A hard drive or a flash drive?

By | May 2, 2011
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Jackie asks whether she should a choose a flash drive or a hard drive
Why would one choose a flash drive over a hard drive or vice versa? I have a genealogy program as well as over a thousand pictures and need a safe storage medium. Would any of my files be compromised with a flash drive? Thanks so much for all you guys do and your willingness to share your knowledge. You two are nice people and we’re all very lucky to have ‘met’ you. God bless. Jackie

Our Answer
Hi, Jackie. Thanks for your kind words. It’s nice to have met you too!

Flash drives and internal hard drives are completely different animals. A flash drive is considered “removable media” because you simply plug it in to an open USB port to access the data contained on it. An internal hard drive cannot be removed (well, you know what we mean).

A flash drive and an external hard drive are both considered removable media. The difference being that external hard drives can hold a lot more data (up to 1.5 terabytes) than flash drives which can hold a lot less data. Flash drives come in all sizes but none we’ve seen can store more than 64GB of data. Flash drives can generally store 8 to 32 GBs of data.

Flash drives will easily fit in your shirt pocket or purse – they’re about the size of Bic lighter. Most external drives are larger most are between the size of a paperback book and a hardcover book. Some of the newer ones available now are smaller though – a bit larger than a deck of cards. Still, generally speaking USB flash drives are made to be carried with you from place to place, whereas external hard drives are not.

As far as safety goes, as long as you keep your flash drive in your possession and don’t leave it where someone could easily take it and use it, your data is safe. Some flash drives allow you to encrypt data and require a password to access the data on it. This might be a bit of overkill – most people don’t like typing in passwords very much and passwords can be easily forgotten.

An external drive makes an excellent backup storage medium. External hard drives can store massive amounts of data and complete system mirror-image backups. Flash drives are better for storing individual files like music files, photos, and documents. You can run some programs from flash drives. But, unless a program is specifically designed to run from a flash drive you won’t be able to install and run programs from them. However, if your the program is small enough to fit on your flash drive you can back up the program’s installer – just remember to save your program registration key on the same flash drive. That way you can plug your flash drive into your computer and install or reinstall the program from the flash drive and register it (if required) by retrieving the registration key you saved from the same flash drive.

Flash drives are handy because they’re so portable and you can use them to access the data on them anywhere you go, even on public computers. But, they’re not “hard drives” per se. External hard drives are not meant to be portable but they can store enormous amounts of data making them ideal for mirror-image backups and data storage of all kinds. Generally, while some smaller programs may run fine when installed on an external hard drive, It’s not recommended to install programs on or run programs from external hard drives because the speed of data transfer between it and your computer is much slower than the transfer rate between your computer and an internal hard drive. If you’d like to discover what programs you can run from your external hard drive, do some experimentation and see what works for you.

Think of flash drives as portable storage devices that allow you to carry data from computer to computer – don’t think of them as hard drives. They’re great when you need to take photos, documents, music or other files from one computer and access them on another computer. They’re perfect for taking files with you when traveling or using a computer at school, the office or the library.

External hard drives are real hard drives that are are available in storage capacities large enough to make them perfect for backing up your entire computer using an image-type backup program like Acronis as well as storing files, photos, documents, and music. While you might find it convenient to use an external hard drive on your desktop and on your laptop in your home, you probably won’t find it convenient to take with you when you’re travelling or using a computer at the library.

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