The USB Flash Drive – The Portable Storage Revolution

USB Flash Drives are common devices today, but not so long ago the term “flash drive” had never been heard, unless of course you were associating the term with a Ferrari. So where did the revolutionary USB Flash Drive derive? Well, set your mind back to 1995, it doesn’t seem so long ago. Believe it or not, most computer users were still regularly using floppy disks to transfer their digital data. In fact, virtually all computers had integrated floppy disk drives because floppy disks were by far the most popular, practical and cheapest format for portable storage. Also at that time, Zip disks and Jaz disks (both manufactured by Iomega) came on the market, but they were quite expensive. Zip disks could hold 100MB / 250MB of data, there were even 750MB disks in existence. Jaz disks offered 1GB capacity and later 2GB, but the highish price for both formats meant many computer users couldn’t justify the costs, nor did many computer users have the need to save and transfer large amounts of memory, unlike today. Zip disks and Jaz drives eventually faded out within just a few years of production, they were also bulky and accordingly the Jaz disk broke quite easily.

CD Rom’s had also entered the market, but they weren’t as popular for recording as the technology remained in its early stages. It wasn’t until the late 90′s that CD rewriting appeared on many, if not most, new computers. By the year 2000, rewritable CD’s had fast become as popular, if not more, than floppy disks. These convenient new writable CD’s were affordable, compact, held a substantial amount of data and took up little storage space.

By 2000, the demand for transferring large amounts of data increased dramatically, within a year or so large portable storage disks were necessary to not only companies, but for personal computer users as well. This is primarily due to the introduction of digital cameras, camcorders and downloaded audio files (very popular with internet users). People were now storing, collecting and transferring digital information far more than ever before. Computers were also becoming exceptionally affordable due to lower technology costs as well as the demand and desire for internet use. By early 2000, a huge percentage of households, if not most, would have a computer. 

As many of us have unfortunately experienced, computers have a life span. They can become painstakingly slow, annoyingly crash and even die very inconvenient deaths. People were now having to back up their systems regularly (and still do) in the fear of losing all their stored data. Businesses were also beginning to go paperless, their information was now being held on computer systems. This saved companies time, resources and storage space, it was however essential to back up their important data to avoid future problems.

Because of this, almost every computer was manufactured with the technology to read and write on to CDs and very soon after DVD rewritable disks took over. Large data storage and transfer ability was now a necessity more than a luxury. The reasons as to why floppy disks soon became redundant are no surprise. The average floppy disk held a mere 1.44MB of memory which is tiny when you consider that nowadays a single image taken on a digital camera usually exceeds this amount. Rewritable DVDs were cheap and could hold 4.7GB of data, it would take a staggering 3263 floppy disks to achieve this. CDs could hold an average 650MB, this would equate to 444 floppy disks. These comparative figures still amaze me today.

Around the year 2000, one of the latest things associated with computers (other than the internet) was the revolutionary USB “Universal Serial Bus”. Replacing the likes of most SCSI connection ports used to connect printers and other peripherals etc. USB ports were ground breaking. You didn’t need to be an expert to put your computer together, you simply plugged the USB connector cable in to the port and the other end of the cable into your device and off you went. No longer was it necessary to have a specific entry for your printer, mouse or keyboard as they could be operated from any available USB port. You could even plug in your digital camera and instantly access your photos via USB connection. Many USB devices didn’t even need an electrical power source or battery, low power could actually be supplied to the device by simply connecting the it to the port. Today people regularly charge their cell phones and MP3 players via USB, whilst working away on their computers. Nowadays, you can find USB ports not only on computers but also televisions, DVD players, audio players and even some car dashboards.

OK, so I’ve emphasized on how great USB “Universal Serial Bus” is and why the demand for portable storage has dramatically increased, but let’s focus this topic. A USB Flash Drive, is also known as memory stick, thumb drive and jump drive. It is a pocket sized device which is traditionally the size of a regular lighter and capable of carrying HUGE amounts of digital data (some can store a massive 256GB). In the early days (2002) USB Flash Drives weren’t cheap and even the smallest memory sizes were quite expensive. USB Flash Drives were however highly desirable because they could be plugged into any USB port without the need of a specific drive to read them. They were also robust, some can actually withstand getting wet and continue to work as good as new once dried (please don’t try this even though I have and it did actually work when dry). Not only were USB Flash Drives convenient and robust, they were easy to carry and had decent read and write speeds, many flash memory providers even claim that USB Flash Drives can be used over 1 million times.

Currently the most popular memory size for a Flash Drive is 2GB, however NAND Flash Memory has become more and more affordable as years and even months have gone by. A 2GB flash drive is plenty of storage for many users but trends are showing that 4GB and 8GB drives are fast becoming more popular, this is to do with lower pricing trends and the demand for more storage space as the digital revolution continues to grow.

USB Flash Drive format. The question is, what new found use is next for the revolutionary flash drive?


By Anonymous

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