Pros & Cons

By: Mikio Moriyasu - Revised: 2006-05-17 devin


One reason for the increase in USB Flash Drive sales is the capacity of the device to safely store a reasonably large quantity of data in a small package that retails for a reasonable price. A close examination of benefits the device has to offer, however, reveals a number of potential pitfalls that anyone who may be purchasing one should consider. Here is a list of general and Mac specific pros and cons for these devices.

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  1. Pros
  2. Cons


  • Their small size and weight makes USB Flash Drives very portable.
  • They have MB and GB capacities greater than floppies and most Zip disks.
  • The small to medium capacity drives are relatively inexpensive and are widely available in stores and from online retailers for use by a variety of users.
  • Machines built in the last five years have built-in USB 1.1 or 2.0 standard. High end CD or DVD burning drives are still an expensive optional. USB PCI expansion cards are relatively inexpensive and are widely compatible with existing hardware.
  • The use of USB technology makes read/write times to Flash Drives faster and simpler than burning to CD or DVD media.
  • USB Flash Drives are resistant to environmental magnetic fields moderate temperature and humidity, and standard airport x-ray machines.
  • Under optimum operating conditions, the data stored on Flash Drives will not degrade for up to ten years.
  • The data stored on Flash Drives can be secured using read/write protection, password protection, data encryption, or biometric protection.
  • A few manufacturers are making USB Flash drives that can be upgraded with additional memory modules.
  • The technology allows manufacturers to pack-in additional features such as MP3 players, radio tuners, voice recorders, and digital cameras.
  • Most manufacturers offer limited warrantees covering the normal operation of the drive.
  • Mac OS X Disk Utility can be used to create a password protected disk image providing users of both secured and unsecured drives another level of protection.
  • Disk Utility and other major third-party disk/directory repair applications will test and repair most USB Flash Drives that are compatible with Mac OS X.
  • Mac OS X and Mac OS 9.x appear to have few compatibility issues with most brands of USB Flash Drives and will recognized the device as high capacity removable storage device without additional drivers.
  • As all new-build Apple hardware have no built-in floppy or zip drives anymore, the USB Flash Drive is a nice, moderate capacity alternative to purchasing an external or portable hard drive.


  • The small size of USB Flash Drives makes them more susceptible to loss or theft and no security protocol no matter how sophisticated can protect against basic theft.
  • No security protocol is absolutely unbreakable. Once lost or stolen, there is always the possibility that the information stored on a USB Flash Drive will be accessed.
  • USB Flash Drives have a higher per megabyte cost versus other forms of removable storage media and devices. A high capacity portable hard drive provides greater storage capacity than a USB Flash Drive for the price.
  • USB Flash Drives are a relatively new product. Extensive, comprehensive product reviews, wide-ranging compatibility reports, long-term testing results, and user feedback for manufacturers and vendors is not available, yet.
  • Because they are relatively easy to produce, there is a huge variety of drives on the market from several different manufacturers and vendors. This, combined with the lack of documentation, makes selection of a quality drive difficult.
  • Forgotten passwords will need to be reset by either the manufacturer or with bundled software. The process will result in the loss of all files in the secured partition.
  • According to one estimate, using current technology, it would take a VERY long time for someone to break the 128-bit AES encryption. If you forget the PIN to your encrypted drive, you will probably not get your files back.
  • Although it may be difficult to physically damage a USB Flash Drive, like all hard drives, they can become infected with as well as transmit viruses.
  • Even though they are more durable than other forms of moderate capacity removable storage devices, USB Flash Drives are not indestructible. Users are still urged to backup all important files.
  • Apple keyboard with built-in USB ports are USB 1.1 and may not be usable if you have a USB 2.0 flash drive. As a result, owners of the latest Mac hardware other than a PowerMac G5 may need to use a USB extension cable to more easily connect/disconnect their drives to their computer.
  • Depending on the type of USB Flash Drive you own, your hardware, and your operating system, you may need to download additional drivers.
  • While you can install USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 functionality to an older Mac, depending on its age and the version of Mac OS you are using, you will need to do some research in order to find a compatible third-party PCI expansion card.