Author Topic: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable  (Read 3820 times)

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Offline DiTBho

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let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« on: April 11, 2022, 07:00:52 am »
Back to 2011, I bought a couple of usb-sticks from Amazon, TDK and Sandisk brand new sticks, supposed to be "decent quality" for a kind of backup kind of backup you carefully store inside a locker and don't touch for years.

Yesterday night I mounted those usb-sticks in my Linux box to read some old files and ...
Code: [Select]
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 FAILED Result: hostbyte=DID_OK driverbyte=DRIVER_SENSE
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 Sense Key : Medium Error [current]
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 Add. Sense: Unrecovered read error
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 CDB: Read(10) 28 00 00 1c 42 1e 00 00 f0 00
blk_update_request: critical medium error, dev sdc, sector 1851934
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 FAILED Result: hostbyte=DID_OK driverbyte=DRIVER_SENSE
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 Sense Key : Medium Error [current]
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 Add. Sense: Unrecovered read error
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 CDB: Read(10) 28 00 00 1c 42 a8 00 00 02 00
blk_update_request: critical medium error, dev sdc, sector 1852072
Buffer I/O error on dev sdc1, logical block 926005, async page read
 sdc: sdc1 sdc2 sdc3
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 FAILED Result: hostbyte=DID_OK driverbyte=DRIVER_SENSE
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 Sense Key : Medium Error [current]
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 Add. Sense: Unrecovered read error
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 CDB: Read(10) 28 00 00 7a e0 60 00 00 f0 00
blk_update_request: critical medium error, dev sdc, sector 8052832
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 FAILED Result: hostbyte=DID_OK driverbyte=DRIVER_SENSE
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 Sense Key : Medium Error [current]
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 Add. Sense: Unrecovered read error
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 CDB: Read(10) 28 00 00 7a e1 60 00 00 f0 00
blk_update_request: critical medium error, dev sdc, sector 8053088
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 FAILED Result: hostbyte=DID_OK driverbyte=DRIVER_SENSE
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 Sense Key : Medium Error [current]
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 Add. Sense: Unrecovered read error
sd 7:0:0:0: [sdc] tag#0 CDB: Read(10) 28 00 00 7a e1 00 00 00 08 00
blk_update_request: critical medium error, dev sdc, sector 8052992
Buffer I/O error on dev sdc3, logical block 394064, async page read
Quick test
Code: [Select]
dd of=/dev/null if=/dev/sdc3
dd: reading '/dev/sdc3': Input/output error
3152512+0 records in
3152512+0 records out
1614086144 bytes (1.6 GB) copied, 1521.2 s, 1.1 MB/s

Thanks god, I also saved all those files in DVD-ram cartridges and even a copy on an hard-disk, which are all in perfect working condition.

Not a single file was lost.

Moral of the story: don't trust USB-sticks!
 
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Online james_s

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2022, 07:05:20 am »
Based on a sample of just two that you bought 11 years ago?

I've had dozens of USB sticks over the years, so far I've never had a single one of them fail. They're as reliable as just about any other consumer storage.
 
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Offline evb149

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2022, 07:13:10 am »
True, but also the same can be said of spinning disc drives and SATA/NVME SSDs.

I have had SSDs as well as spinning disc drives go from working fine to completely unusable in both cases of either instantly totally broken or instantly corrupted / impaired to the point where only some data could be read and nothing more reliably written.

Yeah I know about NAS devices and RAID and so on, but I am literally amazed that none of the mainstream
manufacturers of storage drives basically encapsulate RAID1 or RAID3 level kinds of protections right into the
"unit" of a single storage device to any level of protection.

For instance for complete redundancy yeah you may need 100% physically separate devices, but it'd certainly be possible to share
an enclosure, connector, even the controller but to internally stripe / mirror / parity encode data across physically different
NAND flash chips or physically different heads / platters so that a fault at the single FLASH IC level or single head or single platter
level would not necessarily cause data loss due to either mirroring or parity and redundancy striping.

And in either case the devices could at least add enough checksums / hashes so you can have reasonable confidence that the data you
supply is the data you read back as opposed to some silently corrupted version.

