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Archive for February 6th, 2018

by Tom Nelson

Do you have a few USB flash drives lying around? Chances are you have at least a couple, or maybe even a small drawer full of them. In my case, I have about a half dozen, with no specific use assigned to them. That means I have a source of flash drives for trying out a few unusual uses for these handy take anywhere storage devices.

Image courtesy of MacSales.com

There are lots of uses for flash drives, including using them as an easy way to copy files between computers, as intermediate storage for photos, music, and videos, and what may be a primary use this time of year, sending tax return data to and from your tax preparer.

But those are more mundane uses. In this article, we’re going to take a look at four more interesting uses for flash drives you’re currently not using.

RAID 0 Security Array
A USB flash drive can make a surprisingly versatile and reasonably fast Striped RAID array (RAID 0). All that’s needed is a powered USB hub with enough ports to accommodate the flash drives you’re going to connect. The speed you can get out of a USB flash RAID 0 array is based on three factors: the number of flash drives you use, the speed of the flash drives, and the speed of the USB interfaces.

You can use flash drives to create a small but reasonably fast striped RAID array. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Assuming you’re using USB 3.1 gen 1 ports, hubs, and flash drives, the maximum theoretical speed is 5 Gbps, which you’re not likely to ever actually see, but it does set an upper limit. In actual use, the flash-based RAID array is going to be limited chiefly by the write and read speeds of the USB flash drives. Some of the fastest flash drives available can have write speeds a bit better than 150 MB/s, and read speeds coming close to 200 MB/s. However, most USB 3.1 flash drives have much more modest write and read speeds, with sub 25 MB/s write speeds and sub 100 MB/s read speeds being a bit more typical.

Even with the slower flash drives, if you put enough of them together, you can get pretty surprising write and read performance out of them in a RAID configuration.

To build the USB flash drive RAID array, plug as many flash drives as you have on hand into a USB hub. It’s best if the flash drives are the same size, speed and manufacturer, but it’s not a requirement.

You can use the RAID Assistant built in to all versions of the Mac OS (except OS X El Capitan), or you can use SoftRAID or SoftRAID Lite to create the RAID 0 array.

Even this modest three flash drive RAID set achieved write speeds of 70 MB/s and read speeds of 240 MB/s. Not bad for scrounging together some leftover parts. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

You can use your USB flash-based RAID array for just about anything you would use a normal external RAID for, but these two uses may be of interest:

As an old-fashioned secure data storage system: Data stored on the flash array is effectively divided between the flash drives that make up the array. Split those drives apart and store them separately and the data on them can’t be reconstructed. Bring all of the flash drives back together and you can access the information they contain. For even more security, you can encrypt the array using the FileVault encryption options built into your Mac.

As a fast array for scratch space for graphics, audio, or video apps: Be a bit careful here, because if you’re using low-cost flash drives, the write speed may be a bit low for this type of use. On the other hand, the read speed is probably quite good.

As with any RAID 0 storage system, there’s a danger of data loss should one of the drives fail or is lost, so be sure to use a backup system if you plan to use this RAID array beyond just trying out the idea.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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