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How Long Does A USB Flash Drive Last?

  1. Can you freeze a USB flash drive?
  2. Will a USB flash drive survive the washing machine?
  3. Can a USB flash drive survive getting wet?
  4. How long does a USB flash drive last?
  5. Why is a USB flash drive so durable?

How long does a USB flash drive last?

#1 – Can you freeze a USB flash drive?

Yes, if a USB drive is frozen it will work and will work immediately without need of defrosting it. Nerdy details below.

#2 – Will a USB flash drive survive the washing machine?

Yes, a USB flash drive will survive a washing machine; however, it is recommended to let the flash drive dry for 24 hours before trying to use it. Nerd details below.

#3 – Can a USB flash drive survive getting wet?

Yes, a USB flash drive will survive getting wet; however, it is recommended to let the flash drive dry for 24 hours before trying to use it. Nerd details below.

#4 – How long does a USB flash drive last?

Data on a USB flash drive could last forever if setup correctly and stored correctly. However the real-world answer depends on a couple things: What type of NAND flash memory? SLC, MLC or TLC and also how the device is stored between now and eternity. The nerd details are below but if you want a USB flash drive to last a realy long time you need to setup the device correct A) write protect it and you can’t leave it out in the elements B) don’t expose it to extreme tempuratures.

#5 – Why is a USB flash drive so durable?

A USB flash drive, or thumb drive, is made up of NAND memory. The unique thing about NAND memory is the ability for it to store data without elelecticty being required to flow through it.

The technical (nerdy) details about the above questions.

A quick recap about traditional storage memory. In very simply terms your computer uses a hard drive and uses RAM. The hard drive (at least the old’en days) uses a magnetic disk to store data. The magnetic platter(s) inside the hard drive hold positive and negative charges. The + and – equal the binary zero and ones – because of the charge state the hard drive could “remember” data without needing power.

RAM is Random Access Memory so when your computer is running (electricity flowing through it) bits of data are put into RAM so your computer can quickly access it. The information in RAM doesn’t stay around when power is turned off.

Together, the hard drive and RAM memory combinations allow your computer to save information and work really fast at the same time.

Flash memory on the other hand (NAND memory) is a non-volatile storage medium which does not require power to retain data. Flash drive memory is a type of electronically erasable programmable read only memory (EEPROM).

It’s like a “dam” to the electrons inside the memory so things don’t change when the power is turned off.

Because of this unique characteristic the flash memory inside USB flash drives are very durable. A USB flash drive can survive being left in the car in North Dekota during the winter and freezing overnight. A USB flash drive can survive the washer too, or being dropped in a puddle of water on a rainy day.

Flash memory has a certain number of Program/Erase cycles before it begins to lose its integrity. The P/E cycle is what causes flash memory to lose its integrity over time. Think of things this way: every time a new “program cycle” or “write cycle” takes place that “dam” is getting a little weaker. Like a small weather storm doing a small bit of damage to the dam. Eventually there will be a big enough storm to destroy the dam. With flash memory there will eventually be enough write cycles the NAND memory simply gives out. The “program/erase” cycle will depend on the type of flash memory being used (SLC, MLC or TLC) and we did a nice writeup about that a while back.

With the above in mind, the environmental affects to NAND flash memory doesn’t really impact performance all that much.

I mean technically the degradation can occur within the oxide layers that separate the gates ( the “dam” ) of flash memory. When the oxidation begins breaking down with repeated usage, it no longer is able to consistently prevent the flow of electrons in and out of the floating gate. Since the transistor relies on the electrons being unable to escape to store information, this causes the flash memory to become unreliable. It may still work, but may not work consistently or may lose information as a result.

If the device is write protected, it means the PE cycle of the NAND will not increase. If the PE cycle is at early life and write protected when data was first loaded into flash memory the data retention will be very strong. Cold temperatures will not accelerate the decrease of data retention. Hot temperatures will accelerate the loss of data retention as this is when oxidation is more likely to begin.

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Matt LeBoff

Kicking around in technology since 2002. I like to write about technology products and ideas, but at the consumer level understanding. Some tech, but not too techie.

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