Flash Drive Seek Time Myth Explained

By · Thursday, June 9th, 2011

USB Flash Drive Seek Time Users tend to confuse USB drives for having a seek time in writing or retrieving data.  Granted, we have all experienced that momentary delay of the storage device in accessing our digital information.  But the truth is there is no such thing as a USB flash drive seek time by the traditional definition.

So what is seek time?

Seek time is a definition that tends to creep in our tech vocabulary thanks to one of the USB flash drive’s storage predecessors that’s still widely used today—the hard disk drive (HDD).  Seek time is the measurement of how long it takes for the read and write head of the drive to reach the proper track location of a CD or DVD.  The drive’s actuator is responsible for helping the head change between tracks.

Due to its use of media formats, a disk drive seek time is usually calculated as an average because the location of the head and track have countless variables in terms of its current position to where it needs to be read and written.  Seek time for a flash drive is also not possible due to the fact that the term is always paired with the idea of rotational delay, which is nowhere to be found in flash technology.

The sheer composition of flash versus discs allow custom USB drive users to bypass rotational delay.  With this type of speed measurement, discs must wait until they’ve spun into position for the command required by the read and write head.  On the other hand, flash drives do not have to deal with these mechanics.  Instead, the flash drive’s memory controller communicates with your operating system for reading and writing purposes.

So what is the flash drive delay I’m experiencing if it’s not seek time?

Latency may be perceived as seek time.  In the case of a USB drive, it can be explained as buffering or your hardware signal relay waiting to communicate with the device via a USB connection.  This interface comes in two speeds on a flash drive—up to 480Mbps for USB 2.0 and up to 4.8Mbps for USB 3.0.

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