USB flash drive : Computer Hardware Buyers’ Glossary

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flash drive  USB flash drive
Introduction USB Flash Drive vs Smart Card
As Electronic Floppies Closing
As Extra RAM Futures
As Scratch Drive Shopping for a USB Flash Drive
As DOS Drive Links
Secure flash drives

Introduction

aka thumbdrive, disgo, flashdrive, identity token, ikey, jetflash, jumpdrive, pen drive, portable USB (Universal Serial Bus) flash drive, fob, stick, token, UFB, UFD (USB Flash Drive) or USB drive.

The official generic name is now UFD . Asian companies often have a typo and call them UFBs. Most vendors are now calling them flash drives.

thumbdrive is the proprietary name used by Trek. the Singapore-based maker of the first units. A device that looks like a keychain fob that can be used to store and transport information. It is like a tiny solid state disk drive that plugs into your USB port. You can also use them as backup devices. A 32 MB thumbdrive holds as much as 7 DVDs (Digital Video Discs). It is reusable and orders of magnitude faster.

USB Flash drives are fragile when plugged in. If you jostle them with your leg or with your elbow, they are toast. Best plug them in the back of the computer if you plan to leave them plugged in. The body of the drive acts like a lever to snap the connector off. Guess how I discovered this. Both my flash drives are now dead. I would imagine the stubbier the drive the more rugged it would be.

As Electronic Floppies

They are used much like sneakernet floppies were in the old days, except they typically hold 700 times as much. Often people use them to transport music files. The iPod is similar to a flash drive except you can’t unload the data to a different machine. Trek makes one with an email client on board, so you can take your email and email software with you on your keychain. The 1 GB version is only  $8.00 USD Last revised/verified: 2009-03-08

Corel gave me a 2 GB freebie flash drive. It hold the equivalent of 3 CDs.

As Extra RAM (Random Access Memory)

ReadyBoost is a feature of Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32 and W8-64 to use a flash drive you insert into a USB port to speed up disk access. It caches files.

If you are least bit worried about the data falling into the hands of criminals or strangers or the newsmedia should the flash drive be lost or stolen, make sure you get a password-protected and ideally hardware-encrypted version so that data cannot be retrieved without the pass phrase.

As Scratch Drive

I attempted to use my SanDisk Cruzer as a small fast hard disk for scratch files. To my chagrin, I discovered it was much slower than hard disk. It seems to copy files quickly, but does not handle file record I/O well. So I suggest testing the speed of your flash drive before using it this way.

As DOS (Disk Operating System) Drive

You can make a flash drive bootable. You can place DOS/FreeDOS (or a small Linux) in the drive and boot to it to run old DOS utilities.

Secure flash drives

Uses:

One project pending is to set up the Replicator with flash drive-controlled encryption. They could also be used to protect expensive software from being hacked by encrypting parts of it or the data decrypted with keys stored in the flash drive, or by putting part of the software itself in the flash drive.

In China 2 GB flash drives are manufactured for $3.50 each.

Kingston make a line of DataTraveler Vault secure USB flash drives. To your programs, they look like a small hard disk. The user has to enter a password to access it. You can’t use it like a smart card to install a secret private key that no one, not even the owner can look at. It has no CPU (Central Processing Unit). You could put private keys on it, but the owner who knows the password, could tamper with them. The main advantage is if the owner loses the fob, someone picking it up cannot access the files on it. Even with AES hardware encryption models, you cannot use this like a Smart Card.

USB Flash Drive vs Smart Card

In theory, there need be no sharp dividing line between a USB Flash drive and Smart Card but in practice they each serve a different niche.

