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Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/20/2017 7:38 PM

Equipment I service is controlled by a Windows7 based PC. Each night the software automatically does a back up of critical files to a flash/thumb drive. This flashdrive is very seldom ever read - only in case of emergency data restore.

We have noticed a handful of drives failing to write and/or read. Today I found one that during the operating program gave memory errors then would not allow the PC to boot properly into Windows. Removed the drive and booted just fine.

My fellow hardware specialists had a conference call today and we wondered about a realistic lifespan of flashdrives. Of course certain makers might have higher quality hardware, but has anyone looked to the lifespan of this little helper? Number of read/writes? Time used?

To add insult to injury - today's failed drive was less than a year old!!

(BTW - I cannot re-write software as to where the backup is sent. We have already asked for it to go to a local or corporate server to eliminate these little buggers.)

Bonus - anyone with a suggestion of a quality flashdrive??

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#1

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/20/2017 8:07 PM

Checkout these links.

They don't last forever, but 1 year is ridiculous.

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#2

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/20/2017 8:11 PM

I have never had a flash drive die before I loose it.....

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#6
In reply to #2

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/20/2017 9:01 PM

I know, right? One day, millions of years in the future, geologists will discover strata consisting entirely of lost flash drives, car keys, and mismatched socks.

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#11
In reply to #6

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/21/2017 9:53 AM

I vote for the socks.

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#13
In reply to #6

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/21/2017 3:23 PM

Socks have already been found by these 2:

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#16
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Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/21/2017 5:28 PM

OMG! I used to love watching Ren and Stimpy!

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#3

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/20/2017 8:12 PM

"(BTW - I cannot re-write software as to where the backup is sent. We have already asked for it to go to a local or corporate server to eliminate these little buggers.)"

Why not? Even if it is hard coded to go to say Z: (the flash drive), without the drive in the port, you could simply do a "Map Network Drive" and point it to the server/directory you want to use, with that same Z: as the shortcut to the server.

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#4

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/20/2017 8:13 PM

Flash drive life is supposedly quite long, flash drives were (are still?) even used as cheap memory RAM boosters in some computers.

Lots of information available online, boiling down to a few key points

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB_flash_drive

http://www.flashbay.co.nz/blog/usb-life-expectancy

Moral of the story is failure seems to be as low as 10,000 writes unless the USB is abused.

Quality shouldn't matter much as they are all coming out of the same factories in general with different case options (of various ruggedness), so sticking to name brands is still your best bet. That and multiple backups (nowdays this could also include online in the 'Cloud'), taking care of the USB pins when it is inserted and removed, and storing in a mild, safe environment to limit the chances of premature failure.

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#5

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/20/2017 9:00 PM

Maybe your drive that failed after 1 year got hit by a cosmic ray or something.

From what I've read they should last 5-10 years being used once every day and the USB hardware will likely fail first.

They usually last long enough that they are obsolete by the time they fail.

It might be a good idea to back up the backups!

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#7

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/20/2017 9:40 PM

If you want to stick with a USB drive (and not, say, re-map that slot to a network drive as suggested above [highly recommended]) get one of those Western Digital (or your choice) USB hard drives and use that for backup. A little more pricey but how much are those files worth? Probably a lot more than a paltry hundred bucks or less, yes?

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#8
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Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/20/2017 11:45 PM

Use a USB hard drive instead of a USB flash drive? I've dropped flash drives, put them through the washer/dryer, left them idle for months, exposed them to high magnetic fields, and they still worked when plugged in. Do the same thing to an electromechanical hard drive and you're screwed (unless it's a USB SSD). Also, flash drives have a much smaller footprint and weight.

The rate at which an SSD or flash drive wears out is a function of its capacity and the number and size of its files. If you want to be ultra safe try doing two things, size it four times larger than the size of the backup files, and store the file twice. For example; if your total backup is 16GB, use a 64GB drive and store the backup twice. When the OS asks if you want to overwrite or rename, say rename, and you'll have a backup of the original, each of which occupies one quarter of the drive, or half in total.

Since the drive management firmware has wear leveling algorithms, it will spread the wear over the entire drive instead of constantly overwriting the same 16GB. In the event that the original file becomes unreadable due to defect in the drive, you should be able to read the renamed copy.

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#9
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Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/21/2017 12:00 AM

Well, he is having a problem with reliability. Considering that it is being used for nightly backups, it is unlikely it will find itself in somebody's pocket and be run through the wash. The failure isn't a limitation of the read/write-cycle capacity, but an outright hardware failure. USB hard drives, on the other hand, tend to be much more reliable in my experience. Flash drives are cheap commodities, like ball-point pens. Not designed for mission-critical applications and certainly not something I would personally wish to use for backup of critical files. Pix of my cat? Yes. But not backups.

His best bet IMO is to map a network drive and keep his backups there. Those, in turn, are typically backed-up as well.

