How long will your USB flash drive last? It’s much shorter than you think!

[Updated – March 2013]

Every electronic device has a set lifetime, no matter how reliable it may be. Either the mechanical components of the device fail and/or the electronics fail. It may be great news to the manufacturing companies; however not so much to us – the regular consumers.

The news of failing electronics get worse if you consider storage devices such as hard drives, SSDs, and flash memory. Drive failure frequently means loss of important data and utter disappointment.  If there is a chance or restoring the data from the backup,  it may take hours or even days.  It’s difficult to find reconciliation, unless you’re into target practice.

It’s almost impossible to reliably predict a point of time when a drive will fail. Fortunately, there are some tools to estimate an average lifetime of a storage drive. We’ll focus on the flash memory (NAND) storage in this post, and will leave the hard drives to other blogs. Keep in mind that we’ll show a relatively simple way of computing the life of an average flash drive with typical usage.

Let’s dive in! Wait… before we do; let’s go over some basics really quickly.

  1. Flash memory consists of billions of transistors. Each transistor can store from one bit to three bits
  2. The smallest data that the flash memory can read or write is 4KB worth of data. 4KB = 32768 bits
  3. The smallest data the the flash memory can erase is 512KB – that’s huge!
  4. If the data is overwritten in the flash memory, it must first be erased and only then written.
  5. Each time the data is erased, the life of the transistors involved is diminished.
  6. Each time the data is written/read, the controller on the flash drive interacts with the flash memory. That interaction is referred to as IOPS (Input/Output [operations] Per Second)

Now we can start calculating the life of your flash drive. The usual life of each transistor for erase/write cycle is about 1,000 or less. The reason it’s not higher is because the USB flash memory makers often use MLC or TLC type flash memory. From the lesson #1 above; it is the type that stores 2 and 3 bits respectively per transistor (cell).

The average write IOPS measure for a flash drive is about 2500. However, if you’re geeky enough, you can measure yours with Intel’s iometer tool.

So how do I actually get the life of my drive?!

Flash Memory Lifetime Updated

Previously, we used 256K data block in our calculation instead of intended 4K. The result was not a happy number! With this more appropriate computation, the 4GB gets a reputable 32.36 days of heavy duty usage!

The calculation assumes that 15% (that’s the 0.15 in computation) of the time you’ll be writing to the drive. That’s 15% of the 24 hours per day for those 32.36 days. Also, the calculation assumes that you’ll be overwriting (erasing and writing the data) evenly on the flash drive. These are 32.36 pure and hardcore writing days for a causal and even professional user.

Practically speaking, a lot depends on the usage of your drive and the capacity. Additionally, there is a hidden attribute – a factor of how well the controller on the flash drive distributes the writes. In any case, a 4GB drive can last many years. Increasing your capacity, increases the lifetime of your drive so it’s always a good idea to pick the largest size you can.

So what’s that magic number that is used in the formula, you ask? It’s quite simple 🙂 It’s purely used for conversion purposes. Since we use GBs in the numerator and seconds in the IOPS argument, it’s easier to use the 33.25 conversion factor to simplify computation. You get 33.25 with the following operation: 1,000 cycles X (1,048,576KB) / 31,536, 000 sec [There is 1,048,576KB in 1GB; there is 31,536,000 sec in one year]

So how long will your USB flash drive last? That really depends on many factors. However, there are few things you can remember if you want to extend the life of your drive.

  1. Buy the largest capacity you can afford.
  2. Do research. Choose SLC memory over MLC. And MLC over TLC.
  3. Avoid erasing data.
  4. Even the best technology fails; don’t forget to backup!

Armed with the information, you now can protect your investment better. Most of our valuable work is now stored on hard drives and flash memory. The flash memory is being utilized more and more due to its high speed and the lack of mechanical parts. However, there are important facts that you must know to better guard yourself from data loss.

[Update] We continue and expand our discussion on the endurance of flash memory here.

Most Affordable Personalized USB Flash Drives

It’s hard to keep pace with new technology. We hear it every day – by the time you buy a piece of the newest tech, there is already a newer technology being placed on the shelves of the store or storage shelves of Amazon.

When we think of technological progress, we often time think of consumer electronics in the form of laptops, iPads, and newest phones. However, the same rules apply to other electronic components such as memory chips, hard drives, and processors.

Since most of us do not spend a lot of time looking into the prices of flash memory chips or processors, it is natural not to see the same technological trends and price changes.

This year has been especially interesting for the prices of the USB flash drives. The prices have declined substantially to the levels never seen before. As an example of historical price trend of a 4GB MLC flash memory chip, the average price in 2010 was around $6.25; in 2011 the price came down to around $4.25; for the current year, we are looking at the prices in the $2.00 range. Not surprisingly, the other flash memory chip capacities have also followed a similar price downtrend.

4GB Flash Memory Pricing Trend 2010-2012

Since, the price of the USB flash drives heavily depends on the price of flash memory, the price of the drives has decreased significantly as well. It’s easy to impress a client with large personalized USB flash drive, and not spend nearly as much as your clients think.

P.S. Check out our store for the up-to-date prices on the USB flash drives. We update the prices frequently to reflect the actual prices of the flash memory.

Get some flip-flops for the winter

There are no limits when it comes to the USB flash drive shapes. Even in the winter time, the flip-flop USB flash drive looks great! Don’t like this model? We can create any model or any custom shape of your choice.

USB Flip Flop Flash Drive

In this particular model, the fun sun shape on top of the drive as well as the strap can be color customized. The printing of your custom logo or text goes on the back of the drive.

Especially in the boring and uneventful winter time, you deserve to have some fun. Get some colorful custom shape USB flash drives to brighten your day.

As always, you can visit our store to see many interesting USB flash drives and accessories and purchase them online.