flash drives are data storage devices that include flash memory with an integrated USB interface. It is typically removable, rewritable and much smaller than an optical disc. Most weigh less than 30 g (1 oz). Since first appearing on the market in late 2000, as with virtually all other computer memory devices, storage capacities have risen while prices have dropped. As of March 2016, flash drives with anywhere from 8 to 256 gigabytes (GB) were frequently sold, while 512 GB and 1 terabyte (TB) units were less frequent. As of 2018, 2 TB flash drives were the largest available in terms of storage capacity. Some allow up to 100,000 write/erase cycles, depending on the exact type of memory chip used, and are thought to physically last between 10 and 100 years under normal circumstances (shelf storage time).
Common uses of USB flash drives are for storage, supplementary back-ups, and transferring of computer files. Compared with floppy disks or CDs, they are smaller, faster, have significantly more capacity, and are more durable due to a lack of moving parts. Additionally, they are less vulnerable to electromagnetic interference than floppy disks, and are unharmed by surface scratches (unlike CDs). However, as with any flash storage, data loss from bit leaking due to prolonged lack of electrical power and the possibility of spontaneous controller failure due to poor manufacturing could make it unsuitable for long-term archival of data. The ability to retain data is affected by the controller’s firmware, internal data redundancy, and error correction algorithms.
Until about 2005, most desktop and laptop computers were supplied with floppy disk drives in addition to USB ports, but floppy disk drives became obsolete after widespread adoption of USB ports and the larger USB drive capacity compared to the “1.44 megabyte” (1440 kibibyte) 3.5-inch floppy disk.
USB flash drives use the USB mass storage device class standard, supported natively by modern operating systems such as Windows, Linux, macOS and other Unix-like systems, as well as many BIOS boot ROMs. USB drives with USB 2.0 support can store more data and transfer faster than much larger optical disc drives like CD-RW or DVD-RW drives and can be read by many other systems such as the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, DVD players, automobile entertainment systems, and in a number of handheld devices such as smartphones and tablet computers, though the electronically similar SD card is better suited for those devices, due to their standardized form factor, which allows it to be housed inside a device without protruding.