Flash drives have been around for 15 years or more. Sometimes called “thumb drives” or “jump drives” or “memory sticks,” these tiny devices have become one of the most useful devices a computer user can own.
A flash drive is a data storage device about the size of a tube of lipstick that includes flash memory with an integrated USB interface. It is typically removable, rewritable, and much smaller than a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM disk. Flash drives are rugged, can withstand normal handling, and are impervious to magnetism. As a result, they make great devices for storing data. They are often used for making backup copies of important information as well as for transporting files from one computer to another. As such, they have largely replaced floppy disks (remember those?) and CD-ROM and DVD-ROM disks.
There are many reasons for the success of flash drives, but perhaps the single biggest factor has been the increase in storage capacity of these tiny devices. The first USB flash drive was sold in the U.S. by I.B.M. in the year 2000. Called the DiskOnKey, it held just eight megabytes of files. That was considered to be huge at the time, more than 5 times the storage capacity of the floppy disks that it replaced.
Of course, the storage capacity started increasing as manufacturing techniques became refined. Today, flash drives that will store 256 gigabytes are common at reasonable prices. That’s 32,000 times the storage capacity of the first flash drives that were considered to be huge at that time! However, in less than 10 years, the flash drive’s storage capacity has increased to 256 gigabytes and more.
Unlike a few years ago, it is now possible to back up an entire hard drive to a flash drive! In fact, it is possible to purchase a flash drive with 2 terabytes of storage capacity; however, prices for the 2-terabyte flash drives are not cost-effective for most consumers. Prices escalate quickly for the few flash drives that will store more than 256 gigabytes. For instance, Amazon sells the Kingston Digital 2TB DataTraveler Ultimate GT flash drive for $1,386.93 U.S. at https://amzn.to/2HyRyTX. For home computing purposes, 256 gigabytes seems to be the practical limit for today’s flash drives.
NOTE: Do not be fooled by shady vendors offering to sell one terabyte or two terabyte flash drives for bargain prices of $10 or $20. Those are scams! For details, read my earlier article, Beware the Flash Drive Scam, at: https://blog.eogn.com/2016/09/07/beware-the-flash-drive-scam/.
I recently purchased a VisionTek 256-gigabyte USB 3.0 SSD Pro flash drive and have fallen in love with it. I thought I would describe my experiences with it.
The VisionTek 256-gigabyte flash drive costs $141.78, a price that is significantly higher than external hard drives of the same storage capacity. However, that strikes me as a modest price when you factor in the ease of use, much faster speed, and much smaller size compared to external hard drives.
This 256-gigabyte flash drive works well with all the recent versions of Microsoft Windows. (That’s not true of all high-capacity flash drives.) The flash drive was formatted at the factory in Microsoft’s Windows NT File System (NTFS) format. As such, all Windows systems produced in the past 10 or 15 years will work with this flash drive.
However, I wanted to use my new flash drive on my Mac. While Macintosh systems can read NTFS-formatted disks and flash drives, a Mac cannot write to them without installing third-party software in the Mac that adds the capability to both read AND write NTFS formatted devices. When I first plugged the VisionTek 256-gigabyte flash drive into my Macintosh system, I could not write to it.
I had a choice. I could either reformat the flash drive in the Macintosh HPFS format (which means it will no longer work on Windows systems), or I could purchase and install one of the third-party NTFS drivers for Macintosh produced by any of several companies. (See https://www.howtogeek.com/236055/how-to-write-to-ntfs-drives-on-a-mac/ for details.) I decided to pay $19.95 and install Paragon NTFS for Mac. The installation process was painless and was completed in a minute or two. I now have the capability to read AND write to this 256-gigabyte flash drive from any modern Windows system and from my own Macintosh system – but not from other Macs that lack a third-party NTFS driver.
