Best Grade Flash Memory for My USB Flash Drive

The question about the flash memory (NAND) grades or tiers have come up on occasion. When I first heard about grading being used for the flash memory, I was not sure what to make of it. I was set to learn more about this intriguing nomenclature and get it all figured out.

The Saga

Without too much thinking, Google was the first obvious choice to easily load up on the subject. However, after the clock turned a half of the dial, it was clear to me that it’s not going to be easy. For some reason, I could not get any authoritative explanations; just opinions and hearsay. This will not do; I must press forward!

Truthfully, after realizing that grading may be just hot air, my enthusiasm has waned. A couple of months later, I decided to ask a couple of USB flash drive suppliers about these grades or tiers or something that can relate to the quality aspect of the flash memory. To my surprise, I got similarly vague answers as my extensive Internet search – Bummer!

A Potential discovery

The following is a summary of the collected information:

  1. Flash memory (NAND) comes in various grading or tier systems
  2. Flash memory manufacturers can also belong to different tier systems
  3. Tier or Grade systems refer to quality (i.e. reliability of transistors (cells) or cell’s ability to retain data or Manufacturing capability and technology) or performance characteristics (i.e. MB/s read or write throughput)

A little more detail

  • It’s claimed that grades from A to D exist. Grade A being the best quality and D the worst.
  • The tiers are the number equivalent to the grades. Grade A would be Tier 1 and so forth.
  • When the tiers are being refereed to the manufacturers of the flash memory (e.g. Hynix, Samsung); the reference is to the volume, level of the technological know-how, and the level of advancement in the manufacturing process. Tier 1 is highest.

What they say

Grade A –  Original (i.e. just as it came form the original manufacturer’s production line) flash with all the manufacturing identification marks, and passed manufacturing inspections

Grade B – Original flash, potentially without manufacturing identification marks; also with passed manufacturing inspections

Grade C – Modified or upgraded flash. The controller on the PCB is modified to report a larger capacity than what really exists on the drive. The USB flash drive reports 64GB; however you only got 32GB of the flash storage.

Grade D – Recycled and/or heavily modified flash. If it’s recycled, who knows how much life this memory has left in it. It reports 64GB; but there is a 1MB worth of the actual storage.

Flash Memory Tiers (1,2,3)  – Basically Grade A = Tier 1 and so forth

Manufacturer Tiers (1,2,3) – Members of the Tier 1 are Samsung, Hynix. Tier 2 members are Micron, Nanya, Inotera. The Tier 3 members are Elpida, Powerchip, Rexchip.

So what’s the verdict?

It’s rather difficult to tell for certain. It seems that this terminology has been adopted by the flash memory traders and USB flash drive manufacturers. However, an educated guess can be made when the processor technology is compared to the flash memory technology. (What?)

Even though the technology is different, there are some parallels that can be drawn. After the dies are deposited on the wafer, they are tested for quality. Those dies that have a sufficient number of transistors to pass under the intended specifications, are marked and released from manufacturing. Basically, if you are making a 64GB NAND memory die, and the tested amount of transistors return at 549,755,813,888 bits or more, you got a solid die. The testing will also involve performance characteristics.

Future NAND MLC chips

Some dies do not pass the test  to a point where there is less than the intended amount of working transistors. As in the processor chip manufacturing, these are sorted into a different pile. In the processor world, the failed dies become your economical choice processors (e.g. Intel’s Celeron or AMD’s Duron or some other downgraded processor). A similar process must exist for the NAND dies as well.

I want the best grade!

The best grade, one way or another, is Grade A, Tier 1 or Original Flash Memory. If your source is reliable, this is your choice, if you’re looking for the highest performing flash memory with the potential of being the most reliable.

The Grade B flash is close second. It still passed the manufacturing testing, just not to the intended specifications at the time of production. The capacity of the flash memory is full, and its capacity is fully tested.

