Thumb Drive

A thumb drive, or USB flash drive, is a small device with flash memory used for storing, reading, writing, and transferring data between computers. Measuring less than 2 inches in length, this small rectangular solid-state drive (SSD) plugs into a computer’s USB port and can store multiple data files . 

A typical thumb drive includes a USB plug, a USB mass storage controller with on-chip ROM/RAM, NAND flash memory chip that stores data, and a crystal oscillator that manages data output. Thumb drives may also include a write-protect switch, cover or casing, and light-emitting diode (LED) to indicate data reads, writes, and transfers.

Thumb drives offer more storage space and transfers data files faster than a CD-RW or a DVD-RW. And it is readable by other systems, like gaming consoles, smartphones, and car entertainment systems.

What is a thumb drive used for?

USB thumb drives are portable backup drives for your files providing easy, portable storage for applications, software, personal documents, photos, videos, and more. You can also boot and install an OS, such as Windows, Linux distributions, and macOS, with a thumb drive or Live USB.

Is a thumb drive compatible with my computer?

Modern operating systems like macOS, Windows, and Linux distributions provide native support to USB flash drives.

Most thumb drives are pre-formatted with the Windows- and Linux-compatible FAT32 or exFAT file system that grants access to host devices with USB support or host operating systems. However, before using a thumb drive, users should use the computer’s disk formatting utility to ensure the device will work correctly with the system. 

What is the storage capacity of a thumb drive?

When it first appeared in the late 2000s, the thumb drive’s storage capacity started with 8 megabytes (MB). Flash storage was set to replace the floppy disk, which only had 1.44 kilobytes (KB). 

Through the years, the storage capacity of a thumb drive has increased significantly. 

Today, thumb drives usually start from 8 gigabytes (GB) and quickly run up to 256GB. There are also 512GB, 1 terabyte (TB), and 2TB flash drives. The higher the device’s capacity, the higher the price.

How fast does a thumb drive transfer files?

The speeds of transferring data files are determined by the thumb drive’s  USB version, capacity of the USB controller, and the hardware bus and USB ports. The drive’s USB controller reads and writes data onto the flash memory. Its speeds are specified in megabytes per second (MB/s). Because they’re used as storage devices , or opening a data file from a thumb drive, is usually faster than writing or saving/copying a data file. 

Is a thumb drive secure?

Thumb drives are cheap and portable. They’re capable of reading and writing high-volume data with efficiency. But are they secure? 

Whether a USB flash drive is a secure device depends on the use. With proper encryption, thumb drives can be a safer storage space for your data than the computer’s hard drive or cloud storage. The device’s portability allows the user to store files in a location physically removed from the computer.  But because of its size, which is easy to lose, a thumb drive can also be a security risk to organizations. Employees and visitors can create unauthorized backups, steal sensitive corporate data, and infect a computer or an entire IT infrastructure with malware and autorun worms on networks. 

Further,  flash drives with a portable OS can boot password-protected computers, allowing the hacker to crack or change the password and take control of the system. Counterfeit USB flash drives sold or given away by disreputable sources might also contain malware. 

Kelvene Requiroso
Kelvene Requiroso is a writer and an enthusiast interested in the interplay between technology and everyday life. He writes for TechnologyAdvice, Baseline, eSecurity Planet, and Webopedia. Also a lover of science fiction and fantasy, he publishes an ongoing web novel series. He has previously worked with non-profits and non-government organizations in Manila, Philippines.

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