(1) An external hard disk drive or optical disc drive that plugs into the USB port. See portable hard drive.
(2) A solid state storage module that plugs into the computer's USB port. Using flash memory chips that hold up to one terabyte of data, a USB drive emulates a hard disk drive. USB drives are extremely popular for backup as well as data transfer from one machine to another. Their ever-increasing storage capacities have all but obsoleted writable CDs and DVDs (see sneakernet).
Known By Many Names
Debuting at the turn of the century, a USB drive has taken on many monikers. Any combination of the words "USB," "flash," "key," "drive," "jump" and "stick" are used (see USB drive names).
USB drive vendors use the data transfer ratings of CD-ROMs, where each "x" equals 150KB per second. For example, a 90x drive is 13.5MB/sec (90 x 150). See CD-ROM drives and solid state.
From Practical to Fanciful
M-Systems' key ring drive. Platinum Pen's Executive Pen Drive. EMTEC's Kooky drive.
No Bigger Than the Plug
In 2010, Verbatim launched its Tuff-"N"-Tiny line, only two millimeters thick. Although the contacts are exposed (top left), the units are water and dust proof.
Vendors often give away custom-printed USB drives preloaded with demo software and promotional material. Although more costly than CDs and DVDs, people tend to reuse them, and vendors get long-term advertising mileage.
Perhaps the most unique USB drive is one that looks like it came from the 19th century. These drive cases are hand crafted. See steampunk
. (Image courtesy of WillRockwell, www.etsy.com/shop/WillRockwell)
In 2013, Kingston Technology introduced the first terabyte USB drive. Imagine telling someone in 1993, when floppy disks were widely used, that in 20 years, a lightweight, handheld device would hold the equivalent of 650,000 floppies.