The Evolution of the USB Drive

Like most gadgets related to computers, USB flash drives are constantly evolving. No longer are they novelty items used only by geeks and other tech enthusiasts. The days of the diskette are gone, and the days of the CD are numbered, leaving the USB drive to be the primary means of physically storing and transporting data files. The market likes variety and price options, so there are USB flash drives in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, capacities and prices. In some cases they can even be customized with a logo and used for promotional purposes. The greatest difference over the years, however, has been in the area of size, both size in terms of storage capacity and the physical size of the drive itself.

The first commercial USB flash drive held 8MB. Not gigabytes, megabytes. Basically, it could fit the data equivalent of what amounted to roughly 5 floppy diskettes. As for the physical size, it was a little over 3 inches long. By today’s standards it was gigantic, but back then it was remarkably compact. Compare that to the small USB drive of today. Over the years, the progressive reduction in size has followed a similar pattern to that of the mobile phone. The second generation utilized USB 2.0 and improved in the area of physical size and speed, meaning the speed with which data is transferred from the USB drive to the computer and vice versa. The recent release of USB 3.0. devices also improves in the area of speed even though the drives are still roughly the same size as the USB 2.0 drives. Many computers are not optimized to use USB 3.0, so the drives are also compatible with the 2.0 ports. The popularity of 3.0 ports is increasing, so more and more personal computers will have those included.

Compared to the first USB, more modern USB drives are tiny, many of them collapsible to hide the A-plug, which makes them even smaller. The A-Plug is the part of the USB drive that is inserted into the USB port on the computer. Most are a little over 2 inches long, but many drives are smaller, consisting of little more than the A-Plug itself. In most cases, the interior design of the drives are similar. The reason most are not smaller is largely due to branding and the fact that the plastic outer shells of the USB drives are often larger than necessary in order to make for a more striking appearance. Manufacturers do this to set their product apart from the competition. A small USB drive loses nothing in the area of storage capacity, however, with sizes ranging from a standard 16GB to as much as 128GB.

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