Hands On with a 256 Gigabyte Flash Drive

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.

Summation

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.

16 Comments

Dick – you could run a cable through the loop on the memory stick and attach the other end to your belt so that you don’t lose it.
But of course, you would then need to remember what you had done. If you set it copying for half an hour you might then want to move away from the PC for something and it would be a shame if you took the PC with you…

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Are the contents of the flash drive encrypted or do you run the risk of losing valuable personal data?

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Unrelated to the Flash drive, but would like your thoughts on waiting to buy a new computer in view of intel chip security flaws. I would like to get new computer with USB 3 ports, but wonder if the chip security issues might be fixed and I will regret not waitng .Thanks for your opinion.

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    —> but would like your thoughts on waiting to buy a new computer in view of intel chip security flaws…

    Those “flaws” have been in the chips more or less forever. Luckily, nobody knew about the flaws until recently. Not even the hackers knew about them, as far as we know. Now the makers of the operating systems have developed software solutions to neutralize the problems. See https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2018/01/meltdown-and-spectre-heres-what-intel-apple-microsoft-others-are-doing-about-it/ for the details.

    I am not too worried about the Intel “problem.” However, I do always keep my Windows, Macintosh, Linux, UNIX, Chrome, Android, Apple iOS, and other operating systems up to date with the latest security patches and solutions. I believe that will minimize the risks.

    Nothing is ever perfect. However, I can live with minimizing risks.

    Besides, once Intel introduces “fixed” chips and they become installed in all new computers, who is to say there won’t be any NEW security problems introduced by the so-called fixes?

    If anyone decides to wait until all problems are fixed, they will need to wait forever…

    Liked by 1 person

I have the Lexie USB 3.0 256g and love it. It was only @ $60.

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If you’re looking for speed, make sure the drive you select has the SSD controller (like the VisionTek). There are some 256GB USB 3 drives out there that still use the older flash controller. Much cheaper, but quite a lot slower.

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I have a drawer full of flash drives. I love them but I can’t tell one from the other and am constantly plugging them in to see what’s on them. Some of them have a small area that I can write or put a sticker but some of them have sliding outsides and that makes it impossible.

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    Some flash drives have a small loop on one end that allows you to attach a tag. Unfortunately, not all of them do that. For those that have a loop, I use “key tags” such as these:

    Keytags

    It is a partial solution.

    Liked by 1 person

    Barbara Curtindale April 18, 2018 at 6:51 pm

    attach string tags to your thumb drives with major content on it. store the TD’s in a zipper pouch. Sure helps to sort & find correct one easier. I just saw Dick uses a different type, your choice. that one is probably better as the tag is closer to the TD and less string to tie up in knots.

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Janice Nelson Cole April 17, 2018 at 6:37 pm

What is the life of the data on a flash drive compared with an external hard drive Dick?
Thanks,
Jan

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As usual, this tech article give a perspective that makes me think. Especially the reference to Mac File Fault and the older article, which I found informative. The strength of encrypting data on back up drives is not a subject I discuss in my circles. Until now.

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Quite a few years ago I started backing up my important data files to 64 and 128GB flash drives. I keep 1 in my car, the other in my house. I assume I won’t lose my house and car at the same time. More recently I also put them on OneDrive, where I have 1TB of storage, about 10% used at present.
Once the backup went over about 50GB the 64 only had space for very few incremental backups, so I replaced it with a 256GB one that probably cost what you mention, but it is probably slower than yours. A 50GB backup probably takers an hour, no problem as I set it going when I finish other work, and the computer shuts down when finished. Both current drives are large enough to hold an O/S image, plus my important user files and several incremental backups of user files.

But one question, a bit out of left field. Am I correct that a flash drive won’t be effected by a severe Carrington event? Mind you, if such does occur, loss of user files probably won’t be the most important thing in my life.

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    —> Am I correct that a flash drive won’t be effected by a severe Carrington event?

    I am no expert but, as I understand Carrington events, nothing electronic is guaranteed safe. Flash drives might be less susceptible than some other methods of electronic data storage but I would never trust any flash drive or any other single electronic device to be guaranteed to not lose data.

    The safest way to store electronic data probably is on CD and DVD-ROM disks. They store data in microscopic-sized holes in a foil reflective layer within the plastic disk. As such, they PROBABLY are unaffected by geomagnetic solar storms such as a Carrington Event. However, CD and DVD disks have proven to deteriorate rapidly within a very few years due to contamination within the different layers of the plastic. That’s a different problem but equally serious, perhaps more serious. I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on CDs or DVDs for a “guarantee” to preserve your data. Sadly, CD and DVD disks are now disappearing. Within a very few years, you won’t be able to buy them or even read them on your new computers.

    Keeping the storage media in a Faraday Cage will reduce the risk but, again, is not guaranteed. Faraday cages can be made from any number of commonly used metal enclosures, including galvanized metal garbage cans, ammo cans, popcorn tins, and even tightly sealed metal filing cabinets. In all cases, the metal container is lined with insulating material to prevent the contents from having contact with the metal. Examples of insulating material are cardboard, Styrofoam, and even carpet scraps.

    The last major Carrington Event occurred in 1859 so the odds of another one occurring any time soon are slim. But that’s just the odds. The odds of winning the lottery also are slim but I keep hoping! (smile) Just like winning the lottery, the next big Carrington event theoretically could happen at any time, such as this afternoon or tonight!

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There was a major solar storm in May of 1967, though not as bad as the one in 1859.
https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.space.com/33687-solar-storm-cold-war-false-alarm.html

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