Design & Prototyping
A USB flash drive is composed of two parts: a flash array unit (which includes the memory) and a USB controller (what plugs into the computer). The memory module can accept write, read, and erase commands from the user. The flash memory module is related to previous semiconductor memory devices made. Flash devices are relatively inexpensive to produce and require very little power from the host machine, making them a great choice over previous technology. These devices can also be modified to allow for either static, one-time attachment or continuous attaching and detaching to the host machine (like what many students use today). The USB controller provides the functionality and control of the flash memory as well as allowing data transmission. The USB flash drive was designed simply to allow for future companies to modify it to their specifications (Patent, 2000).
The process of making USB flash drives is a mix of old and new technology. Before the flash memory chips are mounted to a printed circuit board, they are screened for overall quality and storage volume. The chips are mounted under a probe card, which uses tiny needles to connect to a strip on the edge of the flash chip. The probe card-flash chip combination is mounted onto the printed circuit boards by hand. The workers use a long, thin tool that looks like a chopstick to do this. Once the chips are mounted, a machine wirebonds the parts together. If the wiring is incorrect on a board, a worker must pull out the microscopic wiring and re-feed it to the machine by hand. Finally, chipsets are layered with an epoxy to provide rigidity and then cut into individual pieces to go inside the casing(Fenlon 2013).
USB flash drives are currently marketed a cheap, functional promotional tool for business and giveaways. Companies can order USB flash drives in bulk with their logo in a variety of sizes. Some companies boast the production of USB flash drives in a variety of shapes and sizes. For example, CustomUSB has developed a USB flash drive that mimics the shape and design of a Fiat car fob, complete with simulated buttons to unlock, lock, and remote start a car (CustomUSB, 2013).
USB flash drive prices are drastically dropping as the technology becomes more mainstream. The SanDisk Cruzer Glide 128GB USB 2.0 drive was priced at $170 during its launch. It is now priced at $85 at Amazon and as low as $77 at lesser-known retailers. The most likely reason for this is because the demand for USB memory modules is decreasing, while the demand for other memory types (such as NAND) is rising. Economists predict that prices will continue to drop until supply will reach equal footing with demand, resulting in price stabilization (Leonhard, 2013).
USB flash drives are relatively easy to use, but require a few important steps for the health of the device. Many computers recognize the attaching of a USB device, but it is important to remember to use the un-mounting option provided by the host operating system when you are finished. For example, Windows operating systems give the user the option to “safely remove <name of device>”. Failure to do this step can cause in data corruption on the flash drive (support.userful.com, n.d.).
A perk of using USB flash drives as sources of memory is that they’re relatively maintenance-free. The user should remember, however, to reformat the drive every so often to keep it running smoothly. Running the “chkdsk (drive letter)” command in Windows can help solve any issues a user might have with the USB device (bleepingcomputer.com, n.d.).
A variety of things can be done with USB flash drives after they have served their purpose. For example, Recycle USB lets people donate their unused USB flash drives to be turned into portable learning centers for children between the ages of 5 and 12 (recycleusb.com, n.d.). Some companies produce eco-friendly USB flash drives that are made out of recycled material and are designed to be recycled in the future (Ecomarketing Solutions n.d.).