What is a Thumb Drive?

by techtiptom

Originally posted on WIBC.com on 02/20/2009:

Computer users have long complained that 3-inch floppy disks are too unstable, the ZIP drive not practical and CD-Rs not portable enough for data storage. The technology geeks solved this problem in ingenious fashion: the thumb drive. IBM came out with thumb drives in 1998, as a solution for replacing the less stable floppy disks. Their use caught on quickly, and as portable data storage has become more of an issue, thumb drives or flash drives skyrocketed in popularity. They can now be seen hanging on lanyards around the necks of computer users everywhere.

A thumb drive is portable memory storage. It is re-writeable and holds its memory without a power supply, unlike RAM. Thumb drives will fit into any USB port on a computer. They will also “hot swap,” which means a user can plug the drive into a computer and will not have to restart it to access the thumb drive. The drives are small, about the size of a human thumb – hence, their name – and are very stable memory storage devices.

Now Thumb drives also pose security threats, since they are easily concealed. Users could copy proprietary information to them, or upload hacking software from them, all undetected by the system administrator.

However, system administrators can also upload anti-virus software to an infected computer from a thumb drive, for instance, without risking the system servers. Their write speeds and read speeds only really come into play when users are running large applications from them. When the user is saving text documents or photos, for instance, these speeds are not nearly as important. Most thumb drives also have millions of re-write cycles and will store data for ten years before they need replacing.

The thumb drive is available in storage sizes of up to 32 gigabytes. Most people, however, will find that sizes of 1 to 2 gigabytes will do nicely. If the person is storing mostly text, with few images, then an even smaller thumb drive may meet the need.

With a new memory called programmable metallization cell (PMC), one terabyte (1TB) USB thumbdrives are said to be available soon. The largest commercially available flash drives today are only 32GB in size – 30 times smaller and very pricey.

A thumb drive is available anywhere computer supplies are sold. They range in price from about US$15 to $200 or so for a large-capacity drive. They are stable, versatile, durable and portable data storage devices. As such they are ideal for almost any computer user who wants safe, long-term storage for a low price.