Differences between USB Flash drives and Smart Cards
Feature Flash drive Smart Card
Purpose transporting data ID and electronic commerce.
Capacity 32 or 64 gigabytes of RAM Only 300 bytes to 32K bytes.
Software Requires no software other than the driver automatically installed when you insert the flash drive into the USB port. Requires a driver for the reader, and application software to control login, the lock, access to files etc.
CPU has no CPU or a CPU that does nothing but guard the contents of the drive with a PIN and possibly encrypt/decrypt data transparently. has a CPU that can digitally sign, verify, encrypt and decrypt messages. It may be custom programmed at manufacturing time.
private keys can store the private key of a digital certificate, but it is just ordinary data. The owner of the drive can look at it or change it. has private keys for digital certificates burned into the hardware in a way that is completely inaccessible or modifiable by the owner. He can digitally sign, verify, encrypt and decrypt messages with those keys however.

Closing

There are two types of closing:

  1. If you have an encrypted drive, you can close if so the data are no longer visible. You may click an icon or do it programmatically e.g. KDMBasic -u.
  2. Before you unplug, you must prepare the drive for unplugging by clicking an icon on the bottom right of your screen that says Safely remove hardware and EjectMedia or by running DevEject.

Futures

I would think it should be possible to use a Universal ID in the form of a USB flash drive. It would contain a private key that cannot be extracted or duplicated. However it could encrypt, decrypt and sign text presented to it. You would need a 4 button pin pad on it to prevent its use by someone who stole it. It could sign software and email. It would let you make credit card purchase, access ATM (Automated Teller Machine) machines. You could use to it prove your identity over the Internet. It could act as a passport, drivers licence, medical id… Government legislation could make it legal ID for multi-purposes which would then mean you would not even need a wallet, just the drive on your keyring. The technology to do this is far from rocket science. The impediments are political. I suppose it could start a bit at a time, perhaps first as a frequent visitor perk for hotel chains. It gives you access to VIP (Very Important Person) areas. It lets you pay your bill electronically without a credit card or if your credit cards are stolen. The military use a smart ID card called a CAC (Common Access Card) that is very close to this.

Very large flash drives are called SSDs (Solid State Disks).

Shopping for a USB Flash Drive

When comparing prices, check the shipping. It can be outrageous.