I don't see how it is even SANE to have multi-terabyte level storage so "inexpensive" and ubiquitous these days but to have the
drives themselves have basically no integrated integrity validation exposed to the user and no integrated redundancy options exposed to
the user that operate within the bounds of each individual device.

Then it would be easier to have the user if they want complete redundancy add a second level of RAIDing across two or more distinct
devices or storage systems on top of whatever base line is in the devices.

 

Online wraper

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2022, 07:39:16 am »
Back to 2011, I bought a couple of usb-sticks from Amazon, TDK and Sandisk brand new sticks, supposed to be "decent quality" for a kind of backup kind of backup you carefully store inside a locker and don't touch for years.
And here is your mistake. NAND cells discharge over time and in case of MLC, TLC, QLC it becomes hard to distinguish actual data within the cell as basically it's stored in analog voltage levels. For long term storage you need SLC flash, or one which is rewritten from time to time (decent SSD do this automatically). Type of error correction used and if it can adjust to diminishing voltage levels matters a lot too. I have even worse, Patriot 64GB SD card purchased about 10 years ago which starts corrupting the data after about 1.5 years.
 
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Offline DiTBho

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2022, 07:46:23 am »
Based on a sample of just two that you bought 11 years ago?

Based on several similar episodes happened in the last eleven years.

Just, if in the other cases I have used and handle without care the USB that I brought around - and you think - ups, doesn't it no more work? d'oh, must be your fault - in this case the two sticks were securely stored in a locker for years.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2022, 07:53:11 am by DiTBho »
 

Offline DiTBho

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2022, 07:49:52 am »
Back to 2011, I bought a couple of usb-sticks from Amazon, TDK and Sandisk brand new sticks, supposed to be "decent quality" for a kind of backup kind of backup you carefully store inside a locker and don't touch for years.
And here is your mistake. NAND cells discharge over time and in case of MLC, TLC, QLC it becomes hard to distinguish actual data within the cell as basically it's stored in analog voltage levels. For long term storage you need SLC flash, or one which is rewritten from time to time (decent SSD do this automatically). Type of error correction used and if it can adjust to diminishing voltage levels matters a lot too. I have even worse, Patriot 64GB SD card purchased about 10 years ago which starts corrupting the data after about 1.5 years.

Yup, precisely the point, lesson learned  :D
 

Offline DiTBho

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #6 on: April 11, 2022, 08:06:40 am »
However, the GPS-watch Garmin 7X Sapphire Solar costs 1000 Euros, and guess what? Its flash is NAND cell, so you can have it with a sapphire-glass that will last 100 years and a titanium ferrule that will last even more years, but its flash, the flash that stores its firmware ... will go crazy in 10 years.

Would you still buy it now that you know how things are?

The same applies to the most of the routers I have here: the firmware is hosted in a mini USB-stick plugged to a hidden port (not accessible until you open the plastic case), or NAND-flash chips.

All things that will go crazy in 10 years.

Certain products should really use SLC-flash. Are there any SLC-flash USB-sticks?
 

Online magic

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #7 on: April 11, 2022, 09:19:21 am »
I have a USB stick which works normally until I put a writable Linux root filesystem on it - then it randomly loses data, replacing blocks in the middle of files with 0xFF.

I suspect some controller firmware bug ::)

Other than that, yes, all flash media are fairly unreliable. And when they fail, they may easily take all data with them, not just a sector or two.
 

Offline DiTBho

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #8 on: April 11, 2022, 09:35:04 am »
Yup, and if the damage is located in the first block ... bye bye partition-table  :o :o :o
 

Offline DiTBho

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #9 on: April 11, 2022, 09:36:58 am »
Code: [Select]
dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/null
30266496+0 records in
30266496+0 records out
15496445952 bytes (15 GB) copied, 1022.07 s, 15.2 MB/s

this usb-pendrive is still alive, but it's only a temporary state you shouldn't trust for the future ;D
 

Offline evb149

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #10 on: April 11, 2022, 10:03:47 am »
The flash drives might conceivably be made more intelligent about long term storage.

For instance IIRC it is possible and commonly done for SLCs to dedicate some MLC space to be used as if it was SLC so it can be used more rapidly as a cache or something.

