USB Technology

The USB flash drive continues to be one of the most popular portable storage device around the world, with sales exceeding $2.1 Billion in 2020, and a projected CAGR of over 16% through 2027. USB Flash drives offer capacity, speed, and size that make them ideal for many uses beyond just storage, including some perhaps unexpected uses as well.

What’s inside

A typical USB flash drive includes a USB connector, a mass storage controller, one or more flash memory chips, and a crystal oscillator, as well as additional features such as jumpers, LEDs, and switches.

•  USB Standard-A, "male" connector, which interfaces with the host computer

•  USB mass storage controller, which is a microcontroller with on-chip ROM and RAM

•  Flash memory chip, used to store data

•  Crystal oscillator, which produces the clock signal and controls data output

•  LED, which indicates active data transfer

•  Write-protect switch to enable and disable writing of data

Both memory capacity and speed of USB drives have continued to increase, and with the advent of USB Superspeed+ devices, you can achieve transfer rates close to 900MB/sec, and storage capacities as high as 1-2TB.

USB Flash drives have now broadly incorporated the Type-C connector, which provides a smaller and thinner connector compared to the Type-A connector. The Type-C connector has a rounded, symmetric shape that fits into ports easily yet securely, and can be inserted in either orientation, as opposed to USB-A. This connection type now opens up tremendous possibilities for data back up and storage from multiple types of mobile devices, be it smartphones, tablets and the like.

USB Flash Drive Uses

Although the USB drive was designed as a storage solution, users are finding new purposes for its small size, capacity, and portability. For example, USB drives are making applications portable and accessible for average consumers. When you’re away from the office, you can take a USB drive containing all of your software and personal data; then, when you plug it into another computer, you have access to all of your information. When you unplug the drive, none of your personal data is left behind.

USB also makes it simple to install and update software.

High-End Applications

There are multiple grades of USB drives for different applications. For example, some manufacturers provide storage for applications where performance and reliability are key, such as in communications and networking, industrial, embedded, military and aerospace, transportation, casino gaming, and medical equipment markets. 

Security Keys

Security of both personal and professional data is a constant concern. Both commercial and open-source sites offer software that turns a USB drive into a security key. A utility running on the computer constantly checks for the presence of an encrypted key stored on the USB drive. When the USB drive is plugged in, the computer operates normally. Once you remove the drive, your computer is automatically locked and requires a password for access.

Today, many manufacturers have AES 128 or 256 bit hardware based data encryption designed in to their USB flash storage offerings to provide fast and reliable data security, and to reduce the possibility of a system being compromised, and software based encryption being hacked. This all but guarantees that any sensitive data stored on the USB flash drive cannot be accessed, under any circumstances.

Manufacturers will continue to enhance USB flash drive capabilities to meet consumer demands in the future. And although cloud storage competes with USB flash storage in some use cases, USB flash drives will continue to be a solid solution with multiple uses for a very long time.