Flash Drive Has Long, Long Life Ahead of the Tech Q&A;

Saturday, May 5th 2012. | Software News

adobe-flash-zero-dayQ: I recently bought a new car with a digital music player. I can plug a 4-gigabyte flash drive with recorded music into the USB port and get good sound quality. Even though I have recorded about 20 hours of music, I’m still using only one-third of the flash drive’s capacity.

But are flash drives meant to be used continuously this way? What kind of lifetime can I expect to get from this flash drive?

— Warren Nilsson, Richfield, Minn.

A: Flash drives do wear out, but very slowly. And playing back recorded music is one of the least taxing things a flash drive can do.

So what wears out a flash drive? The culprit is storing data on the flash drive in the first place. That causes a minuscule flow of electricity through individual memory cells on the flash drive chip, and that flow eventually wears out the cells.

But you can store a lot of new songs on your flash drive before this happens; the device should be good to record at least several thousand times before it shows signs of wear and tear. This is partly because the flash drive has management software that automatically spreads the usage evenly over all the memory cells in the chip.

In addition, you should be able to listen to songs that are stored on the flash drive about 100,000 times. Why? Because reading the data doesn’t wear out the flash drive’s memory cells to the degree that storing data does.

(Constant listening does produce a low level of wear and tear on the flash drive, because its software will occasionally rewrite songs to other parts of the drive to ensure that all memory cells are evenly used.)

But it’s fair to say that, by the time your flash drive wears out, you’ll either have tired of your song collection or replaced the flash drive with a newer and better memory device.

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