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Definition: USB drive


(1) An external storage or optical disc drive that plugs into the USB port. See portable hard drive.

(2) A small solid state storage module that plugs into the computer's USB port. Using flash memory chips that can hold up to a terabyte and more of data, the ubiquitous USB drive functions like a hard drive. USB drives are used for auxiliary storage, backup, data transfer between computers and for disseminating product information. They can also hold an operating system and be used to boot the computer (see bootable disk). Ever-increasing storage capacities of USB drives have all but rendered writable CDs and DVDs obsolete. See sneakernet.

Known By Many Names
Debuting at the turn of the century, a USB drive is commonly called a "flash drive" as well as many other monikers. Any combination of the words "USB," "flash," "key," "drive," "jump" and "stick" are used (see USB drive names).

Transfer Speed
USB drive vendors use the data transfer ratings of CD-ROMs, where each "x" equals 150KB per second. For example, a 90x drive is 13.5MB/sec (90 x 150). See CD-ROM drives and solid state.




Long-Term Marketing Mileage
Vendors give away custom-printed USB drives preloaded with promotional material, because people keep using them.






No Bigger Than the Plug
In 2010, Verbatim launched its Tuff-"N"-Tiny line, only two millimeters thick. Although the contacts are exposed (top left), the units are water and dust proof.






Steampunk Drives
A 19th century USB drive... of course. These drive cases are hand crafted. See steampunk. (Image courtesy of WillRockwell, www.etsy.com/shop/WillRockwell)






Fun and to the Point
Bevy makes devices that hold a user's photo collection, and this rather appropriate USB drive holds its promotional material.






One Terabyte USB Drive
In 2013, Kingston Technology introduced the first 1TB drive, which increased to 2TB in 2017. Imagine telling someone in 1997 when floppy disks were still used that in 20 years, a handheld device would hold the equivalent of one and a half million of them.