So if you have OS / driver support to tell the USB storage device what blocks are free and the USB device knows that only under 25% of capacity is presently used it could even encode QLC cells as SLC and discriminate that as a region and then only if that fills up it can start storing 2-LC, 4-LC whatever.  Or adding enough parity in unused areas etc. etc.

 
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Offline david77

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #11 on: April 11, 2022, 10:16:37 am »
Why would you ever think a USB stick is suitable for any kind of long term data storage?  :-//
 
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Offline golden_labels

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #12 on: April 11, 2022, 10:23:48 am »
You are totally right, but… that shouldn’t come as a surprise. USB sticks were always disposable transfer storage Their purpose is to carry data between devices and that’s all. Similar to (Micro-)SD cards nowadays.

Vendors were conveniently (for themselves) silent about it, profiting on whatever assumptions customers might’ve came up with. So I do not blame anyone, who did not realize this. But low capacity is already a hint it’s not a long-term storage. And anyone using them frequently would know it’s a expected for them to die rather quickly.

They can still be utilized for backup in specific cases, though. Backup of the most important personal data. That’s a dozen megabytes, which can be appended monthly to a bunch of cheap USB sticks. Chances of more than one of them failing at the same time are low enough, but you have multiple copies that can be kept cheaply and effortlessly spread physically.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2022, 10:29:59 am by golden_labels »
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Offline Someone

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #13 on: April 11, 2022, 10:24:59 am »
This has always been a trade off in data storage from the "floppy" days. Do you want more space, or more robust storage? Keep extending the ECC/forward error correction:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Error_correction_code
in theory you can make it as robust as you want. But thats all set down at the controller level, so you have to buy something suitable rather than configure it.
 

Offline golden_labels

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #14 on: April 11, 2022, 10:45:08 am »
ECC is a normal part of data encoding on all commonly used storage media nowdays. I stress “part of data encoding”. It’s no longer a mechanism to secure data against a malfunction, but an inherent part of how the signal is stored. That’s how we can both utilize media otherwise unsuitable for reliable data storage and push the limits of data density. I would say that for optical disks read errors are a normal mode of operation.

And ECC would be of minimal help in this case. USB sticks usually either work or become completely dead. Parchive may be useful for media that may experience partial data loss, while the access is retained. Optical media are one of the examples: unless deformed, making them unreadable requires more effort than most people imagine.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2022, 10:52:48 am by golden_labels »
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Offline DiTBho

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #15 on: April 11, 2022, 10:47:18 am »
Code: [Select]
end_request: I/O error, dev sda, sector 5652192
quiet_error: 51 callbacks suppressed
Buffer I/O error on device sda, logical block 5652192
Buffer I/O error on device sda, logical block 5652193
Buffer I/O error on device sda, logical block 5652194
Buffer I/O error on device sda, logical block 5652195
Buffer I/O error on device sda, logical block 5652196
Buffer I/O error on device sda, logical block 5652197
Buffer I/O error on device sda, logical block 5652198
Buffer I/O error on device sda, logical block 5652199
Buffer I/O error on device sda, logical block 5652200
Buffer I/O error on device sda, logical block 5652201
sd 4:0:0:0: [sda] Unhandled error code
sd 4:0:0:0: [sda]  Result: hostbyte=0x01 driverbyte=0x00
sd 4:0:0:0: [sda] CDB: cdb[0]=0x28: 28 00 00 56 3f d0 00 00 10 00
end_request: I/O error, dev sda, sector 5652432
usb 1-1: new high speed USB device number 7 using ehci_hcd
usb 1-1: device descriptor read/64, error -110
usb 1-1: device descriptor read/64, error -110
usb 1-1: new high speed USB device number 8 using ehci_hcd
usb 1-1: device descriptor read/64, error -110
usb 1-1: device descriptor read/64, error -110
usb 1-1: new high speed USB device number 9 using ehci_hcd
usb 1-1: device descriptor read/8, error -110
usb 1-1: device descriptor read/8, error -110
usb 1-1: new high speed USB device number 10 using ehci_hcd
usb 1-1: device descriptor read/8, error -110
usb 1-1: device descriptor read/8, error -110
hub 1-0:1.0: unable to enumerate USB device on port 1
usb 3-1: new full speed USB device number 2 using ohci_hcd
usb 3-1: device descriptor read/64, error -110
usb 3-1: device descriptor read/64, error -110
usb 3-1: new full speed USB device number 3 using ohci_hcd
usb 3-1: device descriptor read/64, error -110
usb 3-1: device descriptor read/64, error -110
usb 3-1: new full speed USB device number 4 using ohci_hcd
usb 3-1: device descriptor read/8, error -110
usb 3-1: device descriptor read/8, error -110
usb 3-1: new full speed USB device number 5 using ohci_hcd
usb 3-1: device descriptor read/8, error -110
usb 3-1: device descriptor read/8, error -110
hub 3-0:1.0: unable to enumerate USB device on port 1

