Shelf Life of Flash Drives

Dear Elizabeth,

In your last newsletter you commented that disks have a “longer shelf life” than a flash drive.

I always thought of flash drives as huge floppies as it were, with large capacity, easier to use, and what I thought of as fairly permanent way to save or copy files, photos, anything….

What IS the shelf life? How does it degenerate, what happens and should I not be using them to save semi-precious items such as photos etc?

Thanks for your time!! Conni

Dear Conni,

Flash drives are indeed like huge floppies. You can copy files, edit files and update files on a flash drive just like you can on a floppy. They definitely are easier to use than an optical disk like a CD or DVD.

However, just like floppies, a flash drive is more vulnerable to environmental conditions.

For example, if you store your flash drive in damp conditions, it will not last as long as it would in a cool, dry environment.

Another example, one that I have experienced more than once is if you keep your flash drive in your pocket. It seems like every time I stick a flash drive in my pocket and carry it around for a day or two, the next time I want to use it, I am unable to access my files.

I really don’t know how long a flash drive would hold your data if you filled it with files and then put it in a location under perfect conditions, I just know that in real-life situations, data can and does become corrupted.

Optical disks on the other hand, are not as easy to stick in your pocket, not really affected by moist or hot environments, and if they do get dirty can be easily wiped clean.

I have read that the shelf life for an optical disk ranges anywhere from 1 year to 100 years. Since the disks haven’t been in existence for 100 years, I can’t guarantee that they will last that long, however, I have disks that are 10 to 15 years old and are still readable.


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Elizabeth Boston is a Web designer, Social Media Consultant and managing editor of, “Ask The Computer Lady”.
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    • ron007
    • November 26, 2012

    It seems like every time I stick a flash drive in my pocket and carry it around for a day or two, the next time I want to use it, I am unable to access my files.

    The simple explanation for that is you were probably zapping them with static electricity. That will kill any electronics.

    I’ve used USB “sticks” for years without that sort of problem.

    The problem with DVDs (and CDs) is their variable life span. Read only disks created in a factory have the best potential life. Write once, and Read-Write disks have much shorter life-spans. How long (the 1 year end of the scale) depends on the technology used to store the information, and as you pointed out the conditions.

    Cheaper Write-Once disks use “dye” technology. It is much more susceptible to heat aging and damage. The better technology disks use metal foils.

    Any of the disks can be damaged by scratching them. Read only disks have the advantage of being able to cover the sensitive data layer with plastic.

    And now there is this “stone” based disk that claims 1000 year life …

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