Pros and Cons of Discs and USBs: Why There’s Room For Both

By · Monday, August 9th, 2010

Pros and Cons of Discs versus USBsCurrent technology fosters our society’s insatiable demand for more and more digital information and distribution.  Additionally, there’s a matching desire to retain and store that content.  Optical media and flash memory are two primary storage devices competing in the market to hold your audio, video and other digital files.  Strengths and weaknesses can be argued for both formats; however they each have special purposes that solidify their future use in digital content storage.  Moreover, their comparisons reveal that contrary to popular belief, optical media can still remain strong.

As you may already know optical media consists of small circular discs encoded with binary data that’s interpreted as audio, video, images or files by a hardware drive’s laser—it includes your CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays.  Discs rely on the moving parts of a drive in order to function.  CDs have a 700 megabyte storage capacity, recordable DVDs hold 4.7 or 8.5 gigabytes and Blu-ray generally holds 25 to 50 gigabytes.

A comparable type of flash memory to a disc is the USB drive.  A USB is considered a plug-and-play storage system with no moving parts that weighs less than an ounce and is connected to a computer’s USB port to retrieve, transfer or hold digital files.  Storage capacity for retail USBs can range anywhere from 16 megabytes to 32 gigabytes.  In some rarer cases, there are 128 and 256 gigabyte drives on the market.  Now, let’s consider what discs can offer versus USBs.

Advantages of Optical Media:

–  The cost.  Even as USBs gain popularity and become less expensive, CDs, DVDs and eventually Blu-ray will always be more cost-effective based on current and forecasted prices.  CDs and DVDs can be purchased for approximately 15 to 35 cents per disc, so a pack of 100 discs will cost you less than $35.  This translates to more gigabytes per dollar compared with USBs, which start at approximately $1.75 per gig.  Even the cost to recover lost or damaged data from a disc is less than recovery from a USB.

–  The security.  Today’s discs are designed with or can be subsequently authored with password and other security encryption to protect sensitive or copyrighted data.  Most USB flash drives have a weakness in leaving data easily prone to exposure and copying.

–  Less prone to data loss and virus attacks.  Discs employ a drive’s laser to read and write data.  USBs however, are vulnerable to what’s stored on the computer it’s connected to.  Many flash drives are made without write-protection, so data can be more easily lost or corrupted by a virus.

–  More visibility.  It’s easier for consumers to keep track of a disc just less than 5 inches in diameter as opposed to a thumb-sized USB.

Advantages of USB Drives:

–  Portability.  The same feature that can work against flash drives also works in favor of them.  They can fit in your pocket easily and you can store a larger quantity of them within a smaller space compared to a CD, DVD or Blu-ray.

–  Small carbon footprint.  Since a USB requires no moving parts, it requires less power to operate than a disc that needs a computer drive, player or recorder to operate.

–  More selection in storage capacity.  Put a few large Word documents and pictures on a 16 megabyte drive, or store videos on a 32 gigabyte thumb drive.  1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB and 16 GB are other popular USB sizes.

– Ease of use.  A USB drive is truly a plug-and-play device that doesn’t require additional software to store data, whereas discs may require burning or authoring programs.

Both discs and USBs can be susceptible to wear and tear, but in different ways.  While discs endure scratches, dust and fingerprints, a flash drive’s metallic retractable plug can be easily bent from repeated connections into computer ports.

In conclusion, there’s room for both discs and thumb drives in the media storage and technology market.  It boils down to weighing what’s important to you in storing data, but one point is clear:  CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays are not outdated.  While USB flash drives may have their own modern innovation and adaptability, discs have anchored a strong place in the daily applications of consumers like you for their cost, security and legacy.

You can play the pro and con game too.  Come up with benefits and disadvantages of each storage device in our comment section.


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