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Are memory cards a good media to back up your data on?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / June 15, 2012 8:32 AM PDT
Question:
Are memory cards a good media to back up your data on?

A question about "backup media"...I've been pretty diligent about
making regular backups of all data files on my computers for
years. Years ago, I used tape, then zip drives, and for quite
awhile now I've been backing up onto DVDs. Lately I've begun a new
trend (at least new for me). Since the price of SDHC memory cards
seems to be reasonable and both my computers have slots for these
cards, I've been backing up onto them for a while now. A 16G card
can hold a lot more data than the DVDs.

My question is this: are these memory cards more vulnerable to
damage or data loss than DVDs? Is there anything I've missed, or
is this an OK process? Also are there any pros and cons to using
memory cards as backup media? Your advice will be greatly
appreciated. Thanks.

--Submitted by: Cecil B.
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Backup media options
by IddiKlu / June 15, 2012 10:17 AM PDT

Personally, and I have worked with computers for over 35 years now, I only use hard drives, which I stick into external docking stations, like EZ Dock.

I have 4 HDDs in my main computer and 9 drives I can plug in into the external device. They vary in size from 750GB to 3TB.

I don't use ANY of the default folders offered by Windows, but rather have a main Data folder, with subfolders named according to the type of data stored in them. JPEG, Word, Excel, Websites, eBay, Roboform, Thunderbird (email) etc. Every 2 weeks that main data folder gets backed up on a different disc drive. At this time my backup is right at 40GB

This has worked perfectly for me a a number of friends for years.

BTW, I also clone the C: drive on a drive inside the computer (using True Image 11), so if anything ever happens to my system drive, that is not recoverable, I can switch to that OS backup in my BIOS and am running with all the programs I had installed upon the last cloning date.

I use Windows XP Pro with a MSI motherboard and a dual core 3.2 GHz AMD CPU

I have found commonly used backup programs to be too flaky for my requirements.

I have a website at http://www.FixPCflaws.com

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concerning external HD....
by susanai / June 22, 2012 11:39 AM PDT
In reply to: Backup media options

....I use an external hard drive but I cannot backup my iTunes material. IIs this necessary or should I put my trust in Apple? Ugh.

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well
by slam5 / June 23, 2012 1:22 AM PDT

You sure can backup your itunes library. Backup My Music folder in My Documents (XP) and you are done. In Win 7/Vista, backup the Music folder. As for trusting Apple, I don't really trust them because they can change your term of service and next thing you know you can't access the music the way you like to. Of course, if your music is bought off itunes, you are stuck anyway.

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sorry you aren't stuck
by BlackPenguin / June 23, 2012 9:36 AM PDT
In reply to: well

The music you buy from Itunes can easily be changed over to a regular mp3 file. There is probably even an easier way then this: 1. but music in itunes to an audio cd, 2. take that cd and put it back into your same computer, and 3. rip the audio files into mp3 using windows media player.

Given I haven't bought anything from itunes in a while, i use amazon.com, but that is another story.

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Fire
by slam5 / June 22, 2012 11:55 AM PDT
In reply to: Backup media options

Have you think what will happen if there is a fire?

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backup
by tonyzzzcnet / June 22, 2012 1:16 PM PDT
In reply to: Fire

I have several gmail.com accounts that i sent all important pics to ,then if my house burns .i can still retreave them...

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yes
by tonyzzzcnet / June 22, 2012 1:08 PM PDT
In reply to: Backup media options

I do the same thing

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Different media life
by davolente / June 22, 2012 6:06 PM PDT
In reply to: Backup media options

Surely this also begs the question to what is actually the ultimate storage medium? Hard drives fail (eventually). CD and DVD discs deteriorate and become unreadable. Anything that is solid-state wears out, so what is the best course of action for archiving data? I have an absurd number of external hard drives (spread over three machines on my small network), backing up around 150 gigs of data and music. Not saying how many, as it's pretty laughable and totally OTT (or is it?) but only recently, two failed in fairly rapid succession and they weren't exactly long in the tooth. What is the commercial solution? What do the big boys use? How can we ensure that our data is still intact in years to come? Seems to me that it's just one continuous slog to keep copying data over to new drives or another medium to ensure continuity.

