USB keys contain hundreds, if not thousands, of important information about our lives. But be careful, these storage media do not have an unlimited life span. Even if you take good care of your USB flash drive, it may break down one day or another. Here are some tips to extend its life expectancy.
Why do USB flash drives have such a short lifespan?
USB flash drives are used to store all kinds of data. From photos of your smartphone to videos of your baby’s first steps to company reports or PDFs of your bank account.
Obviously this content is of paramount importance to the vast majority of users. If your key gets damaged you risk losing all your data. That’s why it’s essential to duplicate your digital files on another medium.
As you probably already know, USB flash drives are among the least reliable storage media on the market. There are countless owners who have lost all their files because of a defective flash drive.
You may wonder why this storage device is so fragile compared to e.g. an SSD drive or an SD card? You should know that there are different types of flash memories
SLC: this memory (Single Layer Cell) has a number of read/write cycles that can reach 100 000. It is widely used in the business world despite its low storage capacity.
TLC: it stores 3 bits of data per cell. It offers a relatively slow reading and writing speed. This can be particularly detrimental for video storage.
MLC: it is often found in consumer products (especially in SSDs) because of its good performance/price ratio with a relatively interesting storage capacity.
USB flash drives generally use TLC (Triple Level Cell) flash memory. This is the cheapest non-volatile storage technology to manufacture. Manufacturers can therefore offer large storage capacities at very low costs. On the other hand, the lifetime of these flash memories is relatively shorter than other technologies such as SLC and MLC.
But this is not the only reason for this lack of reliability. In order to offer ever more attractive prices, manufacturers equip their USB flash drives with controllers of poor quality compared to those present on SSD hard drives.
This element plays an essential role in the management of data flows exchanged between the computer and the flash drive. In case of failure, your PC or Mac will not be able to recognize your USB flash drive. You may then lose all the data in the flash memory . See how to remove the write protection from a USB flash drive.
Extending the life of a USB flash drive
Although it is impossible to predict exactly when a USB flash drive will fail, there are some simple things you can do to extend its life. Avoid dropping it on the floor if possible.
This may seem obvious, yet few people give much thought to this little flash drive. Like any other electronic accessory, you should treat this storage device with the utmost care. To preserve these files as long as possible, you must avoid shocks, falls but also any contact with liquid.
There is also another point to take into account. It concerns the conditions in which you disconnect the key after using it. Many people simply remove it from the USB port without taking care to eject it properly from their computer settings.
This harmless gesture can lead to data loss. Indeed, the files (especially if they are numerous) are not copied immediately on the USB key. Most of the time, they are cached and then transferred to the media in the flash memory when the computer decides to do so.
If you remove the USB flash drive during the data transfer process, you may damage your flash memory. A sudden loss of power could cause serious damage and weaken the electronic circuits. By using the eject tool of your computer (Windows, MacOs or Linux), you can be sure that all your data will be properly copied to your USB memory.
Cheap USB flash drive
Cheap goods seem to be a clever way to save money. Unfortunately the facts show that the opposite is true. USB sticks and cheap SSDs often contain low-end electrical components (controllers, chipsets) with a very short lifespan.
Don’t hesitate to add a few euros to buy a good quality storage device. This greatly reduces the risk of finding yourself with a totally unusable device after a few weeks.