All you need to know about USB sticks (and how much stuff you can put on them)

We’ve probably all got a USB stick somewhere, stuck in the back of a drawer, in a shoebox or in an old Quality Street box with fifty biros and other miscellaneous objects… But what do you REALLY know about them, other than you ‘save stuff’ on ‘em?

What exactly IS a memory stick?

A memory stick is probably the most common name for this device, but it can also be known as a USB flash drive, a thumb drive, jump drive, pen drive and USB memory stick. It’s a small device which is used to save information on a tiny flash memory chip. They’re smaller than the average storage disc, and some are smaller than the size of a thumb. Whatever the name you know them by, they can all be connected to any computer via their USB port.

What’s the difference Between a USB 2.0 and a 3.0 Flash Drive?

It’s easy to see how people begin to get a bit confused once these variations start being mentioned. OK, let’s take this slowly. Firstly, we know that the USB port is how your memory stick and computer communicate – the USB stick has your files and different types of things on, such as music and video etc. Variations of memory stick such as: USB 2.0 flash drive, USB 3.0 flash drive, USB 3.1 flash drive, and 3.2 drive all do the same job, it’s just that they have different storage capacities, speeds and prices. Let’s take a close look at the differences.

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USB 3.1 and 3.2 ports

These are the fastest available, with write-and-read speeds of up to 1250 MB/sec and 2500 MB/sec, respectively. So, these are really fast!

USB 3.0 flash drives

Most people probably know that a USB 3.0 flash drive is faster and more capable than a USB 2.0

3.0 flash drive can deal with data at the speed of 625 MB/sec. Because this version is so fast and efficient at transferring data etc, this is the popular choice.

USB 2.0 flash drive

This is the standard memory stick. The transfer rate of the USB 2.0 interface can only reach up to 60 MB/sec. It’s common on most computers and still does a good job.

Can a USB 2.0 be used in a 3.0 port?

Yes, it definitely can. You can insert your 3.0 flash drive on a USB 2.0 port but it just won’t operate at the maximum speed.

How much can you store on a USB stick?

The quality of the files you upload onto your memory stick will dictate how much multimedia can be saved on your memory stick. Sorry for the ‘boring’ answer!

The amount of multimedia that can be saved on your USB stick really depends on the quality of the files that are being uploaded. A good example of this would be your regular 90-minute movie. A DVD ripped film or pirated download could be around 700mb in size – as an average. A standard quality film from iTunes will be around double that size, approx. 1.5GB and a HD 1080p film download from iTunes can be as large as 5GB.
This is why answering the question, “How many films can I fit on my USB Stick?” or “How many songs can I fit on my USB stick?” is so difficult. A quick search online will bring back a wide range of answers. It’s a minefield out there!

The best way to explain the possibilities is to show a breakdown in terms of quality of film. So, a 4GB USB Stick will hold approximately 3.8GB of data as the other 0.2GB is needed to store the firmware needed for the operations to run.

Low Resolution

If we look at your average ripped .avi or .mpeg film, which is approximately 700mb for a 90min feature-length film, your 4GB stick would hold approximately 5 full movies.

High Resolution

If you were downloading SD films from iTunes, you would fit 2.5 movies on a 4GB USB Stick.

Looking at other multimedia, you would be able to fit approximately 900 songs or 1,900 photographs which is impressive going for a promotional memory stick with only a small to medium sized memory capacity. Take a look at our guide below.

*For the graphic above, we’ve taken the average photo size to be 2MB, the average MP3 size as 4MB and the average video size as 500MB. If the MB sizes are larger, then you won’t be able save as much / as many.

There are a lot of stories online regarding USB sticks – some true, some not so true! Here are a few typical questions we’ve been asked…

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You don’t need to Safely Remove – or eject – a USB Stick.

False, technically…

If you’re copying data to the USB Stick, it could corrupt files that are transferring to it. But this is the really important bit: USB Drives typically use a thing called FAT32 to store their data, this is so the drive will work on both Macs and PCs. 99% of the time when you don’t safely eject, everything is fine, but there’s a special part of the drive that stores where all the files on your drive are, if this gets corrupted (by unplugging it at just the wrong moment), all your data will be lost. So, makes sure you’re not in the middle of anything when you remove your USB stick, or you could pay the price.

USB Sticks have no moving parts, so they can’t break.


Many USB Sticks fail, sometimes it’s quite sudden and your drive will simply just stop working. There’s nothing you can do to save the data. If you’re really lucky and have the cash, you could get a professional to try to recover the data – although that could be very costly.

If you notice your USB Stick doing something odd like not being recognised by the computer or suddenly dropping out and not working until you unplug/re-plug it in, stop using it and buy a new one.
If you have important work you need to save, email it to yourself at regular intervals to be extra safe.

USB Sticks won’t survive a stint in the washing machine


In the majority of cases, they’ll be completely fine… As long as you let it dry out for a few days before trying to use it again! Don’t even think about plugging it in until it’s completely 100% dry, inside and out – or you’ll lose everything. If you’ve got some silica gel (those little anti moisture packets which sometimes come in product packaging), put your USB stick in an air-tight container along with it and leave it for a few days. Rice also works. And just in case you were wondering: yes, you can buy waterproof USB sticks!

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