Can I use a flash drive instead of an SSD?

Computer users have two main options when it comes to internal storage devices – flash drives (also known as USB drives) and solid-state drives (SSDs). Flash drives connect externally via USB ports and are typically used for portable file storage and transfer. SSDs connect internally using SATA ports and function as the primary storage drive. While flash drives offer convenience and portability, SSDs are designed for reliability, speed, and performance as a computer’s internal hard drive. This article provides an overview of the key differences between flash drives and SSDs in factors like speed, capacity, cost, reliability, and use cases.

Speed Differences

SSDs are significantly faster than flash drives when it comes to read and write speeds. An average SATA SSD has read speeds around 500-550 MB/s and write speeds of 350-520 MB/s, with high-end NVMe SSDs reaching over 5000 MB/s read and 4000 MB/s write speeds (1). In comparison, a USB 2.0 flash drive maxes out at around 30 MB/s read and 20 MB/s write, while a USB 3.0 flash drive can reach 150 MB/s read and 70 MB/s write (2). The latest USB 3.2 standard has increased speeds up to 1000 MB/s but most flash drives still lag far behind SSDs.

This speed difference is because SSDs use NAND flash memory chips connected via a high-speed interface like SATA or PCIe. Flash drives use a simple USB interface and cheap NAND flash chips. The SSD controller also plays a major role in boosting performance through caching and parallelization. So while the underlying NAND flash technology is similar, SSDs have much greater bandwidth potential.

For tasks like transferring files, booting an OS, or loading programs, an SSD can be over 10x faster than a flash drive. The performance gap is smaller for sequential reads/writes of very large files. But for typical consumer workloads, SSDs handily outperform flash drives when it comes to speed (3).






Flash drives generally have shorter lifespans and higher failure rates compared to SSDs. According to one source, SSDs are more durable than flash drives in harsh environments because they don’t have moving parts like actuator arms. Flash drives use NAND flash memory which can wear out after around 10,000-100,000 write/erase cycles. SSDs also use NAND flash but have better controllers to manage wear leveling and bad block management. One study by Backblaze found SSDs had an annual failure rate of 1.5% compared to 2.2% for flash drives.

In terms of lifespan, SSDs can last around 5-10 years with average usage. High-end SSDs boast lifespans up to 2 million hours. In contrast, most flash drives last 3-5 years, with cheaper models lasting only 1-2 years. Heavy usage like constant writing/rewriting will degrade both SSDs and flash drives faster. Overall, SSDs are designed for more frequent use and have redundancies that make them far more reliable for long-term storage versus flash drives.


Flash drives generally have much lower capacity compared to SSDs. The largest commercially available flash drives tend to max out at 2TB, while SSDs can offer capacities up to 8TB for consumer models and even higher for enterprise use.

According to The Quick Differences Between Flash vs. SSD Storage, SSDs start at 120GB and can go up to 8TB for consumers, while the available capacity for flash drives ranges from 2GB to 256GB.[1]

As USB Memory Direct notes, the limited storage space on flash drives makes them impractical for large file storage, system backups, or running an operating system. SSDs are better suited for those use cases requiring substantial capacity.[2]

In summary, SSDs offer vastly greater storage capacity compared to flash drives, with consumer models reaching up to 8TB versus just 2TB maximum for flash drives.


When it comes to price per gigabyte (GB), flash drives are generally cheaper than SSDs of equivalent capacity. According to Computer Weekly, as of October 2023, the average price per GB for a flash drive is around $0.075. In comparison, SSDs tend to range from $0.20 to $0.40 per GB depending on factors like form factor and performance level.

This price difference stems largely from differences in performance and build quality. SSDs boast faster read/write speeds, higher durability with features like error correction, and more reliable controllers. Flash drives cut costs by using cheaper NAND flash memory chips and controllers. For general everyday storage and transfer of files, a flash drive gets the job done at a lower price point. But for applications requiring sustained performance like operating systems or games, SSDs provide much better speed and reliability per dollar spent.

So in summary, if sheer capacity per dollar is the priority, flash drives are generally more cost-effective. But SSDs deliver far better performance and durability for just a slightly higher price per GB.