The Grade C flash is something that you don’t want, unless you’re looking for the biggest bang for the buck. Hmmm… I cannot really think of a promotional or any drive where this can be used. Why would you want to mark the drive higher than it can actually hold? That’s just mean!


The discovery of the grading and tier terminology was a tedious and sometimes frustrating adventure. I’m sure that more specificity and corrections can be made to the discussion; overall, some certain conclusions can be made.

If you’re ready to spend a little more and need extra performance and possibly reliability from  your flash memory, choose Grade A (Tier 1). If a reasonable price, good performance and reliability is required, Grade B (Tier 2) is your choice. Grade C (Tier 3) or Grade D should not be your choice in any situation.

In regards to the flash memory manufacturers, Tier 1 Samsung and Hynix tend to stay on top of the NAND manufacturing world. Being the leaders of the industry and with the reputation for being reliable, they are an easy choice.

Beautiful Monarch Butterfly USB Drive

Monarch butterflies are indeed beautiful. Apparently, they are very popular as well. We simply would like to share the simple beauty of these USB drives with you. Enjoy.

In case you are wondering, the top wing is fully detachable so that you can plug the drive in your computer. Like the drive? Let us make a custom drive for you! Any shape you like; all you need is an idea, photo, or a drawing.

USB Flash Drive vs. Cloud Storage Infrastructure

There has been a huge amount of interest and buzz surrounding cloud computing, storage, and infrastructure. Everyone wants to be on the cloud; some because they need it and some just to be a part of the buzz.

Cloud storage is gaining ground with Google, DropBox, iDrive, Amazon, Microsoft, and many others competing for the business. The idea is quite simple – allow users to store data remotely so that it can be accessed from any device and any location in the world where there is Internet connectivity. Behind the scenes there are large data server farms that are air, heat, and vibration controlled with redundant systems that all work to maximize uptime and data reliability. For many, the Cloud storage services are invaluable tool at their disposal.

However, there are a couple downsides to the Cloud storage service, no matter how invaluable it may be. The most troubling is sending your data to companies that may harvest, analyze, and potentially borrow your data from you. “What are you talking about?”, you ask. The following excerpt is from Google Terms of Use as of March 1, 2012: “When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.” Even though many say that this is the usual small print text that companies include in their terms of use, I say “It makes me very uneasy using their service when they use such language!”

Another, a much more simpler downside, is data availability. It’s ironic, however all the Cloud data is accessed over the Internet; therefore you are always at the mercy of the Internet Service Provider (ISP)  to provide the best service possible. No connectivity means that your data is safely stored in the industrial data warehouse completely out of your reach.

The ISP does not necessarily have to be blamed for connectivity issues to the Cloud. If your business has insufficient bandwidth for your employees, you may get stuck spending your time looking at the progress bar as it slowly tests your patience while opening a single document.

The USB Flash Drive is your answer! Well… maybe I am slightly biased towards the flash drives on this site. Please forgive my eagerness. The USB storage definitely has some answers, but it is not a solution for all.

The USB storage, whether it is in the SSD or a small flash drive package, offers significant simple benefits.

  1. Your data is not shared with any company and the terms of use are your own.
  2. The data can be simply secured using great encryption tools (some free and some not – your choice).
  3. Data availability is at your fingertips.

It is quite logical that USB flash drive or SSD offers simple benefits to the Cloud storage service. However, there is a downside.

  1. You need to worry about the backup (Flash memory does go bad, just like any other technology).
  2. If you loose your drive, there is no way to recover it unless you have a backup.
  3. There are no additional services for data sharing as offered by the Cloud services.

Picking a storage solution is a matter of a personal preference, a technological set of beliefs, and your specific needs and requirements. If you don’t feel threatened by the terms and conditions of the Cloud service providers and have great network connectivity, the Cloud can be the choice. If you’re a little paranoid (like me) and like to have an always available storage with no strings attached, the USB flash drive or SSD may be your answer.