Flash drives, which don’t have moving parts, can wear out as a result of the flow of electricity through them, reportedly after 100,000 writing or erasing actions. Some experts believe this can take more than 20 years of regular use. Flash drives can also lose their data by sitting idle for about 10 years, because the tiny electrical charges that represent data eventually dissipate. But don’t put too much stock in those long lifetimes. Remember that lower-capacity flash drives are inexpensive devices, and they are not immune to manufacturing flaws.
Despite the reliability of backup drives, I always advise people to keep multiple copies of irreplaceable data, such as photographs. In addition to storing data on a backup drive, you may want to copy it to a second drive or to one of the free online storage services, such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive.
Also remember that you can effectively lose stored information unless you transfer it to newer storage media every few years. That way you protect yourself against future changes in data storage formats or computer connection ports (floppy disks and USB 1.0 ports already are history.)
Steve Alexander covers technology for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
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