Hard Drive vs. USB Flash Drive Backup

By · Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Hard Drive vs. USB Flash Drive BackupStoring your data regardless of size, file type, location, etc. has become even more important in the last few years. More ways of storing information have emerged and the choice of how to store the information has become increasingly difficult. Do you store your data on a Magnetic hard drive, a solid state hard drive, or perhaps you go portable and get a portable hard drive or USB flash drive? How big of a capacity do you need? Do you expect your backup needs will grow? Questions like these are typical questions that need to be answered before you decide on which medium you will go with storing your data.

To help you decide, below are some brief descriptions to the two most popular types of data storage available on the market and the pros and cons to backing up your data.

Hard Drives

Magnetic Hard Drives have been around for years. You could consider them the grandfather to all the other data storage types discussed later, but with age comes experience. Magnetic Hard Drives have aged like fine wine, and have developed into the most popular way of storing data on a computer to date.

Magnetic Hard drives use a series of discs inside an enclosure that spin at 5400RPM or 7200RPM. A laser is able to burn information into these discs as a series of 0’s and 1’s (binary). This method of data storage has become the norm industry wide with many manufactures. The data capacities for hard drives of this type range from only a few gigabytes to several terabytes. You can buy internal or external hard drives with external being the more portable of the two.


  • Lots of storage – perhaps the largest consumer storage option available today.
  • Cost per GB – Magnetic hard drives have the lowest cost per gigabyte of storage meaning you get more storage for your money.
  • Reliable – Magnetic hard drives have expected life spans of around 2-5 years.
  • Widely Supported – Almost every network, work or home desktop, laptop, etc. has a magnetic hard drive.


  • Defragment – In order to keep y our Magnetic Hard Drive healthy and working properly, it is wise to defragment the hard drive on a regular basis. Defragmenting rearranges the bits of code each file you save closer together to help speed up loading times and decrease wasted space.
  • Loud – Because of the nature of spinning drives, this type of storage makes quite a bit of noise.
  • Cooling – Almost all hard drives need some type of cooling. Most computer cases have air intake fans that blow directly over hard drives to help cool them. High end magnetic hard drives have heat sinks to help alleviate more heat.


Solid State Hard Drives have no moving parts which makes them ideal for people on the move. Newer laptops and even netbooks have options to have a SSD installed rather than a traditional hard drive due to the fact that they are more rugged, and perform much better while on the move.

These hard drives are also extremely fast! Some of the lowest tier solid state hard drives are as fast if not faster than the top of the line magnetic hard drives. This is possible because SSDs use flash memory, similar to what is used in a flash drive. However, solid state hard drives do not have the capacity that traditional hard drives have. For around $50 you can get a 500GB hard drive, but a SSD for the same price you can only get about 30GB worth of storage.


  • Fast – Very fast!
  • No noise/heat – No moving parts means no friction and with no friction, you don’t have noise or heat.
  • Small size – Traditional Hard Drives have a 3.5” form factor, SSDs have a standard 2.5” form factor.
  • Lightweight – Weigh a fraction of their magnetic cousins.


  • Cost – cost per GB is surprisingly higher than other hard drives.
  • Not widely supported – older systems may not support a SSD due to drivers and hardware.
  • Relatively new – Despite being new and exciting, some SSDs may have some unforeseen drawbacks due to performance or compatibility.

USB Flash Drives

The USB flash drive has become the most widely accepted form of portable backup to date with several hundred million sold to date. Flash drives are the choice of professionals, students, and small businesses alike. They are portable, lightweight, come in thousands of different designs, capacities, and uses

A typical USB flash drive is made up of a series of interconnected components such as a controller and memory chip. The controller is considered the brain of the flash drive and is also the component sold on the Hong Kong stock market. The memory is what stores the information and can range from only a few megabytes of capacity to upwards of a couple hundred gigabytes.


  • Portable – Almost all flash drives fit in your pocket, purse, keychain, etc. allowing you to literally take your flash drive everywhere you go.
  • Size – Flash drives are much smaller than other storage solutions and take up the least amount of space.
  • USB 3.0 – USB 3.0 is the new standard of USB speed and is up to 10X the speed of current USB drives. You can transfer a DVD movie in seconds with USB 3.0 compared to minutes on 2.0.
  • Compatibility – Several billion USB devices have been sold worldwide and all these devices need somewhere to plug into, making it one of the most widely accepted formats available.


  • Low capacity – Flash drives generally have lower capacities than Hard Drives. The average flash drive is 1-4GB where as the average hard drive is 500GB.
  • USB 2.0 speed – USB 2.0 speed has now become a bottleneck for some technologies. Transferring several GB of information may take several minutes to transfer; making it a real inconvenience.


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