What Is the Difference Between a Flash Drive & a Thumb Drive?

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The thumb or flash drive is a portable data storage device that makes file backup and file sharing easier and also allows for easy storage of photos, music, documents and applications.


IBM introduced the first thumb drive in 1998 as an alternative to the more cumbersome floppy disks. The device has evolved to become a popular method of sharing files, transporting data and backing up computer systems.


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The thumb or flash drive refers to a USB (Universal Serial Bus) memory drive used for portable data storage. The term "flash" comes from "flash memory." Flash is a type of electronically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM). It has no moving parts and is used in memory sticks of digital cameras, memory cards for video game consoles and in computer flash drives. In flash memory, information is stored in the device's cells, and floating gates protect each of the cells and the stored data. Tunneling electrons travel through a low conductive material, change the electronic charge "in a flash," clearing the cells' content.



Flash drives boast a wide range of memory power. Those with larger memories can store hours of music, hundreds of photos, thousands of pages of documents and several applications. The device is known by several names--thumbnail, flash, pen, stick and thumb drive. All are interchangeable names.



Thumb drives can be written to over and over again. They are also durable devices, as they have no moving parts, and unlike CDs, they cannot be scratched or damaged easily.


Flash technology is compatible with most computers, platforms and operating systems. After a computer recognizes the flash drive, data is easily transported with a click of the mouse or a swipe of the touch pad.