electronic product image recommend electronic⇒Verbatim TUFF 'N' TINY 4 GB USB 2.0 Flash Driveto electronic home
asin B001RCTA8I
dim 3.05 × 1.27 cm
1.20 × 0½ in
Cheap, tiny and tough. USB-2. Designed to fit on a key ring. Comes in sizes from 2 to 32 GB. Different sizes are different colours: orange (2GB), green (4GB), purple (8GB), black (16GB), red (32GB). Has password protect of data, rare in such a cheap drive. It is even smaller than it looks. It will fit on a toonie. Verbatim claims read: 30MBps and write: 10MBps. Specs. These are cheap enough you might use them to distribute data, the way you would have given away floppies or CDs in earlier times.
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electronic product image recommend electronic⇒Kingston Data Traveler Vault 32 GB with AES Hardware Encryption USB Flash driveto electronic home
asin B001LNW2S8
Ridiculously expensive at Amazon. 256-bit AES Hardware-Based Encryption. You can’t use the CPU other than to encrypt/decrypt the data stored in the drive. Read up to 24 MBps. Write up to 10 MBps.
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electronic product image recommend electronic⇒Corsair Flash Survivor 32GB USB 3.0, CMFSV3-32GBto electronic home
asin B006B7R8ZG
32GB, super tough. Max Read (USB 3.0) 80MB/sec Max Write (USB 3.0) 40MB/Sec
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electronic product image recommend electronic⇒Verbatim Store 'n' Go 64 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive 97005to electronic home
asin B000BMZOBM
This drive has password protect and 256 bit AES encryption. It also features a capless design. The contact retreat into the drive when not in use, protected by two claws. Comes in sizes from 2 to 64 GB. There is also a USB 3.0 version. Claims up to 30 MBps and write speeds of up to 12 MBps. Measured 22 MBps and 12 MBps.
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electronic product image recommend electronic⇒SanDisk Extreme 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive SDCZ80-064G-G46to electronic home
asin B00DZPUOUI
dim 1.02 × 2.03 × 7.11 cm
0.40 × 0.80 × 2.80 in
This is one of the fastest USB3 flash drives. It comes in 16, 32 and 64 GB. To get the speed, you must use a USB3 port. Shop around to get the best price per GB. Comes with encryption software, but I don’t think it is onboard the fob. Retractable capless design. This is a good idea. It is so easy to misplace the cap. They claim up to 245 MB/s which has as much meaning as lose up to ten pounds in your first week. However, CrystalDiskMark measured sequential reads at 268MB/s, while sequential writes were 212MB/s. Specs.
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electronic product image recommend electronic⇒Kanguru Defender Basic 4 GB USB flash driveto electronic home
asin B003XU0A18
Kanguru Defender Basic 4 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive KDFB-4G. Note spelling: Kanguru not Kangaroo. Comes in 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB models, as well as fancier models. Available in Green, Red, Yellow, Blue, Silver, Gray, and Brown. Protects data on drive with a password and AES 256 bit encryption hardware. This is one of the least expensive drives with AES encryption. 4 GB sounds too tiny to be of any use, yet it holds almost 7 CDs or a whole DVD. It comes with a clear plastic cap to protect the USB connector. The white loop on the end flashes red when you first insert to let you know it is working. If you use it for backup, you can take it with you wherever you go. You can restore anything from your backup anywhere. If you computer or backups are stolen, you will still have the fob on your keychain. Because it is password protected, if you lose the fob, the finder cannot read it. It weighs only 11 grams. Specs. The drive is not particularly fast, but consider it is doing so some pretty heavy encryption/encryption on the fly. It is not nearly as fast as a hard disk. Read: 20 to 33 MB/s, Write: 10 to 13 MB/s. manual. To see the advantages of the more expensive models, see the comparison matrix. This is what I decided to buy for myself. When you unlock the secure partition, it remains unlocked to all applications on the system unless you lock it back. There is no way to unlock it to only one application. This probably applies to encrypted, password-protected USB flash drives generally. It appears as two drives. One contains the autoplay logon application and one is the secure datadrive which looks like a removable drive, with no media, when you have not logged on. It is all menu driven and duck simple. There is a bug in the firmware. When you close the drive, it does not always close. You must check that it closed and that the files are not longer visible. If the close did not take, you must reopen and reclose. I have reported the bug, but so far Kanguru can offer no fix. I have discovered that kdmbasic.exe -u to close it programmatically works reliably. If you buy direct from the manufacturer, you will have a wider choice of colours, capacities and custom engravings. They do not take PayPal. They ship only to the USA. Despite the name, they are based in Massachusetts, not Australia. For $8 a year you can subscribe to an anti-virus checker than runs in the firmware. When your drive arrives, go to the Kanguru site to download and install the latest firmware upgrade.
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electronic product image recommend electronic⇒Kingston Datatraveller Ultimate USB-3 Flash Drive 32 GBto electronic home
asin B0041G2YPI
