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article imageOp-Ed: How reliable are Memory Sticks?

By Alexander Baron     Sep 3, 2013 in Technology
We are constantly being warned about the menace of inflation, but computers are the most spectacular exception to rising prices. In particular, memory has never been cheaper. And yet...
If you weren't around in the 1990s, or were still in diapers at the turn of the Millennium, what I am going to say now will astound you, but older people will assure you it is true. Desktop computers were once backed up to a medium known as the floppy disk. A low density disk would hold 720Kb, and a high density disk 1.44Mb. No, that is not a misprint; here is the proof.
I recall paying £1 for low density disks, and as much as £2.20 for a high density one. Buying a box brought you a heavy discount, but they were both awkward and slow to use. Not only that, they were prone to corruption, at times extremely so. Then came an exponential leap forward in computing power and hard disk sizes. And the memory stick. You can buy these little things on ebay; recently I bought several from a company that will remain nameless. They came through my door in a small padded envelope, and the prices of 8Gb, 16Gb and later 32Gb (my standard from now on) are frankly ludicrous.
Recently I bought two from another company for £19.50 including postage. That is 64Gb of memory; how would that cost at 1990s prices? And don't forget, we are all using files now that take up masses of space. Even a small audio file will be too big for an old-fashioned floppy disk. Memory sticks are also generally quite robust. Here is an anecdote from six years ago:
"I know of a memory stick that was found in a car park, in a puddle of water, and it had been run over by a car. It was well crushed.
The plug was still in one piece. When it was plugged into a usb port it revealed a whole stack of company details. All perfectly usable....I have never had one fail on me, so far. "
Heartening though that undoubtedly true story may be, don't expect every memory stick to be as resilient.
After I bought several from the first company I had problems with an order; some files would not copy, mostly video files. I had this with whole directories, so contacted the firm, who suggested it was my fault. I explained that it was not, and with some reluctance but no protesting the company changed the sticks and refunded my postage.
The first two sticks I bought from the second company were both defective; although 32Gb there were anomalies with them. I copied about 20Gb to one, apparently successfully, but when I compared the files copied to the files copied from, all was not well. With the second stick I copied the same 20Gb but when I came back to it the next day, there was less than 8Gb on it. I thought this significant, that maybe there was some fault that reverted this disk to 8Gb.
When I contacted the firm they replaced them with no qualms and refunded my postage. No problems with ethics on ebay as far as these two companies are concerned, but memory sticks...that's a different matter.
Here is an article which, although published eight years ago, gives some useful advice about them.
Although a memory stick is an invaluable accessory, you should always bear in mind that all such devices are fragile. The Internet as we know it has been around for little more than twenty years, and electronic computers themselves for not much longer. What will happen if 20, 10 or even 1 year from now some of these machines begin leaking data or simply melting down? That sounds extremely improbable, so does proton decay, but we have no guarantee that either will not happen.
The bottom line is that you should not depend on your memory stick, nor on your computer. Nowadays backing up on-line is also cheap or even free, so unlike Mark Twain you can put all your eggs in several baskets simultaneously. Make sure you do.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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