Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dispelling some myths about flashdrives

Back on January 11, 2011 I wrote a post entitled, "Update on the reliability of flashdrives." I am certainly not immune to believing Internet Myths. I am fan of the MythBusters program on TV (which I am too busy to watch) but interestingly some of the myths they set out to disprove actually turn out to be true. But the opposite is very much more likely. Information passed around on the Internet can often be very inaccurate and take on the quality of a myth. Well, due to the efforts of a very kind friend of mine, I found out some more information about flashdrives.

Very simply put, the hand wringing I found so often repeated on the Web that flashdrives might fail due to read/write errors is simply very misleading and certainly in the busted myth category. The problem comes from the perception of the reality. The problem is called memory wear. My misunderstanding came from a lack of perspective as to the real magnitude of the problem.

To quote my friend who knows, even if you wrote files every 5 seconds to 1 GB flashdrive the life expectancy would be over 300 years!!! I am certainly not going to worry about that part of the flashdrive literature any more. To the extent that I gave the impression that the read/write issue was something to be concerned about, I was wrong. I write that as I sit here looking at a contradictory statement online. Don't believe everything you read. I must be getting rusty in my old age and getting away from my 1960s upbringing.

I am guessing the issue is like the warning someone to beware of rattlesnakes in the desert. Yeah, there are rattlesnakes, but the chance of being bitten by one is extremely small. Just don't bet your life on not seeing one. With storage devices, don't put all your eggs in one basket. (talk about mixing metaphors) Make multiple copies on different devices to avoid data loss.

But myths aside, there are still several serious issues about relying on any one type of memory storage, especially one that is small and can be easily mislaid. Think about how many pens and pencils you have lost over the years and then project that to flashdrives. If you are going to use one for storage, use it for storage and don't carry it around with you.

So maybe we should follow the advertising advice about a combination of exercise and proper medication? How about using an external hard drive to backup (copy) all of your data regularly from your computer's main drive? Then how about making another copy or two regularly to be stored in a safe (off site) location?

Do I use flashdrives for storage? Not until the price of very large ones comes down. Even with 32 GB flashdrives, I would need more than ten of them for just one copy of my data and that would be very inconvenient. I am into Terabyte drives. As I have said before, I make periodic copies of my entire data file onto an external hard drive and give the drive to one of my children in various parts of the country. Hoping that a worldwide disaster doesn't hit all the copies at once.

There is also the option of storing some of your data online. In my case, my data files are so large that even online storage is not an easy option, it is expensive and what would happen to my data if I stopped paying for any reason? But if you can afford a monthly or annual payment, storing files online is certainly an option.

In the long run, if you use any type of off site storage, whether on the Internet or in another location, make sure your heirs (family hopefully) knows where your genealogy files are located. It would be way too easy for you to have all your files online and then die and then have your family not know about the files. Make sure a sufficient number of family members know the location of your backup files.

Comments and commentary are always appreciated.


  1. Pocket crap killed my first 16 gb one after about a year of carrying it faithfully with me. It was one of those open at the end. I prefer the ones with a cap now, but can't find 16 gb onesl ike that.

    I don't put everything on them - only the stuff I can't afford to lose.

  2. This has been such a "to do" for me! I recently got a small fire/waterproof safe for original documents, printed copies in binders and backed up my files to an external hard drive. Looking through the "files" my story seems pretty complicated, thats the next project.

    Saw this in MacWorld: ExtremeKey All-Terrain Flash Drive can handle temps of 120 degrees- 392 degrees, water depths of up to 333 ft, and can be run over by a 10-ton truck. I'd like to see this tested!

  3. Randy, Microcenter [] has a good selection of 16g flash drives with caps on the end.

    They actually sell their own branded ones at their checkout stations, similar to the way grocery stations offer candy. We have several and have had no problems.

    I am not affiliated with them, but I do love toy stores.