. I can’t wait to buy an SSD. But they are just soooo expensive (for now I hope).
    .-= Portable Hard Drives´s last blog post ..External Desktop Drives Western Digital =-.

  18. DT Says:

    I get what you’re saying. But the post is not just about internal drives, but hard disks in general. That includes external and portable ones (SSD or otherwise). They can be more of a competition for flash drives, but the fact remains that latter are the smallest and most convenient portable storage around.

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