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You did not answer the question about flash drives.
by skelax / June 25, 2012 4:01 PM PDT
In reply to: Backup media options

Cecil was asking if flash drives are reliable and not how you back-up your media.

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Warning: beware of True Image 2015
by jjaniero / June 9, 2015 5:49 AM PDT
In reply to: Backup media options

I found your reply very informative and helpful. I immediately went to check out Acronis True Image but found that there have been hellish problems with their 2015 upgrade -- 25% of Amazon reviews rated it 1 out of 5, complaining about serious bugs in this edition along with zero customer support and product warranty is only 30 days. Until they have worked out their problems with their most recent release it seems safe to avoid Acronis True Image for now. Dozens of reviewers complained about the product deteriorating since about the time you posted this, so you got it just in time. Thanks again for the helpful info.

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Any Media is Susceptible to Damage

Hi Cecil,

You raise a good question regarding the reliability of SDHC memory cards. I read somewhere once that you should treat the data on your computer as if it didn't exist. In other words, anything worth backing up should be backed up on a regular basis. It sounds like you've been quite diligent in this area and congratulations are in order!!!

The truth is that any type of media is susceptible to failure. Hard drives, DVDs, Tape, ZIP, Flash and yes, SDHC cards. The good news is that as you mentioned in your question, the cost of storage media of all kinds has come down to a level that we can and should backup our data on a regular basis.

The point I want to make here is this. If your data is worth backing up to begin with, you should back it up twice. I would never trust just one source to backup all of my data. So I would recommend that you backup your data once with the tools available through Windows Backup. This will allow you to create a Restore Disk and backup your entire system. In addition to this, I would keep a small partition on my hard drive to backup data only (pictures, music, documents, etc...). Finally, I would use an external backup for the same data on a separate hard drive, flash drive, DVD's, etc....

When choosing the media I'd use for an external backup, I personally don't think I'd use a card. I've seen too many cards go POOF!!! Once the card's been shorted, exposed to the elements, or many other potential threats out there, if the data is corrupted it's gone. You might consider Blu-Ray disks if you're using a desktop or laptop that can write to them. But I believe an external hard drive is the safest and easiest to manage among all of the possibilities.

SDHC cards are really handy for moving large amounts of data from one place to another (like from a camera to a computer hard drive) but as an archival tool I think I'd sway away from it.

Hope this helps

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media backup
by geomurray / June 22, 2012 11:30 AM PDT

I've been working with computers for 35 years, everything from IBM mainframes to PC's and there are 3 important words: backup, backup and backup. I've always done a double backup as in the answer above. The DVD's are going by the wayside so stick to external. Data on disks only last for about 5 years or so. Scientists at the leading computer giants are telling us that data on flashdrives will last almost as long as they are available. All I use is flashdrives. I backup as follows:

Daily for just my normal stuff
Weekly for a double of the daily.
Monthly for archiving.

At the end of the month I all of "My Documents and photos" on the flash drive along with anything else I find important. Should I have a computer problem and have to do an "IPL" or Initial Program Load (bringing the system back to where it was coming out of the box) I will have my programs on disk or backup. If you remember those three words you will be safe.

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Agreed on Almost All Counts
by Flatworm / June 23, 2012 1:53 AM PDT

Yes, all backup media is volatile to some extent.

Some backup methods come close to being reliable on such a long-term basis that they are pretty nearly permanently safe. Properly stored Blu-Ray disks - BD-R - probably have the greatest longevity, but regular DVDs -- DVD + or - R -- ought to outlast most of our lifetimes. Do NOT use BD-RW or DVD-RW -- they are MUCH more volatile.