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#14
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Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/21/2017 4:08 PM

I think I would probably back up twice using 2 drives. If one drive gets corrupted, two backup copies on it may be no better than one.

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#10

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/21/2017 7:28 AM

I have a pc that seems to kill flash drives and USB sticks. Measuring the ripple of this pc, it looks like its higher than the other pc with no problems.

Also the other pc is on a decent UPS, so the power is alot smoother. Around where I live it is wind farm city!!!! Alot of inverters on the grid, alot of electronic stuff is now short lived around here.

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#12
In reply to #10

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/21/2017 9:57 AM

Sounds like like you need an AC conditioner (not just an air conditioner, LOL).

How about you put your system on a AC-DC-AC inverter (one with new, improved Tide) Tide gets out the stains.

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#17
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Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives??

04/21/2017 5:33 PM

Change the power supply, I had a build that hard drives wouldn't last, that stopped after I put in a quality power supply. Same wattage but I went with a name brand one.

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#15

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/21/2017 5:02 PM

A somewhat foolproof way to keep code is printed in a 3-hole binder!

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#22
In reply to #15

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/21/2017 7:04 PM

That works only to a point. Consider, say, Google doing that.

Google's codebase translates to roughly 2 billion lines of code. About 86 terabytes. To put that into perspective, the Linux Kernel is comprised of 15 million lines of code across 40,000 files. In Google's case, 15 million lines of code across 250,000 thousand files are changed every single week.

Not only, many of the files backed-up are likely not human-readable. Executable files, for instance. Ever printed out a binary file? Worse, tried to keyboard one in? Therein lies madness.

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#25
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Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 8:37 AM

Some of us still remember getting our computer games delivered by magazine, and having to type the code in ourselves, including these nonsensical REM statements(1) that were the actual game, after the rest of the program POKEd(2) it into the right memory block for execution.

Notes:

  1. REM stood for 'remark' or 'reminder.' It meant that the rest of the data on the line was to be ignored by the BASIC interpreter. It's purpose was to annotate code, but clever programmers used it as a way to store data for a preloader, so that they could set up machine language routines that would run faster than their BASIC equivalents.
  2. In BASIC, one would use the PEEK command to get the value of a specific memory address, and use the POKE command to insert a value into a specific address. These were useful to work with the low-level system variables, most of which couldn't be accessed any other way.
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#24
In reply to #15

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/22/2017 12:18 AM

Ever hear of fire?

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#18

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/21/2017 5:44 PM

What brand of flash drive are you using? Like everything, you get what you pay for.

For something critical like what you are using them for, I would be using ones made by a reputable memory manufacturer. Lexar, Kingston, PNY, Sandisk, Verbatim, are all quality drives. I am sure there are more. Walmart branded or something that sounds like shweng shai is probably not.

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#19
In reply to #18

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/21/2017 6:33 PM

Good question - we had been using Kingston. But these latest ones just have the company logo on them.

Maybe we get them from the same place we get our logo'd shirts from!!

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#20
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Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/21/2017 6:49 PM

Kinston is a good name, maybe they are licensing their name out???? We use Verbatim and Lexar at work, 8 GB, not had any problems with them other that they end up in my pocket and they follow me home. Some have gone through the washer and still work, believe it or not. My personal one is a 16GB HP one, size of my thumb nail, I loose it, find it, have washed it, but it still works....about 5 years now.

Work was buying a Staples brand and we had issues with corruption. But you are using Kingston, not sure what to say, that should be a good one. Try Lexar or Verbatim. Or as Little Ghost brought up, possibly you have issues with the power from your USB ports?

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#23
In reply to #18

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/21/2017 8:58 PM

I recommend not using flash drives at all for backups unless you can afford to lose those files in case of drive failure. The quality and reliability of your backup system should reflect the value of those backups to your organisation. If you cannot afford to lose them, you're not saving anything by using anything less than the most reliable backup mechanism you can reasonably afford. It's just not worth it. Sooner or later it will bite you in the arse, and hard!

Also consider storing backups both on- and off-site, depending on their value to the organisation. The plant where I worked years ago kept all their backups on-site until one day when a plane nearly crashed into the building on its way to land at the nearby airport. We realised to our horror that the software-engineering portion of the plant was right in line with the airport's final-approach path: one crash and there goes 15 years and millions of lines of codebase up in flames - and the company into instant bankruptcy. Duplicates of local backups were kept in an offsite vault after that. One literally in an environmentally-controlled, bomb-proof, purpose-built, security-guarded, underground bunker. Those backups were that valuable.

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#26
In reply to #23

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 8:40 AM

"If you cannot afford to lose them, you're not saving anything by using anything less than the most reliable backup mechanism you can reasonably afford. It's just not worth it."

And the most reliable media for backup and long-term storage is still the venerable Tape Drive. Keep the tapes away from strong magnetic fields and they'll last decades, perhaps even centuries (In theory, we haven't had the magnetic tape medium around long enough for a full 100 year data storage test).

