Flash Drives Need LEDs

My flash drive is probably worth more than my laptop. I don’t spend much on my laptops, but I wouldn’t want to be forced to spend enormous hours repeating my work lost since my last backup.

The flash thumb stick could get destroyed if I pull it out of its slot at the wrong moment. The interruption of electricity at the wrong instant of time can kill the flash. (Much the same applies to flashing a BIOS, which has similar technology at far higher prices.) If the computer is still writing to the flash thumb drive when someone tugs it out, it’s not just that unsaved work is lost, the entire flash and everything on it can become forever unreadable. It’s happened. (Some firms say they can recover the data, but that's expensive and I think it may not always succeed.) So, when we want to pull a flash drive, we need to know if access is still going on. Your operating system may not tell you that. The icon on the screen may be irrelevant.

What’s helpful is that the flash drive’s LED tells you if access is underway. Sometimes, the LED is on, or blinking, when it should be off. If you can’t get it to turn off any other way, such as by using an Eject command, then the sleep command or a warm reboot will, in my experience, always do the trick. If necessary, use the shutdown command to power down completely.

Dim LEDs are annoying, but at least the LEDs are present. It’s on you to remember that the LED is there even though it’s hard to see.

The LED lowers the risk. It’s a whale of a lot cheaper to buy a flash drive with an LED. Manufacturers that don’t include LEDs likely enjoy selling more flash drives every week. Don’t use a flash that doesn’t have an LED.

I searched suppliers (I’m not sure if they’re manufacturers, importers, or otherwise suppliers to retailers). Mostly, LEDs are not provided. A retailer might list an LED but if the higher-level supplier’s website doesn’t say the model has an LED then I assume the model does not have an LED and the retailer is wrong, perhaps out of date. Even the original packaging might list an LED but if the supplier’s website doesn’t mention it then I assume the packaging is wrong, perhaps outdated, too. Hopefully, I chose the more reputable brands, and maybe they’re more reliable. Among the websites I searched were those of HP, Kingston, Lexar, PNY, Samsung, SanDisk, Silicon Power, Transcend, and Verbatim without finding any model with an LED except as identified below.

I FOUND THREE MODELS. One is by Kingston and is in two or three capacities, with an LED, although I tried it only a little as I wrote this. It’s the Kingston DataTraveler Elite G2 USB Flash Drive. I tried to get the smallest one. They come in 64GB and 128GB capacities. The old 32GB size is not available anymore from Kingston but some retailers may still have it in stock (Amazon might). No other DataTraveler models qualify. No other Kingston models qualify.

The other two are by Transcend and are the Transcend JetFlash 750 and the Transcend JetFlash 760. The JetFlash 750 comes in 16, 32, and 64 GB capacities, while the JetFlash 760 comes in 32, 64, and 128 GB capacities. No other JetFlash models qualify. No other Transcend models qualify. I tried one (perhaps more than one since I did get the brand long ago but I don’t remember which model that was). This time, I got a JetFlash 760 with the 64GB capacity. The capacity of the 64GB model is really 60.5 GB, at least when formatted for MS-DOS or NTFS. Inserting the drive into the USB port can be a bit uncertain; if the drive does not seem to work properly, push the slider so the connector is all the way into the USB port. By comparison to the Kingston (above), the Transcend for reading or writing is awfully slow. When reading about 2.38 GB for 28,772 items on the same platform, the Kingston took about 1–2 minutes while the Transcend took about 15 minutes. For writing 28,807 items, the Transcend took about 26 minutes. When I used shift-delete to try to irrecoverably delete through overwriting, it took about 29 minutes. The slowness on a Linux platform is partly due to caching of data to be written and I don’t know if any Linux distro allows the user to stop the writing from the cache so the drive can be yanked without sometimes harming the drive hardware. The Transcend’s LED is much easier to see than Kingston’s, and that’s nice, but we should be concerned that Transcend’s packaging doesn’t mention the LED, which may mean that Transcend plans to drop the LED soon without notice. When the LED is steadily on, that likely means that the drive is getting electricity, whereas blinking means writing is going on, and writing is critical for avoiding damage by the user to the drive; we could argue whether having the LED show the power status is helpful or a distraction. The hole for tying on a tag (like for your name) requires bending through a right angle, which is okay for soft thread but difficult for a hard tie. Overall, the Transcend model is far worse than the Kingston model.

Across all the major brands I searched, these were the only models. I did not consider models from minor or unknown brands and that are apparently sold as toys or as promotional premiums with whatever logos customers want, as I expect those would have shorter lives, the point of an LED being longer life, and these risky brands are not worth the money, even when cheap.