My own solution, however, is to use an external drive for my "dead" backup -- the one from which I expect relative permanence and expect to use only in a REAL disaster -- which is an external drive with large-enough capacity to hold all my data. The applications and O/S I can restore from distribution. For my consistent, totally up-to-date-on-a-daily-basis backup, I use a second large-capacity internal drive that is neither my primary system disk (an SSD) or my usual data and programs disk. I use this same large-capacity drive for large data files that do not need backing up -- DVD rips and whatnot that I already have fully "backed-up" on their original media. The odds of me having to go to the data on the external drive is very, VERY small, as it would require a simultaneous failure of all of my internal drives. I have NEVER experienced such a catastrophic failure on any computer that contained more than one disk drive.

On a laptop that's a possibility -- it could happen, and most have only a single drive in any event -- with all the abuse they occasionally are expected to endure. On my desktop that just sits there pretty much immobile all day with an SSD and two HDDs it's EXTREMELY unlikely to have so many different pieces of hardware fail simultaneously, so unlikely that I only backup my very most precious and irreplaceable documents and pictures to removable media.

I feel that it is more important to take steps to ensure that you will never need to resort to data backups. It is impossible to absolutely eliminate the risk of equipment failure, but you can significantly minimize the potential for such failures by only connecting your computer to genuinely reliable electrical power. The most common cause of any hardware failure, including disk drives, is a sudden power cutoff or surge. If you run off a good, fairly high-powered (at least 1,200 VA) uninterruptible power supply and plug your CPU into one of the battery-backup outlets it provides, this will go a long way toward protecting the health of your disk drives and all the rest of the components on your computer as well.

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Full system power protection
by briannachtigall / August 16, 2012 11:41 PM PDT

I agree with the last comment that using a battery backup UPS is a great way to protect against brownouts or blackouts. I would, however, make one addition - a quality power filter in front of the UPS will protect the UPS as well as the connected CPU. The UPS will kick in when power sags or goes out, but won't provide much surge protection (akin to maybe a power strip). Electronic Systems Protection (ESP) makes power filters that perform with best-in-class let-through energy when a surge hits, and will shut off the signal during over- or under-voltage sags or swells. This works really well in tandem with a UPS which will kick in if the sag or swell continues. Unlike other surge protectors which lose their energy suppression ability over time, ESP's technology is such that it will never degrade. What's better, the ESP filter can be adjusted to detect sags or swells at whatever voltage you set, and it will maintain a counter and time-stamped history of the power anomalies when they occur, so you can easily diagnose a poor power quality environment. Your data is critical, and the CPU and UPS equipment isn't cheap, so it's important to protect the full system with high quality power protection.

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So many options !
by andrewbaggins / June 15, 2012 10:52 AM PDT

The first question is: How much stuff do you have to back up? 2nd question: Is that amount of stuff growing rapidly or just a little bit now & then?

You mentioned a 16GB size SDHC card as an example. If all your stuff will fit on one of those cards with room to spare then buy a couple of those cards, make duplicate backups and store one of them somewhere away from home - at a relative's house or safe deposit box, etc. A couple of USB flashdrives would probably work just as well.

If you have a lot of stuff to back up or if the amount is growing quickly then you're still better off to to buy, say, a couple of brand new standard hard drives and make duplicate backups on those. We recently purchased a hard drive dock which holds 2 regular or laptop size hard drives. They just stand in a slot and the dock has a USB cable to plug into your computer. Dead simple to use and it cost about $30 from newegg. There's also some very good deals out there on 500GB and 1TB size external hard drives which would not need a dock.

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I don't have an answer, but an observation/comment.
by NickV / June 15, 2012 11:44 AM PDT

For what it's worth about 12 years ago I found a CF Card laying in the middle of a bike path, it had been there for some time, and had obviously been run over mor than once by a bicycle because of dents and scratches. I thought I'd look to see if I could see anything that I could use to return it to someone. It contained several photos, all in good condition, but nothing identifiable, so I pitched it in a drawer. When I saw this post I found the Card, stuck it in a reader, and the photos are still in as good condition as they were originally , based on memory, and the card still worked, so I would say from that standpoint at least CF cards are pretty durable.