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#21

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/21/2017 6:59 PM

If it is important use an archival DVD. They're available in 100GB.

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#27

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 9:38 AM

You get what you pay for with a flash drive. These are being used today in internet server applications, but the lowest quality is still very low. Individual cells in a flash drive fail on a regular basis. This failure rate is quality dependent. What is also quality dependent are the algorithms used to detect and fix/replace failed cells. A third quality factor is the number of spare cells available for the device to swap in for failed cells. Flash drive capacities are typically much larger than the advertised number when new. In commercially available units, the drive is programmed to fail when the real capacity dips below the advertised capacity.

1) basic quality 2)algorithm capability 3 initial capacity.

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#28

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 9:54 AM

I have flash drives that are 14 years old and function fine. I have some that failed within a few years. The difference? The very old ones were written to once and left as storage. The failed ones are regularly written to, files deleted, and re-written to. That is the source of failure for flash drives. That is what you are doing as well. They are apparently just meant for storage.

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#29
In reply to #28

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 11:12 AM

And that's why flash drives have their own internal drivers to handle data management, They can write over individual 0's with 1's, but to write over 1's with 0's they have to write a whole block at once, and it's this the tech only withstands a certain number of 'erase cycles' before it starts to break down. The 'wear leveling' basically holds off on erase cycles until they're absolutely needed, so a frequently updated file won't 'burn a hole' in the memory.

Wear leveling works best when there is a lot of free space available. For example, if the memory is divided into four 'erase blocks,' the seldom updated files could be in sections A and B, leaving the frequently updated files to sit on section C or section D in multiple copies, until there is no room left in that section, in which case the latest versions of the frequently-used files are transcribed to the unused section and the section now full of obsolete data hats block-erased.

When a Flash memory devise is near full, then it needs to use the computer's RAM memory or HD storage to hold files that need to stay on a full section that is being block-erased. Under those conditions the infrequently updated files are being transcribed over and over, 'wearing out' the flash memory even faster than usual.

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#30
In reply to #29

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 11:20 AM

Is there any difference between longevity with SD cards and thumb drives?

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#31
In reply to #30

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 11:25 AM

Since they use the same type of memory, there shouldn't be much difference.

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#33
In reply to #31

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 12:02 PM

Now I am starting to worry about my laptop (has no hard disk, just solid-state memory). Is that going to go bonkers on me too?

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#34
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Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 12:09 PM

The MTBF for a flash drive can be better than any hard drive. Its all about initial quality.

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#35
In reply to #33

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 12:17 PM

I've had a solid-state drive in my computer for six years now and not had a single problem with it.

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#36
In reply to #33

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 12:18 PM

Wow! Great point! I have both a 2012 and a 2015 MacBook Pro with Solid-state drives, and have never been aware of a memory problem in either. I can't really say that the 2012 unit has had 5 years of continuous use, because the 2015 version replaced the 2012 one as my principal working unit, and also because I upgraded the memory in the 2012 unit a few months back, so the original memory is now a backup, rarely used.

My boss had to buy the 2015 unit because he was responsible for getting the 2012 unit's keyboard wet. After replacing the keyboard, the 2012 unit worked again, but the new one had already been purchased...

I keep the older one updated as a clone of the newer one every couple of weeks, so in case something should happen to one, I can immediately switch to the other. The couple of weeks' data would come from my more frequent eternal drive backups...

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#38
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Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 12:39 PM

"The couple of weeks' data would come from my more frequent eternal drive backups..."

Yes, it does seem like the world of IT is always about being eternally in the state of backing up data.

(The missing x in external was just too good to pass up.)

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#39
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Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 9:14 PM

Good catch! I'd like to say the missing X was intentional, but it wasn't. A Freudian slip, perhaps...

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#37
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Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 12:36 PM

They might be using a different style of memory chip for the SSHD's, however, as with any data storage medium, it never hurts to have regular backups.

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#32
In reply to #29

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/24/2017 11:36 AM

Very good - the detail on why, not just the warning.

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#40

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/26/2017 12:27 PM

I've had a new one for sale on eBay for 6 months.

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Anonymous Poster #2
#41
In reply to #40

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/26/2017 12:43 PM

And that's relevant to this conversation how?

Take your advertising to another thread, AP#1

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#42
In reply to #40

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/26/2017 8:48 PM

You've had a new one of what on sale? A new Flash drive? The prices of Flash Drives (also known as Thumb Drives, USB Memory Sticks, and a bunch of other names) has been falling so fast that one that is 6 months old has lost half it's value. Give it to a friend!

I'd never trust a flash drive purchased on eBay!

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#43
In reply to #40

Re: Lifespan of Flashdrives?

04/26/2017 9:21 PM

Would you buy a jump drive on eBay and plug it in your computer? Or use ones given away as promotional items when you have no idea what might be on them? USB drives are hackers' new best friend.

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