What is a USB Mass Storage Device?

R. Kayne

A USB device is any electronic gadget that interfaces with a computer through the Universal Serial Bus (USB) port. If this gadget or device has the ability to store massive amounts of data, it is handled by computer operating systems as a USB mass storage device. Some examples include memory sticks or thumb drives, digital cameras, flash cards, MP3 players and external CD/DVD players.

USB thumb drive.
USB thumb drive.

The computer can recognize and interoperate with USB devices thanks to a set of protocols developed by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), a non-profit organization dedicated to the development and maintenance of USB standards. These communication protocols are bundled together as the USB mass storage device class. Members of the USB-IF include Microsoft® and Apple® among others, making USB standards universal rather than proprietary. A Macintosh® computer will detect a USB device in the same way a PC computer will so that your memory stick or other external USB device will work with all computers, regardless of make or operating system.

USB cables are used to connect devices -- such as printers, keyboards and music players -- to computers.
USB cables are used to connect devices -- such as printers, keyboards and music players -- to computers.

Thanks to these protocols, many devices can use the USB port for plug-and-play functionality adding considerable value to the system. It’s nearly impossible to imagine living without some of the USB mass storage devices we’ve become so accustomed to using, including external hard drives and personal digital assistants that combine palmtop computers with cellular phone service. This class of protocols can also recognize some newer cell phones, though most phones require proprietary USB drivers.

Devices that utilizes USB 3.0 technology can be as fast as 5,000 mbps.
Devices that utilizes USB 3.0 technology can be as fast as 5,000 mbps.

Data transfer rates for USB-connected devices have improved over the years. The first standard, USB 1.0 operates at 1.2 Megabits per second (mbps) and is still used for USB keyboards, mice and joysticks because of their low requirements. Other devices, like memory sticks, used the USB 1.1 protocol that operated at 12 mbps. USB 1.1 was replaced by USB 2.0, which bumped up speeds to 480 mbps. USB 3.0 is the newest standard with a data transfer rate some ten times faster at 5,000 mbps (5 Gigabits/sec).

USB 3.0 is bound to make the USB mass storage device even more popular, if that’s possible. USB devices are purportedly the most successful and ubiquitous devices of our time. The 3.0 data transfer rate will drastically reduce backup time to external drives and multimedia file transfers between digital movie cameras, flash cards and other storage media. If in the market for a USB device, check for 3.0 compatibility before purchasing.

Newer cell phones might have the capability to be used as a USB storage device.
Newer cell phones might have the capability to be used as a USB storage device.

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Discussion Comments

Wisedly33

@Scrbblchick -- I know what you mean. A standard smartphone has enough computing power to fly the Space Shuttle. There's a thought for you!

I thought nothing could beat the CD, and then they came out with re-writeable CDs. Only you had to have a special program to "burn" the CDs. Now, of course, it's drag and drop. And then there were DVDs, and re-writeable DVDs. Now we have thumb drives that have 100 GB capacity. Oh, to have had one when I had my old computer and needed to back it up to something besides a bunch of 3-inch floppies! Of course, I remember when having a 10 GB hard drive was a big deal. Now my laptop carries 456 GB. I'll never use all that space.

Scrbblchick

My favorite USB mass storage device is definitely the thumb drive. They are so compact, so portable, so easy to use. It's the best of all worlds when you think about storage devices.

I remember back in the Dark Ages, when computer information could be stored on a cassette, then the five-inch floppy disk, then the 3-inch floppy, then the CD and ZIP drives, and now thumb drives. It's really unreal how far technology has come in the last 20 years. I always find myself a little astonished at the speed of advancement where computers are concerned. When I graduated from high school, a Commodore 64 computer was a *big* deal. Now, well... It's simply unbelievable.

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