USB hard drives are prefec


USB hard drives are prefectly good for long term storage/archival. There’s a better chance that you’ll have at least the option of USB in 10 or 20 years on new equipment (maybe USB 4.0 or 5.0, but backward compatible) than any of the internal bus formats (SATA, PCI, PCIe, etc). And even the rate of these other formats changing has decreased… it’s far more common to improve the technology in a compatible way.

I wouldn’t choose USB as my normal working drive, just due to performance… USB 2.0 with a single drive isn’t going to compete with SATA/eSATA or even Firewire 800 on drive performance, and actual hard drives are plenty fast enough today to make the difference a real thing. USB 3.0 is likely to change things.

I use SATA drives for project archival (with a copy of the critical pieces on Blu-ray). I have SATA slot carriers for both 3.5″ and 2.5″ drives, and just use the raw drives. Of course, today these could be turned into USB or something else if SATA ever started going away… with all of these things, you’ll have ample warning before the format is hard to find. And that’s true of any other storage format, too… nothing necessarily lasts forever. It’s also likely that, when a replacement is introduced, it can store more or all of your other stuff. For example, everything I ever had on any Amiga hard drive, floppy, CD, etc. will fit on a single cheap USB flash drive today…. that’s what 20 years does for you.

USB flash drives generally use MLC flash (multi-level coding), which has a mimimum life of 10,000 write/erase cycles.? If you re-wrote the drive 9 times each day, it would last you at least three years.? But of course, you probably don’t re-write the whole drive anywhere near that often. They all use wear-levelling technology, so even rewriting the same file over and over will use different blocks on the drive.

And realistically, within a year or two, falling prices will make your current drive seem limited. It’s not likely a USB drive even needs to last three years. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll see today’s drives at 1/2-2/3 the current price by the fall/winter this year.

I wouldn’t trust a USB drive as an archival solution. The stored charge in modern flash memory is supposed to last 10 years under good conditions (about what I’ve seen out of some tapes), but you don’t always have those conditions. Of course, I don’t trust any single piece of media for long term storage… I use hard drives, DVD or Blu-ray, even some tape around here.

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