Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Protecting your genealogical data on flash drives

The inexpensive and handy flash drives have become a fixture with family history researchers. But how safe is your data on one of these memory storage devices?

Part of the answer to the question is unknown simply because the drives have been in use for such a short time. But there are some things that we already know about the drives. First of all, they can be broken if dropped on a hard surface. There is absolutely nothing you can do to recover the lost data. Also, the drives can be easily lost or stolen. If you are copying documents in a library, it is extremely easy to walk away from the computer and forget to remove your flash drive, especially if you have been distracted.

The data on the flash drive can also be lost if the drive is removed during the data transfer process. You must wait until the data is completely transferred or risk losing, not just the data being transferred, but other data as well.

We do know that the flash memory used in the drives will wear out over time. Most manufacturers do not have data on the actual length of time their products will continue to work, but it is a physical fact that the flash memory does wear out. If the drive is used for running an operating system or hosting applications, the drive may fail much quicker than it normally would

Some flash drives are physically better constructed than others. Initial purchase price is no guarantee that you are getting a higher quality drive, inexpensive drives may be as well made as more expensive alternatives, but it is not a good idea to rely on a "free" drive given away as a premium. Stick with the major brands and manufacturers

If you routinely use your drive with devices other than a computer, you may run a risk that the other device may overwrite data from your computer. Flash drives can be used with digital cameras and media players such as DVD players, not all of these devices may use the same file system as your computer. For example, you may wish to remove a photo from your drive and end up wiping out the whole memory.

The price on these storage devices has dropped precipitously in the past few years and continues to drop regularly. As the price drops, the size of the drive increases, so the purchase price may seem to remain the same. As of May, 2009 the larger flash drives store up to 32 GB of data.

The main attractions of flash drives is portability and convenience, but you may wish to back up your flash drive to another storage device, like an external hard drive, on a regular basis.

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