NickV

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CF Card Failure
by Daggoo / June 22, 2012 1:18 PM PDT

I'm glad you had such good luck, but I have shied away from cards ever since I lost photos when a CF card in my Canon PowerShot suddenly failed. The photo store where I bought a new one (in 2008) said this was common. Now, I always back up my daily photos to my laptop, send especially good ones to the cloud, and when I have time put them on a CD or DVD.

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Memory Cards as Backup - to use or not to use?
by spambrando / June 15, 2012 11:54 AM PDT

Hi, I understand where you're coming from and I do it myself. I use cards and flash drives to back up a bunch of stuff, some crucially important, some, not so much. HOWEVER; it is not good ENOUGH for secure or long-term storage. They are fragile, tend to become corrupted in many cases, especially when the user forgets to safely remove hardware and finally, IF you are very diligent about the care of them, they are great for easy, casual transport but so is a reasonable 1-2TB external drive. They're so portable now and USB powered. No drivers, no hassle with the right back up software. There's your safety net. Or, safer still is something like Carbonite, where you can store all you want offsite. Blush

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Carbonite
by zepgal / June 22, 2012 1:06 PM PDT

I've been afraid to use Carbonite or the like. I've always been concerned about privacy.

I have an external that back ups automatically, but since it's in the same room as the laptop, I'd like to back up my files and store them somewhere else. It would be primarily photos and a few documents. Would a flash drive (what brand? type?) stored in a safe deposit box be a reasonable option?

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Memory Cards as backup
by jhorwitz / June 22, 2012 2:31 PM PDT
In reply to: Carbonite

I have never had a flash drive or memory card fail. I have mistakenly reformatted (just one, several years ago, but was just un-dumb enough to remove it and then ask for help. The help was in the form of recommending two recovery programs, one didn't work, the other recovered every file!)

However, one of the earlier replies mentioned a very un-magic word, FIRE! So, it's a very good idea to have at least occasional offsite backups. You can make a local backup and give the card to someone else to store for you, or you can put it in a safe place such as a safe deposit box in a bank. I think a good choice is online and I use Microsoft's free live.com. They used to give you 25 GB of free storage and we old-timers are grandfathered at that level. Now they give you 7 Gb. You can also buy more for a very reasonable price.

If you have files of just moderate sensitivity, such as photos, you can just upload them, don't give any one the address to share, and probably not worry about it. If you have sensitive files, ZIP them up with a password (I use the free program jZIP). If they are extremely sensitive, you can encrypt them even further before uploading.

I hope this is useful!

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Thanks
by zepgal / June 22, 2012 11:31 PM PDT
In reply to: Carbonite

I'll get a flash drive to put in Mom's SDB and update it a few times a year. It's mostly photos and some important documents like images of birth certificates and such.

Any recommendations for flash drives or are the major brands OK?

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Carbonite
by dicklatour / June 23, 2012 1:41 AM PDT

I used Carbonite for over a year and all was well until my laptop crashed. The laptop was in warranty and was eventually replaced. But I ran into a problem. It took quite a while before the laptop was sent to me. It was ordered from Tiger Direct and they lost the order and when I didn't get it they sent another. This took over 30 days. After 2 weeks I called Carbonite and told them that I would not get the new computer until after the normal 30 day period that they keep backups stored. I was told that was fine and I would still be able to access my data when I got the new computer.

Unfortunately, when I got the computer and tried to restore the backup from Carbonite it was gone. I called and was told that they do not maintain data over 30 days. I said I was told they would but there was nothing they could do, it was gone. An apology would have gone a long way but I never got that. I just wasted over a years payments for 2 computers to Carbonite. I can't really recommend them.

****

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Carbonite
by Gary_Trieste / June 25, 2012 11:38 PM PDT
In reply to: Carbonite

Two things on Carbonite -

I too wonder about security on Carbonite, their tech support seemed awfully casual about the whole thing.
They apparently give the option of NOT storing your password on their servers, but that process seems a bit involved, and of course if you forget it you are SOL.

