You probably regard USB storage devices as a consumable because they are cheap these days, but with all the vital data you store on them, you might reconsider your attitude and take steps to prolong the life of a storage device instead. Here are some tips on how to have them longer.
1. Protect Your USB Drives from Physical Damage/Loss
I don’t know if this applies to anybody else, but for me physical damage/loss is the number one reason for “killing” my USB drives. I do take care of them but very often something bad happens to them!
To minimize the risk of physical damage, keep your flash media in a box, purse, pouch or whatever else you deem appropriate. Keep them away from high temperatures, water, and magnetic emissions (e.g. your cell phone).
Also, handle them gently – they are not meant to endure great pressure or rough treatment. It also helps if you are extra cautious when you insert/eject a drive from its slot. Don’t touch the contact surface directly; hold the device by the edges instead.
2. Remove the Drive When Not in Use
This is my second reason for the early death of my USB drives. I do know they shouldn’t be left in the slot when not in use, but I either forget to remove them, or if I plan to use them shortly I keep them in the slot to avoid the risks of physical damage while inserting them again.
Write operations are a major reason for the wear of a USB drive. Unlike hard drives, flash storage devices don’t have a head but write data to cells instead. There is a limit on how many times a cell can be written. If you leave a USB device in its slot, it is still regularly checked by the operating system (the OS performs write operations), and this wears on the drive.
3. Don’t Edit Files on the USB Drive Directly
Another case to avoid write operations is to not edit the files while they are in the drive. Copy them to a hard drive, make the necessary edits, copy them back – it’s that simple. If the edits could take some time, you’re better off removing the device and reinserting it when you are done with the edits.
4. Remove the Drive Safely
When you want to remove a USB device from its slot, don’t directly pull it out. You need to first tell the operating system you are done with the device for now so that the OS can stop reading it. Only after this can you remove the drive.
5. Don’t Defragment
Flash media doesn’t require defragmentation. You might think that even if it doesn’t, you as a diligent owner to provide it anyway. This is wrong! By defragmenting your drive, you are actually killing it slowly. The reason is similar to the one above – defrag is a write operation and as such it wears your drive out. If you have enabled auto defragment for your flash media, turn it off immediately!
6. Disable the Windows Pagefile
A Windows pagefile is a way to deal with RAM limitations and to store crash dumps. With Windows 10 the Windows pagefile is starting to lose importance, so under certain circumstances you can disable it completely. However, if you don’t want to do it (or if your memory limitations are a reason to keep the pagefile), store it on a harddrive, not on a flash drive. You have probably already guessed the reason why a pagefile wears out a flash device – the pagefile performs constant write operations.
7. Back Up Your Flash Media Regularly
Even if you take good care of your flash media, it won’t hurt to back them up regularly. While there are ways to retrieve data from a failed flash device, you’d better not count on this and should take the necessary precautions to avoid data loss in the first place.
These steps to extend the life of your USB drives are easy and don’t take much time and effort. While it is true prices of devices with larger capacity drop all the time and in two years today’s large drive (e.g. 64GB) will be not so large anymore (i.e. comparable to what a 16GB drive is today), it still makes sense to prolong its life as much as possible.
Image credit: Mi Swaco Construction Worker USB Drives