Flash Drive vs External HDD and SSD

Flash Drive vs External HDD and SSD

If you don’t know when to choose a flash drive or an external drive, this article is for you. These devices actually have several differences according to their performance, capacity, lifespan, durability, portability, purpose, and price.

Also, a lot of people may want to buy a flash drive or external hard drive for varying purposes. Still, they don’t have a deep understanding of the descriptions of both. So, to avoid making wrong choices, it’s essential to determine their specifications further. Here, we will outline the aspects to which both devices differ and explain each of them in detail.


Generally speaking, external hard drives have a larger capacity than flash drives. The primary reason for this lies behind storage media. Technical experts say that flash drives only utilize flash memory for their storage, while external hard drives utilize magnetic platters for their storage medium.

For external SSD, it utilizes flash memory for its storage mediums as well. Experts also report that the flash memory’s price per GB is significantly higher than that of the platter’s per GB. Thus, manufacturing companies often prefer utilizing magnetic platters to create large-capacity storage.

Moreover, mechanical hard drives need additional power while flash drives and mobile drives do not. On the other hand, comparing the former actually has a bigger capacity. Our team has browsed through Amazon and only found very few flash drives with a capacity of 2TB.

However, they easily found an external hard drive with a 4TB capacity on it. These findings come with two reasons. First, external SSDs are equipped with a maximum of thirty-two NAND flash chips, while those flash drives that they found on Amazon only have one or two memory chips.

The thing here is, the capacity is actually variable to the number of flash memory chips. So, the more flash memory cards, the bigger the capacity will be. As NAND devices improve, the flash memory chips number mounted on the SSD will decrease without minimizing capacity. Well, this can also be the main reason why flash drive capacities are getting bigger and bigger.


The general performance of flash drives is actually lesser compared to external hard drives. Suppose you try to compare flash drives and external HDDs based on their speed or performance. In that case, external HDDs are generally a lot faster when dealing with bulk data. In contrast, flash drives (especially USB drives) are faster when dealing with small data transfers.

However, the former has no advantages when speaking about the performance and speed of flash drive vs SSD. If you need some proof, here are four primary reasons why external SSDs perform better than flash drives.

1. Master control

External SSDs (just like SSDs) utilize master controls that have excellent quality. On the other hand, flash drives often utilize master controls that have poor quality. Generally, in order to increase write and read speed, external SSDs and SSDs often adopt multiple channel modes, which allow master controls to function with multiple flash chips through various channels.

2. Transport protocols

Try searching in Amazon, and you will see that there are still many available flash drives that use USB 2.0 protocols. On the other hand, external hard drives in Amazon have already switched to utilizing USB 3.0 protocols. USB 2.0 only has a max transmission bandwidth of four hundred eighty Mbps. In contrast, the USB 3.0 protocol has a 5.0 Gbps max transmission bandwidth.

3. Cache

This DRAM chip has been utilized to equal the differences of speed between low-speed and high-speed devices (for hard disk and memory disk). It temporarily stores disk data that is more frequently accessed; therefore, it reduces actual operation. With that, you will feel that the write speed and disk read are performing better.

4. Flash particles

To compare solid-state drive vs flash, we should ask, “Which of the two uses SLC, MLC, or TLC?” There are actually three primary kinds of flash particles, namely: TLC, MLC, and SLC. SLC basically means that every storage device can store one data bit; MLC means two data bits, and TLC means three data bits.

Storing more bits of data in every device allows drive manufacturers to make products with larger capacities but with lesser flash chips. However, this can slow down the units’ speed. So, to answer the question, flash drives often utilize TLC, while SSDs often utilize MLC or SLC.


Speaking about the lifespan of flash drive vs SSD, flash drives actually have a shorter span than SSDs for the following reasons:

1. Some external SSDs are made from HDDs

As long as mechanical parts don’t go wrong, HDDs can write and read data for a longer time period. NAND chips have a maximum write number, which means that if the write numbers reach a certain limitation, the flash drive will be worn out.

2. Flash drives’ master controls don’t have wear-leveling technology

For NAND chips, some blocks can update frequently. However, this is not always the case. This can cause some frequently updated blocks to wear out faster, and this can negatively impact the lifespan of external SSDs and flash drives.

3. External SSDs have a higher capacity than flash drives

As stated earlier in this article, external SSDs have a larger storage capacity compared to flash drives. So, how will this relate to an external hard drive vs a flash drive’s lifespan? Generally, the smaller the device’s capacity, the easier the NAND chips will deteriorate.


Basically, external hard drives’ prices are higher compared to flash drives because of their larger storage capacity and better performance. However, we can’t deny that there are other high-quality and high-functioning flash drives out there whose performance and capacity can compete with external SSDs. Those kinds of flash drives are actually a lot more costly than external SSDs. So, you’re basically paying for the overall quality.

Bottom Line
So, this sums up our discussion about the difference between an external hard drive vs flash drive. If you’re planning to buy one, make sure to consider all the factors (aside from the ones mentioned above) that can contribute to your ease of use.

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