The 10 Best Rugged Flash Drives
A Brief History Of Flash Memory
Strangely enough, it wasn't Toshiba that went on to capitalize on Masuoka's inventions, but rather Intel.
At the time, the only electrically erasable programmable read-only memory erased data very slowly, making it impractical.
Flash memory is a non-volatile, solid-state form of transistor-based computer storage. It has no moving parts, unlike traditional hard disk drives, and information contained within it is stored even when the memory chip has an uncharged state. Data on flash memory chips is erased and rewritten electronically.
Japanese engineer Fujio Masuoka invented flash memory while working at Toshiba in the 1980s. At the time, the only electrically erasable programmable read-only memory erased data very slowly, making it impractical. Masuoka developed a form of floating gate technology that could erase and rewrite data much quicker than the current EEPROM and filed a patent for it in 1981. The speed at which Masuoka's newly developed memory could function prompted a colleague of his to suggest the name flash, since he felt it operated at as quickly as the flash of a camera. Masuoka developed both NAND and NOR flash memory and presented his inventions at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers during the 1987 International Electron Devices Meeting.
Strangely enough, it wasn't Toshiba that went on to capitalize on Masuoka's inventions, but rather Intel. They saw huge potential in high speed flash memory and went on to develop the first commercial NOR flash memory chip in 1988. They chose to develop NOR memory chips rather than NAND chips because of its suitability as a replacement for the ROM memory chips of the time. NOR-based flash memory can access full address and data buses at the byte level, whereas NAND memory, while being cheaper and quicker, can only read and erase data at the block level. In 1995, Toshiba created SmartMedia, the first NAND-based removable media format. SmartMedia is the precursor of all the common flash memory devices we use today, such as SD cards and USB drives.
What Makes A Flash Drive Rugged?
The memory inside of a rugged flash drive is no different than the NAND memory found in any other USB drive, it is what surrounds that memory that makes the difference. In order to be considered a rugged flash drive, the USB device must, at a bare minimum, be shock-, dust-, and water-resistant, though some companies take this a step further and manufacture fully waterproof drives.
Most rugged flash drives will also have some sort of end cap that protects the connector when it is not plugged into a computer.
To increase a flash drive's impact-, dust-, and water-resistance, manufacturers will coat them with some form of rubber silicone or aircraft-grade aluminum, oftentimes a combination of the two. The rubber helps to absorb shock from impacts, while the aluminum provides a near impenetrable surrounding that prevents the memory chips from being dented or punctured. The rubber coating also creates a seal to keep out water, dust, and dirt. Most rugged flash drives will also have some sort of end cap that protects the connector when it is not plugged into a computer.
Many rugged flash drives can withstand extreme temperatures and pressure, too. This means you can take one along on nearly any expedition, from diving in frigid waters to hiking across desert trails, with no adverse effect on the flash drive or the information it contains.
Since most people use flash memory drives in situations where they may be lost or stolen, many offer some form of data security, usually software capable of automatic 256-bit AES encryption. This form of encryption allows you to create a password that users must input to access data on the drive. Some even feature a data self-destruct feature that will automatically destroy your sensitive data if the device is brute-force hacked.
Another common theme of rugged flash drives is some type of integrated attachment point. This may be a carabiner clip or keychain loop that makes them easy to take on the go, while simultaneously reducing the possibility of loss.
Do You Really Need To Stop A USB Flash Drive Before Unplugging It?
Anyone who has ever unplugged a USB device without first taking the proper steps has probably been presented with that harsh-sounding warning ding from their Windows device. To correctly remove a USB memory drive, you must first right-click on the device and then choose Safely Remove Hardware from the pop-up menu, but is this really necessary? Is there a possibility of damaging the drive or your computer by not doing so?
This is because unplugging a flash memory device your PC is currently writing information to can result in data corruption.
The answer is, it depends. You will never damage your computer, but there is a possibility of damaging the USB flash drive. In theory, the main reason it is recommended to properly stop a USB device using the system tray menu is that it allows the computer a chance to check if the drive is currently in use before you unplug it. This is because unplugging a flash memory device your PC is currently writing information to can result in data corruption. Not only could you potentially lose all of your data, but you may even damage the drive itself. While this is rare, it is known to happen.
Now, if you were to wait until your PC has stopped writing new information to the device, and then unplugged it without first stopping it using a command in the system tray, the chances of your damaging the device or losing any data is extremely unlikely. This means that unplugging peripheral devices, like printers and mice, without first using the Safely Remove Hardware command isn't absolutely necessary. However, you may experience a situation where your PC may not immediately recognize the device when you plug it back in. Luckily, this isn't a long-term problem and waiting just a few seconds before plugging the device back in will almost always solve the problem.
So, it definitely isn't necessary to use the Safely Remove Hardware command before unplugging a USB device if you are sure that your PC is not currently writing to the drive, but it is a good habit to get into. In the worst case scenario, you have spent a few extra seconds performing a useless task, the best case scenario, you have saved your valuable data and your flash drive.