booooom, found a third usb-pendrive with dead blocks  :o :o :o
 

Offline DiTBho

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #16 on: April 11, 2022, 11:01:05 am »
The last defective one USB-stick was included in a MIPS64r2 Cavium Octeon router with 512 MB of RAM, which uses a removable USB pendrive for storage(1).

Code: [Select]
Bus 002 Device 012: ID 13fe:3e00 Kingston Technology Company Inc. Flash Drive

Dead after 5 years from the purchase of my EdgeRouter Lite ERLite-3.

It's not a problem, I have a backup, just ... first I have to find where the router is located - on which floor? and on which corner of the lab? and under which heavy equipment?!? - ... access the router, and replace the pendrive.

bug life  :o :o :o :o


edit:
(1) the pendrive contained a copy of the rootfs, but was never mounted rw, the rootfs was always loaded from the pendrive into the ram and executed in ram, therefore, here it is a another example of flash that dies not because it consumes its writing-cycles but rather only because NAND-flash-cells age.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2022, 11:08:22 am by DiTBho »
 

Offline Someone

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #17 on: April 11, 2022, 12:50:52 pm »
And ECC would be of minimal help in this case. USB sticks usually either work or become completely dead.
Not my experience at all, having "ancient" (20+ years old) flash drives sitting around here that still work perfectly, and have been able to hold data for 10+ years ok. The only complete failures I have seen with flash storage has been mechanical failure of the connector/enclosure/board. On the other hand, files (and occasionally file systems) do go corrupt with annoying regularity. They would be protected with better ECC codes, that file corruption failure mode is a trade-off between space/performance and reliability.

(1) the pendrive contained a copy of the rootfs, but was never mounted rw, the rootfs was always loaded from the pendrive into the ram and executed in ram, therefore, here it is a another example of flash that dies not because it consumes its writing-cycles but rather only because NAND-flash-cells age.
Yep, it happens. Hence "high" reliability systems reading through the (duplicate/ECC diverse) flash and refreshing/moving the data to maintain life.
 
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Offline evb149

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #18 on: April 12, 2022, 01:57:31 am »
But even for USB sticks and SD/MicroSD cards it is getting rather ridiculous wrt. the data integrity risks.

It is pretty common to have terabyte sized USB / SD cards these days. 
Even the faster ones of those might take several hours to actually write or read the whole contents of the drive due to I/O
bandwidth.

About the same deal with SSDs or mechanical hard drives -- something like 12-24 hours of full speed access just to do a
write cycle or "long/full" mode self test.  Not much better to do a full read-back.

And a terabyte is probably:
* a good fraction of what a person might create in their entire life certainly in terms of writing, speech, and not unlikely a combination of photographs and modest amounts of videos.  Sure one can go crazy making 4K UHD videos and blow through that quickly but that's about the only thing that makes terabytes not look massive from a personal standpoint.

* Very possibly more than the amount of text / music / photographs one is likely to be able to have time and interest to view / read over a good chunk of one's life time.   In fact I wonder in what year it was that the entirety of human created texts ceased to be able to fit in character encoded compressed form in 1TB.

So even that $100 SD card / USB drive is really something not unlike one's personal "library", "archive", "memories, memoirs".

That little drive or phone or whatever breaks and maybe one loses a life time of work.

Yes it is ridiculous to think that someone would not protect a month, year, decade, or life time of work / irreplaceable memories better than to store it on a little drive or two, but that's only because of the absurdity of this ephemeral "throw away / disposable" culture we have created.

