How much does a USB stick cost these days?

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And what can you really do with them?

I am not an expert on consumer technology. I stay a few miles behind the cutting edge where I can pick up the orts at a discount, and most stuff works. Last time I checked, newer (faster, bigger, whatever-er) versions of technology cost more per unit (of speed, size, whatever) than would be predicted by examination of price/unit relationships for lower (and thus older) values. Some have incorrectly claimed this to be a logarithmic relationship, but clearly it is more often a linear relationship between cost and amount up to some point, then the prices are jacked at the higher end. This allows people who will buy anything no matter how outrageously expensive it is to fund the development of the widgets and doohickeys we all love.

Strangely, USB prices do not follow this trend. As of this writing, all USB units are the same price per gig (with variation) except one USB stick, at the highest end, which has the lowest price per gig of them all. But it’s on sale, so that may not count.

In the mean time, I’ve been wondering how much of my digital life I can get on a thumb drive. It turns out, all of it on one thumb drive, if I don’t count the archive of NEF photo files and music. The NEF photo files would need one more drive, the music half of another. If, that is, all three drives were 32 gigabytes in size.

Now, stop and think about that for a while. How many Voyager II’s would be required to hold that much data? How many cubic kilometers of old fashioned “drum” storage would equal the largest currently available thumb drive? Well, I went to look up some stuff so I could come up with a fun fact for this blog post, and came across a couple of … interesting facts.

The first fact is that the Internet is borked as far as actually knowing anything. Well, the Internet knows a lot of stuff, but it has a lot wrong as well. In this case, consider the following statement from some web site on the history of mass storage: 1963: IBM introduced the first storage unit with removable disks (IBM 1311), effectively ending the era of the punched-cards.

From this we know that after 1963, punch cards would be very rarely used. Perhaps in 1964 a lot of people still used them, then in 1965 fewer, 1966 even fewer, and so on. Certainly, if the “era of punch-cards” effectively “ended” in 1964, then by 1974, a decade later when I spent weeks and weeks of time with a large crew of people putting all of our data on punch cards to use it in one of the state of the art computing facilities in North America, we must have gone through some kind of time machine, because, well, there couldn’t have been any punch cards at that point in time.

Silly Internet.

Another site tells us that the first hard drive was the IBM RAMAC 305. But it wasn’t. The RAMAC 305 was a computer that used the first hard disk drive, which was the IBM 350. (Again, silly Internet.)

The first hard drive, the IBM 350 associated with the IBM 305 RAMAC computer, held five million bytes and took up 1.934X10-9 cubic kilometers of space. So, it would take six thousand four hundred of these babies to equal the storage in one USB stick, if I got the largest USB stick available at Putting it another way, 50 megs of storage used to take up about 66 cubic feet. By those standards, 32 gigs would take up about 42,500 cubic feet. That’s ten semi-trucks.

I could have the math wrong, but you are free to check. Oh, by the way, the old data storage standard was 8 bits. We’re going to need some more trucks…

Anyway, it turns out that the current price of a USB is about two bucks a gig, based on several data points I cribbed from


So a 4 gig stick costs about 8 bucks. The prices for the lower end sticks varies a lot because many of them have gimmicks, like they can survive being washed in the laundry, or they look like a penguin, or whatever. So the apparent maximum size as of this writing is 32 gigs, and that costs about 70 bucks.

However, I did see one stick on sale for about 32 bucks for 32 gigs. Is this the future? Will I be able to implement my plan to get everything on three sticks for less than 100 dollars?

The stick was on sale from a vendor I’ve never heard of, and it is the only one in the world (or so it seems) so I’m not going to buy that one. I’m sticking with the herd for now. I figure this signals a price shift happening at the top end. I expect/hope all USB storage media to shift to one dollar a gig sometime over the next (your guess is as good as mine).

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2 thoughts on “How much does a USB stick cost these days?

  1. For what it’s worth, my latest purchase of a USB stick (aka flash drive, aka thumb drive) was a Patriot Blitz USB 3.0 128GB drive (a discontinued model.) I bought it on eBay, and it set me back about $40.

    This is of course nonrepresentative, because the newer models of the same size I see are listed for lower prices.

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