Another thing I have notice that is significant, is that if you have backed up EFS files, they don't download on other computers. I have called them on this, but never got a definitive or satisfactory answer as to the solution.

So, although the EFS files appear to have been backed up, their system refuses to offer them back when you need them.

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Solid or disc?
by flrhcarr / June 15, 2012 2:31 PM PDT

Convenience. With an external drive, you can store many files & retrieve them, all in order. So if you only have a few files that you don't mind retrieving when you need it, or if each card has a set type of file you'll be wanting, go for it. I have my super important files on both my external, as well as compact flash, & precious on another two drives. Just regular stuff, I use the external so I can swap computers & have the files handy.

All drives fail, & as I'm sure you know, cd/dvds don't last as long as promised, except maybe gold RAM discs.

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If it works it is good
by MarkFlax Forum moderator / June 15, 2012 9:44 PM PDT

If SDHC memory cards work for you then that's fine. You can test that in the same computer you backed up from, or some other computer.

However, although you haven't mentioned it, I would just say that having only one backup may not be enough.

Consider this; your files from your computer are backed up to an SDHC card, then suddenly the computer's hard drive fails catastrophically and all the originals are lost. Where is your backup now? It is not the SDHC card because, suddenly, that card becomes the original.

The regular poster's in these forums and elsewhere always say, Backup, Backup, Backup. That is, backup your files at least 3 times onto different media. Then, if the original storage fails you still have proper backups.

Mark

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Backing up data (ONLY!)
by exitometro / June 23, 2012 1:35 AM PDT
In reply to: If it works it is good

I agree with the several methods already mentioned on backing up data. I prefer to maintain three copies of my data:

1. I work everyday using a 32GB flash drive to store what I do during each day
2. At the end of the day, I back up my flash drive onto the main drive or my computer (drive C:)
3. At the end of the week, I back back up all documents onto the second internal drive of my computer (NOT 2nd partition).
4. Every 2-3 months I back up everything onto a 2TB external hard drive, which I keep in my office a few miles away from home.

At this point, I have no real need for "storage in the clouds". However, if one has that much "important" data, s/he may want to consider paying for a backup storage and retrieval service such as Carbonite, etc.

exitometro -- Happy

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Ancillaries
by richteral / June 16, 2012 6:11 PM PDT

SD cards are very reliable for the backup of data. If it is the same with the much more capacious SDHC cards, I cannot say yet. However, in both instances it is advisable to use a card reader, not just stick them direct in the computer slot. This will reduce wear and tear, thus the possibility of failure. (Same goes for cards in cameras - do not remove them, use a cradle/cable to download your shots.)

The number of write cycles will be limited in the end, so the less frequently the card is used, the better. USB flash drives mentioned by others, are completely unsuitable for serious backups due to high failure rate. They are copy-and-transport media only. Having a 4 GB stick gone suddenly blank and unrecoverable would have a salutary effect on anyone entertaining the idea.

Cards are very small, which has obvious advantages as well as disadvantages. They need to be kept in their cases and/or holders. External HDDs beat them on capacity, but they also will fail over time. Whether a USB HDD will last longer than an SDHC is open to question. I should always double on the backup with high-quality DVDs or other means.

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Read-Write Cycles
by liguorid / June 25, 2012 12:39 AM PDT
In reply to: Ancillaries

You mention the limited number of reads and writes on a card. Coupled with their low cost, an option might be to use a new one for each backup cycle. If you archived your older backups in a safe deposit box (or several, in various locations) your chances of having no usable backup are almost zero. As far as the long-term resilience of the data decades from now, no one really knows since the media haven't been around that long. Archival backups are a whole other issue.

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You May Want To Re-Think Your Choice
by ajtrek / June 19, 2012 1:06 PM PDT

Hi Cecil

Congratulations for being an individual who realizes that back-ups are an essential aspect of computing. I'm glad to hear that you've had good luck using Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) cards as a backup medium. However, there are several reasons why you may want to re-think your choice....