white and gray. Very fast since this is USB-3. You must have a free USB-3 connector on your computer to use this. Claims read at 80 MB/s, write at 60 MB/s.
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electronic product image recommend electronic⇒OCZ Diesel 4GB USB 2.0 Flash Driveto electronic home
asin B001BHUJ5M
dim 8.13 × 13.21 × 1.52 cm
3.20 × 5.20 × 0.60 in
discontinued icon
OCZUSBDSL, 4GB. Available in 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB capacities. This is a sturdy little drive with an aluminum chassis. It is very inexpensive. It has removable cap which you can easily misplace. Also works on MacOS. 16.0MB/sec read, 4.3MB/sec write. OCZ makes four different speed ranges. This model is the entry level. Toshiba/OCX has dropped their entire line of flash drives to concentrate on SSDs.
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electronic product image recommend electronic⇒Kanguru Defender 2000 8 GB USB flash driveto electronic home
asin B008BYYZOY
Note spelling: Kanguru not Kangaroo. 8GB. This is the deluxe version of the Kanguru Defender Basic. It works on Windows, Mac OS and Linux. It comes in a strong alloy case to make it tamper resistant. It has management features. Like the Basic, it has AES encryption in hardware. It comes in sizes from 8 GB to 128 GB. If you use it for backup, you can take it with you wherever you go. You can restore anything from your backup anywhere. If your computer or backups are stolen, you will still have the fob on your keychain. Because it is password protected, if you lose the fob, the finder cannot read it. It weighs only 11 grams. Specs. The drive is not particularly fast, but consider it is doing so some pretty heavy encryption/encryption on the fly. It is not nearly as fast as a hard disk. Read 30 MB/s, Write: 20 MB/s. manual. To see the advantages of the more expensive models, see the comparison matrix. When you unlock the secure partition, it remains unlocked to all applications on the system unless you lock it back. There is no way to unlock it to only one application. This probably applies to encrypted, password-protected USB flash drives generally. It appears as two drives. One contains the autoplay logon application and one is the secure datadrive which looks like a removable drive, with no media, when you have not logged on. It is all menu driven and duck simple. If you buy direct from the manufacturer, you will have a choice capacities and custom engravings. They do not take PayPal. They ship only to the USA. Despite the name, they are based in Massachusetts, not Australia. When your drive arrives, go to the Kanguru site to download and install the latest firmware upgrade.
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electronic product image recommend electronic⇒Corsair Flash Voyager 16GB USB 3.0to electronic home
asin B008MCZHVU
CMFVYGT3A-16GB. This drive is cheaper and faster than the equivalent USB 2.0 version. There a slightly cheaper, much slower blue version of this drive. 440 MB/s read, 5 MB/s write. It comes in 16, 32, 64 and 128 GB verisons.
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electronic product image recommend electronic⇒SanDisk Extreme PRO USB 3.0 Flash Drive SDCZ88-128G-G46to electronic home
asin B00HR7FWUC
dim 1.10 × 2.10 × 7.10 cm
0.43 × 0.83 × 2.80 in
As of 2014-06-20 this was SanDisk’s top of the line model. It writes faster than any other drive I know of. It comes only in 128GB. It has a durable aluminum case and a lifetime warranty. It comes with AES encryption software, but I don’t think it has built-in hardware in the fob, making it less secure. CrystalMark rates it 260.7MB/s for sequential reads and 245.1MB/s writes. It is drastically slower for random access, but normally you use these devices only for copying (reading and writing files sequentially). Specs. This thing is so big and so fast you could think of it as a portable SSD drive.
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ActivKey: digital id
Aladdin eToken Authentication devices
alibaba: ceramic USB drives and other novelties
Apricorn secure flash drives
Atto USB flash drive benchmark software
Avoiding fake flash drives
Backing up to a flash drive
CMS secure flash drives
CrystalDiskMark: USB flash drive benchmarking software
dongle
flash drives with corporate logos
FlashBay: build custom promotional flash drives
Froogle search
hardware security module
How to judge flash drive quality
Imation
Imation/Ironkey: secure for holding passwords
Install DOS 7.1 on flash drive
Kanguru secure flash drives
Kingston DataTraveler secure flash drives
Kingston flash drives
LaCie: flash drives that look like keys and coins
Lexar
Lifehacker software flash drive encryption
Making bootable flash drives
Measure USB flash drive speed
OfficeShopDirect
Oriphe: cheap bulk Chinese USB drives
password fob
PC Mag’s top secure flash drives
PC World’s picks for top secure USB Flash drives
Portable Apps: carry apps pre-installed on flash drive
PortableApps drive: recommended for Portable Apps
ReadyBoost
Rufus: utility for creating bootable flash drive
Safe Net iKey 2032 identity token with PKCS #11
SafeNet USB eToken 5100 with embedded digital certificate info
SameDayFlash: engraved, strange shapes, serial numbered USB flash drives
SanDisk
Security token
Smart Card readers
Sony
SSD
Tom’s Hardware on USB-3 flash drives
trackstick
Trek flash drives
U3
USB
USB 007: bulk with custom logos
USB flash drive
USB flash drive benchmark results Last revised/verified: 2008-05-19
USB flash drive benchmark results Last revised/verified: 2008-12-22
USB Memory promotional flash drives
USB-3 Flash drive reviews

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