Many electronic devices are sensitive to magnetism, which can cause all kinds of malfunctions. Magnetism is all around us, and certain types of media have been vulnerable to its effects—but what about flash drives?
Magnets do not damage flash drives because they are made from non-magnetic silicon-based materials. Flash drives can be damaged by excessive heat, moisture, misuse, and wear over time.
If you have ended up with a flash drive that has lost data and wondered if accidental exposure to magnetism has caused it to malfunction, this is very unlikely, if not impossible. Read on to learn more about the things that damage flash drives and some tips on avoiding failing flash drives.
What Does Damage a Flash Drive?
Most NAND flash-based memory, like flash drives and SSDs, can withstand a fair amount of abuse before any signs of malfunction.
The delicate spinning platters of HDDs are much more vulnerable to shock and contain powerful magnets that are used to move the read/write arm. This also makes them vulnerable to magnets, although you’d need ab extremely powerful magnet in order to damage the data in an HDD.
Here are some things that may cause damage to flash memory. As you can see, magnetism is not among them.
- Data corruption: This is usually the result of misusing a flash drive and can be avoided by caring for and storing the flash drive correctly. Repeated corruption is a sign of failure and accumulating bad sectors making the device unreliable.
- Heat: Flash memory will degrade significantly faster if exposed to high temperatures for extended periods.
- Moisture: Don’t try to use your flash drive when it’s wet. Water is electrolytic and will react with the delicate circuitry in the presence of a current. Often, this will destroy the component.
- Misuse: Flash drives are plugged in and out more often than other types of memory. Many users neglect to eject the media properly, interrupting important background processes, which leads to degrading performance and failure.
- Wear and tear: This is again due to the removable nature of flash storage. The USB connecting pins will eventually wear out. Worn pins and their inherent poor contact can cause damage to the unit if arcing occurs.
Heat Causes Memory Degradation
Flash drives are made from a variety of small electronic components. While you can use flash drives at a wide range of temperatures without any trouble, you will find that prolonged exposure to heat can damage the flash drive, in some cases even destroying it.
Heat can cause small electronic components to separate, resulting in the flash drive not working correctly. Extended heat exposure will also cause the small charges stored in memory blocks to dissipate, causing data loss, memory failure, and corruption.
A flash drive that has been exposed to heat for too long may never work correctly again. The damage caused by heat is impossible to see with the naked eye, which makes it nearly impossible to fix this damage.
You can’t expect that USB you left on your windowsill in the sun for a few months to work as it did before.
Moisture Can Also Kill Flash Drives
Water on its own won’t be enough to destroy a flash drive. However, moisture in the presence of an electrical charge, even at a low voltage, can cause electrolysis, which is destructive to electronic circuitry.
If your flash drive gets wet, leave it in a bag of dry, uncooked rice for at least 24 hours to ensure no moisture is left inside before using it. As long as it is not plugged in and dried out correctly, it should work normally.
Don’t use heat to speed up the process of drying your flash drive out. We’ve already spoken about what heat can do to flash memory.
Make Sure You Are Using Your Flash Drive Correctly
Flash drives are so easy and convenient to use that you often don’t think about how to use them. You simply plug it in, copy your data over, and away you go. Just ensure you aren’t damaging your flash drive by not ejecting it.
Even if data isn’t being transferred to or from a flash drive, there are important background processes called garbage collection and wear leveling. If these processes are interrupted, it can cause data corruption and, over time, damage the drive.
The wear leveling and garbage collection processes prolong the service life of your flash unit, so it’s prudent to give the system time to accomplish these tasks once in a while.
Ejecting the flash drive correctly is also critical. The system will stop the background processes and sever the connection, making it safe to remove the device.
Flash Drives Don’t Last Forever
Even if you have made sure to look after your flash media carefully, it will naturally degrade as time passes.
Flash drives are frequently plugged in and out of USB sockets. Over time this wears out the pins, and eventually, they will not make contact correctly. This poor connection can cause further damage to the flash drive. If the connection arcs, it can burn and destroy the unit.
The memory blocks in NAND flash-based media limit the number of times you can rewrite them. These limits are why the garbage collection and wear leveling processes are important. Some flash units have blocks with a P/E (Program/Erase) limit as low as 3,000, as is the case with most consumer flash memory.
Additionally, not all USB Flash Drives have wear leveling. Check out my other article to learn more about wear leveling on flash drives.
Flash drives might not be vulnerable to magnetism, but they can degrade in the presence of heat and moisture. Most of the time, incorrect use causes flash drives to degrade and stop working, thanks to the cumulative damage in cases where correct ejection procedures are neglected.
In the end, nothing lasts forever. There will come a time when the unit needs to be replaced, which may come sooner than expected based on the conditions in which you used the flash drive.