When shopping for a high-capacity flash drive, I wanted one with a USB 3.0 interface. While there are high capacity USB 2.0 or USB 2.1 flash drives available at lower prices, the slower speed of those devices can be a major drawback when copying hundreds of gigabytes through a USB port. A USB 3.0 connection transfers at roughly ten times the speed of USB 2.0 or USB 2.1 (4.8 Gigabits per second for USB 3.0 versus 480 Megabits per second for USB 2.0). Do you really want to wait 10 hours or more to fill a high-capacity USB 2.0 flash drive? See https://www.diffen.com/difference/USB_2.0_vs_USB_3.0#USB_3.0_Highlights_and_Benefits_over_USB_2.0 for more information.
Of course, high speeds can only be obtained if the computer being used also has USB 3.0 ports. The USB standard is backwards-compatible; this means that plugging a high-speed USB 3.0 flash drive into a computer that has USB 2.1 ports will work reliably, but it will be throttled down to the lower speed.
If you own a USB 3.0-compatible computer or think you may be upgrading to such a faster computer within the next year or so, you probably will want to only consider high-capacity flash drives that support the USB 3.0 standard. When purchasing lower-capacity flash drives or when only copying a few files at a time, the speed differences will be less noticeable. In my case, my laptop and desktop computers and even my cell phone all have USB 3.0 connections.
Once I unpacked the VisionTek 256-gigabyte USB 3.0 SSD Pro flash drive, the first thing I noticed is that it is bigger than my other flash drives. See the picture below for a comparison with an older 16-gigabyte flash drive that I already owned. However, the larger size doesn’t seem to be a factor as it easily plugs into the same USB ports on my computers that I have used previously. The larger size doesn’t appear to be enough of a difference to interfere with USB connectors or flash drives that are plugged into adjacent USB ports on my computer.
The new, high-capacity flash drive is also a bit heavier than the older flash drives I have used at about 2.5 ounces. To be blunt, I wouldn’t even notice the difference unless I was holding the old flash drive in one hand and the new flash drive in the other. Any time you are talking about items of 3 ounces or less, the differences are trivial.
The VisionTek 256-gigabyte flash drive appears to be very well made. I suspect it will withstand heavy abuse. However, like almost all other flash drives, it is not guaranteed to be waterproof. I once destroyed an older flash drive when I accidentally sent it through the laundry!
So, how well does it work?
In short, the VisionTek 256-gigabyte flash drive worked perfectly in my testing, once I installed the NTFS driver in my Macintosh. Windows users shouldn’t encounter any problems at all. The first thing I did after unboxing it was to plug it into my iMac and copy about 162 gigabytes of documents, digital pictures, and videos. The entire copy required 36 minutes. Had I used a flash drive with a USB 2.1 interface, I suspect the same file copy would have required 5 hours or more.
The VisionTek 256-gigabyte flash drive did become warm while copying all the files at high speed. However, I would describe it as “warm,” not “hot.” I didn’t feel the heat was a problem.
I am pleased with the 256 gigabyte flash drive. I already copy all my data files to a file storage service in the cloud, but having an extra backup is always a good idea. Besides, when traveling, I now can take the backup with me in a device that weighs 2.5 ounces. I also installed the NTFS driver in my laptop MacBook Pro so that I could use the same flash drive in it.
There is a downside to the small size and light weight of the flash drive, however. At the price of this thing, I would hate to lose it! I have had other flash drives that “disappeared” from my pocket. While inconvenient, I don’t lose too much sleep over losing a $20 flash drive. (My files are encrypted so that nobody else can read them.) However, at $141.78, I am going to keep a close eye on this flash drive!
The VisionTek 256-gigabyte USB 3.0 SSD Pro flash drive is not the only high-capacity flash drive available. I did not perform a side-by-side comparison with devices made by other manufacturers simply because it would have cost too much to purchase multiple drives and test all of them. However, I suspect my experience was similar to using any of the other competitive flash drives.
You can learn more about the VisionTek 256-gigabyte USB 3.0 SSD Pro flash drive by starting at https://duckduckgo.com/?q=VisionTek+256-gigabyte+USB+3.0+SSD+Pro&t=hf&ia=products. I purchased mine from Amazon at https://amzn.to/2HbmAjH but you might find lower prices by shopping on other sites.