In most speed tests, SSDs significantly outperform flash drives. For example, one test by Minh Pham compared the speed of an SSD, eMMC drive, flash drive, and SD card across a variety of benchmarks like sequential read/write speeds and 4K random read/write speeds. The SSD had sequential read/write speeds over 500 MB/s while the flash drive maxed out around 150 MB/s for sequential reads and 50 MB/s for sequential writes [1]. On 4K random read/write tests which simulate real-world usage, the SSD achieved 30-40 MB/s while the flash drive managed under 1 MB/s.

This speed advantage translates into much faster real-world performance and boot times for SSDs. In one video test, a system with an SSD booted Windows 10 in under 20 seconds while an identical system with a flash drive took almost 2 minutes to fully load the OS [2]. The faster seek times and data transfer rates of SSDs result in much snappier system response and improved app/game loading times compared to flash drives.


Flash drives are generally smaller and more portable than portable SSDs. For example, a common size for a flash drive is about 2 inches long and less than 1 inch wide, with thicknesses around 0.4 inches ( On the other hand, portable SSDs are typically at least twice as large as flash drives in each dimension. The Samsung T7 portable SSD, for example, measures 3.3 x 2.2 x 0.3 inches (

The smaller size of flash drives makes them easier to carry around on a keychain or in a pocket. Their compact form factor also allows them to plug directly into a USB port without an adapter cable. Portable SSDs are a bit bulkier and usually come with a cable, adding to their overall carrying size.

However, both flash drives and portable SSDs are highly portable storage options. The lighter weight and smaller size of flash drives gives them an advantage for maximum portability and ease of transfer.


When it comes to encryption and resilience to failure, SSDs tend to be more secure than flash drives. SSDs have built-in encryption capabilities that help protect data in the event the drive is lost or stolen. Many SSDs support AES-256 bit hardware encryption, while flash drives require third party software for encryption. Additionally, SSDs utilize wear leveling techniques that distribute writes across memory cells evenly. This makes SSDs more resilient to failure over time compared to flash drives. If a section of NAND flash memory fails on a flash drive, the drive itself can become corrupted and data may be lost. SSD controllers manage bad memory sectors much better, reducing risk of failure.

According to one expert, “SSDs have more reliable, slower to wear NAND chips and embedded wear levelling controllers in them.” This gives SSDs an advantage for security and longevity over flash drives. However, for optimal security, encrypting and password protecting sensitive data is recommended regardless of the storage medium.

Use Cases

In some cases, a flash drive can be used instead of an SSD. Here are some examples:

General data storage and transfer: Flash drives are well-suited for storing and transporting non-critical files like documents, photos, videos, music, etc. Their small size and plug-and-play functionality make them very portable and convenient. An SSD would be overkill for basic file storage and transfers. Just make sure to back up your flash drive data in case of failure or loss.

Booting lightweight operating systems: Many Linux distributions and other small operating systems can boot and run entirely from a flash drive. This allows you to easily have a portable, customizable OS on hand without needing an SSD installation. Modern versions of Windows generally require more space and hardware integration than a flash drive can provide.

Live boot environments: Tools like bootable antivirus scanners, password reset utilities, disk cloning software, and diagnostic tools often run as live environments from a flash drive. Their minimal storage needs and transient nature make flash drives a handy delivery mechanism. An SSD would not provide any real benefit for these scenarios.

Overall, flash drives work best for lightweight, non-critical, transient storage and boot needs. For intensive applications requiring sustained performance, capacity, and reliability, an SSD remains the better choice.


In summary, while flash drives and SSDs both offer portable storage, they have some key differences. SSDs are significantly faster, more reliable, and higher performance. However, flash drives tend to be cheaper and have higher capacities available.

If speed, reliability and performance are critical, then an SSD is likely the better choice despite the higher cost. For more casual usage where capacity is more important than speed, a flash drive may be sufficient.

Ultimately, it depends on your specific needs and budget. For most everyday users, a flash drive will meet their requirements just fine. But for tasks that demand faster access like gaming or creative work, an SSD is recommended. Consider how you plan to use the storage and choose the option that best aligns with your priorities.