Price Per GB
The average price per GB of an SDHC from a reputable manufacturer (i.e. SanDisk, Transcend and Lexar) is about $2.25 for 8GB. The price goes down a bit with the higher capacity cards (i.e. more GB's) but still doesn't break the $1.00 mark. By contrast a Lacie 500GB portable HD is $0.23 per GB.

Keeping Cards in Order
To perform a system restore the data needs to be re-written in the same order as it was transferred. Meaning you don't want to insert Card #2 before Card #1. By contrast with a 500GB HD keeping everything in order is not an issue.

Read/Write Speed
Determined by the Card Class being compatible with the Hardware which can vary by device and vise-versa. Meaning that if you are using SDHC cards designed (recommended for use) in a camera and then another recomended for a camcorder and still another recommended for a PS3 or XBox -- your read/write speeds will not be consistent which can be critical if data to be restored is split between cards of different classes --- it may not come back properly. By contrast a HD spins at 5400 or 7200 rpm consistently - for the most part - barring power fluctuations.

Digital Rights Management (DRM)
Every SD Card type has DRM embedded. You may never be affected by if you never try to backup protected media (i.e. downloaded movies, music or single use license material and/or programs. By contrast a HD has no embedded DRM.

Failure Rate
This one area where SD cards shine. At over 100,000 write/read cycles you'll probably never have to worry about that happening in your lifetime as a home PC user for back-ups versus that of a professional photographer using the same medium. By contrast HD's on average have a MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) rate of 1 million - 1.2 million hours.

In conclusion an HD for back-ups is just a better solution - be it portable or not. Price, continuity, read/write consistency and no DRM make them a better choice hands-down. Drop a SDHC card and you may step on it...ooops...too late. Not that you can't drop a HD---but if you did you probably won't step on it. Besides even if you did the chances of survival (for the HD) are greater than that of an SDHC card.

Learn more about SD cards at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secure_Digital

Together Everyone Achieves More

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Flash memory is probably the safest way to go

The reason I left floppy disks is because I write articles and my word processor files kept getting errors in them so I changed to thumb drives and I haven't looked back...

SD cards are not the only option. A 64 GB SDXC card costs about $59.99 so the market is changing in this direction because I bought a camera with 24 zoom and 16 megapixels so eight hours of video could be stored on a single card. Flash memory prices were supposed to have come down but this economy has probably prevented them from doing so.

The other issue is storage solutions for your storage. A thumb drive or card can be taken on vacation preventing it from being lost or stolen. I store them in the quarter pocket of my jeans and they've gone through the wash once or twice and still work but they don't usually fall out. If you price safety deposit boxes at your bank, a small box can house thumb drives and SD cards for a smaller fee than your larger hard drives. Price is based on the size of your safety deposit box and I would rather pay $10 a year rather than $40 a year for a bigger box for every year that I have the safety deposit box.

Flash memory is also better able to withstand errors than tape or drive media:

[Quote]For example, Kingston's CompactFlash cards have a rated error specification of less
than one (1) bit in 1,000,000,000,000,000 bits read (1 bit per 1015 bits read).

For USB Flash drives, Toshiba calculated that a 10,000 write cycle endurance would enable customers to "completely write and erase the entire contents once per day for 27 years, well beyond the life of the hardware."

http://www.kingston.com/products/pdf_files/FlashMemGuide.pdf
[Endquote]

I had a laptop hard drive die after 10 years and I have thumb drives that have outlasted it because the thumb drives are solid state meaning that there isn't a constantly spinning motor in it to burn out. Have you ever added oil to your hard drive to keep it running? I'm guessing that you can't because the hard drive itself is sealed but we change the oil in cars more often than our hard drives and the average life of a hard drive is about five years. And isn't flash drive cheaper if it lasts twice as long or more than hard drives? Flash drives probably consume less electricity than a hard drive motor that has to spin at 4500 rpm which means you are saving over the life of the product.

The fact that flash memory is baked in an oven means that flash memory can withstand a hot car probably better than your hard drive although this isn't an optimal way to store your media.

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