In early times some people wanted to create libraries and records of their thoughts and accomplishments and art and memories they'd make cuneiform tablets or papyrus scrolls or heiroglyphs / pictographs or use a printing press.

We're really doing pretty pathetic today for 10,000 years of devolution when the texts and clay tablets and cave paintings of our ancestors from 4000-10,000 years past are often outliving our own "yeah I made that awesome video last year, but my DVD / SD / USB broke and I lost it all" creations that are overwhelmingly likely to be completely unreadable / corrupted / incompatible with the trendy interface / file format / storage medium of the decade within a year or a few.

How common is it to even be able to play records if one gets one?  CDs?  DVDs? Floppy discs?  Blue Rays?  VHS?  Beta?  DAT tapes?  The list is infinite.  This civilization creates data by the exabyte but it is all ephemeral nothing since almost zero thought and zero effort goes into making anything that LASTS even a decade before the created art / prose / memories, too, are ephemerally lost.

What is so strange of a concept to think that people deserve to have personal libraries / archives which actually will last a life time
preserving whatever their memory / art / wisdom / experience is?  Why is that almost alien and elite and uncommon of a concept and practice?

The "cloud" or "web" sure isn't a solution.  I can't count the number of sites / services that have vanished overnight taking with it the whole creative "user generated content" of millions of person-years of effort / creativity.

So we're creating storage devices / formats / memes that mimic the overall "throw away" culture we have so if in 10,000 years some archaeologist was to study the past they'd stand a better chance of finding cave paintings and cuneiform intact than most anything from 2022.

Amazing.
 
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Offline cdev

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #19 on: April 12, 2022, 02:06:46 am »
Cuneiform documents are incredibly long lived, giving us amazing levels of detail on what was happening in the Middle East, say, 5000 years ago.

Do you know what I mean? Ive been getting into history a lot recently and its endlessly fascinating. 
"What the large print giveth, the small print taketh away."
 
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Offline golden_labels

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #20 on: April 12, 2022, 02:59:40 am »
Not my experience at all, having "ancient" (20+ years old) flash drives sitting around here that still work perfectly, and have been able to hold data for 10+ years ok.
I am surprised. Not even by the mention of failure modes, but that they survived 20 years. Were they actually used in that period? Because, from what I observed, they die within months to years of active use. Twenty years for an USB stick sounds incredible. And I am saying that as a person, whose main HDD has so many hours on its clock, that timestamps in the SMART test log wrapped around.

Cuneiform documents are incredibly long lived, giving us amazing levels of detail on what was happening in the Middle East, say, 5000 years ago.
A the cost of having extremely low information density and bandwidth!  ;)
« Last Edit: April 12, 2022, 03:02:28 am by golden_labels »
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Offline twospoons

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #21 on: April 12, 2022, 03:25:15 am »
To be fair, when you think about what a flash memory cell actually is, its pretty incredible it works at all. We're talking femtoFarad capacitors holding a few thousand electrons for years!
 
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Offline nigelwright7557

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #22 on: April 12, 2022, 03:39:18 am »
If you buy a decent make they work ok. I use Lexar and never had a problem with them.
I found some of the cheap Chinese drives dont work well.
 

Online Berni

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #23 on: April 12, 2022, 06:43:57 am »
All NAND flash cells eventually loose charge and cause bit rot, even SLC ones. So flash is fundamentally unsuitable for archival storage.

Optical media is a bit better but still has bitrot issues. The marks on a CD-R can fade over time much like a thermal paper printout while the aluminum of factory stamped CDs can sometimes start corroding away if given just the right conditions.

Magnetic storage tends to be the most resilient to degradation. Even today data centers use magnetic tape cartridges for storing the worst case scenario backups. The modern tapes can hold many TB per cartridge, but are too niche for home use. For home use the only magnetic format remaining is a hard drive. Those work pretty well since hard drives have pretty long lifespans.

But ultimately data archival is a process not just a task. Resources have to be put in to regularly make and verify backups.
 
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Offline david77

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Re: let's face it: usb-sticks are not reliable
« Reply #24 on: April 12, 2022, 07:53:57 am »
I get laughed at when people see I still use DLT for backing up my important data like projects, personal data and images.
 


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