Read This Before You Commit to Buy Printed USB Flash Drives

The growth in the USB Flash Drive market continues unabated. Recent small prices increases (driven by the turmoil in the currency markets) have not been dampened demand and these days it’s unusual to attend a trade show, retail fair, university fresher’s fair, seminar or conference and not come away with at least one promotional USB flash drive!

The popularity of USB flash drives is primarily because they are an excellent way to distribute data, presentation slides, sales brochures, media files and so on whilst at the same time giving the recipient something that is genuinely useful and will therefore promote the brand that is printed on the USB drive beyond the event.

Printed USB Flash Drives

If you’re in the market for printed USB flash drives for your company or school then there are some basic things you need to know and consider before you place your order with any supplier. Buying USB sticks is made all the more difficult because it’s not so much what they look like on the outside that matters but what goes inside the stick when its manufactured and with the growth in the market lots of unscrupulous sellers are making a quick killing by selling sub-standard, fake, or “masked” USB flash drives.

Here’s a quick checklist of things to ask:

Make sure you get Grade A flash memory chips inside the USB drives?

The memory chips inside any USB stick are the key component – they are what the data is stored on and if they fail you will lose you data files. Grade A chips are either branded (Hynix, Samsung etc.) or they are typically made on the same production lines but are OEM chips – both are OK but what you need to avoid are cheaper recycled chips or Grade B memory chips – these are either chips that have failed the QA checks, they are chips where some “sectors” have failed (e.g. they were manufactured as a 1GB but only 600Mb works) or they are flash chips that have been “recovered” from redundant products.

If you end up with anything other than Grade A memory chips you are highly likely to experience a higher failure rate, those flash drives that work will have a short life expectancy and they will typically have a slow read/write speed.

Make sure they are not masked

One of the more dubious tactics some USB flash drives supplies and factories are employing to win business is to “mask” the drives they supply – this is an industry terms for what amounts to fraudulently doctoring the memory to look as though it’s higher than it is.

In a typical scenario the factory will buy flash chips that failed the QA on the production lines because certain “sectors” of the memory chip could were “dead” – the chip (or wafer) did not fail in full just a proportion of it did. What the factory then does is take this partial chip and process it so that it looks OK – as an example they might dress up a 1GB chip with only 600MB of working memory to look like a 1GB again. It’ll look like a 1GB chip when you plug it into any PC but it won’t let you save more than 600MB of data to it. This is “masking” and it’s a practise that is being used more and more in the promotional sector because suppliers think the customers won’t check and they can get away with it!

Our advice is to always check a small sample of your USB flash drives – to do this you need to load data up to the advertised capacity on one PC, remove the USB drive and plug it in another PC – if some of the data is missing on the 2nd PC then you’ve been supplied USB flash drives with “masked” chips inside.

Will the Flash Drives comply with the RoHS regulations?

RoHS is the acronym that stands for the “Restriction of Hazardous Substances” and it applies to thousands of electrical and computer parts and components imported into the EU. USB flash drives have to comply with the RoHS EU Legislation and it is your responsibility to make sure that any you buy are compliant. The fines are significant so ensure you ask the right questions and if you’re uncomfortable with the answers get copies of the RoHS certificates to prove their compliance.

Above all when buying printed USB flash drives don’t just buy them based on the cheapest quote you get unless you have satisfied yourself that you know exactly what you’re buying. Ideally choose a local supplier that has a proven track record of delivery, a supplier that is going to be around if things do go wrong and a supplier you’re a confident can and will deliver on their promises. The USB drives will have your logo or brand on so they need to work or it will reflect badly on you and your company.

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