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Why Do USB Flash Drives Get Hot (And Does it Matter?)

Flash drives are very commonplace nowadays. They’re handy, convenient to use, and can pack a lot of storage. However, these little devices can only take so much power with their tiny size and huge capacities. Sometimes, they tend to overheat even after just a few minutes of use.

If your flash drive is getting hot, it could be due to large file transfers or a physical issue with the drive. It’s normal for a drive to heat up when in use, but if it gets too hot (temps exceeding 45°C/115°F), files can be corrupted. Use an infrared thermometer to measure the heat without touching the drive.

So, is an excessively hot flash drive something to worry about? Can you lose files due to this? To manage your flash drive, you need to know why they get hot, if the heat can damage the flash drive, how to take care of it, and how long they last.

Why Do Flash Drives Get Hot?

USB Flash Drives Isolated on White

While it is perfectly normal for a flash drive to get a bit hot when in use, you should definitely get concerned if the device gets too hot to touch. When buying a flash drive, it’s always best to invest a little more, as a quality flash drive will be able to bring down its transfer speed to avoid overheating.

There are several reasons as to why flash drives get hot:

  • Small file transfers take less time and use less energy. Large file transfers will take longer and use more energy. Multiple file transfers may take a short time, but the energy will be the same as transferring large files. To complete a data transfer onto a flash drive, the internal temperature of the drive increases, releasing more heat through the drive’s exterior.
  • Most USB flash drives contain some metal components. Metal releases heat when exposed to energy, which will transfer to other materials when emitted. So if the flash drive has to transfer data faster, it may end up becoming hot to the touch.
  • USB flash drives tend to get hot when the host device (laptop or desktop) also heats up. If the temperature of the host device is high, it becomes tough for the USB flash drive to regulate its own temperature.

Can Heat Damage a USB Flash Drive?

When a USB flash drive is exposed to high temperatures or gets extremely hot, it will eventually get damaged. When exposed to heat, the storage cells inside the USB flash drive can get damaged and potentially delete the stored data. In most instances, you will lose your data completely.

Whether you buy a large USB flash drive with a memory storage capacity of 1TB, or a smaller USB flash drive with a memory storage capacity of 1GB, they can both still get damaged if exposed to extreme heat.

How Hot Should a Flash Drive Get?

The average temperature of a commercial USB flash drive should be between 0 to 45°C (115°F); anything above that means your flash drive is overheating and is likely to get damaged. Of course, industrial flash drives are designed to withstand more extreme temperatures due to their performance expectations.

If your USB flash drive is getting extremely hot, you should be aware of it. Extreme heat means that there could be a problem or some irregular activities could be going on—both could result in your flash drive failing. If you know that your flash drive might possibly fail, back up your data immediately to avoid loss.

The best tool to use if you want to check the temperature of your USB flash drive is an infrared thermometer. Using this type of thermometer allows you to measure the temperature of the device or its surface precisely without actually having to touch it.

If you’re worried that the flash drive temperature is excessive, it may be better to not risk burning yourself by using this thermometer.

How to Use a Simple Infrared Thermometer to Measure Temperature

  1. Turn on the thermometer gun and adjust the settings to appropriately measure the flash drive.
  2. Point the gun at where you have inserted your flash drive. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to remove or touch it. You can use the thermometer to measure your flash drive from a distance. The distance between the thermometer and the device should be around 14.17 inches (36 cm) for the most accurate reading.
  3. Pull the trigger and check the temperature on the digital display. A green backlight and a small beeping sound will indicate that the temperature is average (between 0 to 45°C/115°F). Anything above that, and you will see a red backlight and a more urgent-sounding beep.

We recommend this popular Etekcity Infrared Thermometer 774 (on Amazon) for a hassle-free, one-press temperature reading on your flash drive. Take note that this versatile thermometer is intended for inanimate objects only, not for humans.

How to Handle the USB Flash Drive If It’s Too Hot

If your thermometer shows you that the USB flash drive is too hot, you must handle it carefully to avoid getting burnt. Using a thick piece of cloth or an oven mitt, carefully remove the USB from the computer. Put it aside to let it cool down.

If you want to confirm whether it’s your flash drive that is the problem instead of your computer, put another USB drive in the same port. If this flash drive heats up excessively again, then it means that the computer port is the problem. But if the second USB does not get as hot, then the flash drive is the problem.

Is It Bad to Leave a Flash Drive Plugged In?

Several factors come into play when deciding whether leaving your USB flash drive plugged in is a good or a bad idea:

  • The quality of the flash drive
  • Its tendency to overheat
  • What software you have installed on your machine
  • How the connecting port or your USB is configured
  • How long you plan to keep your USB flash drive in the machine

When leaving your USB flash drive plugged in, there is always the concern that if there happens an electrical disruption to your system, for example, a power outage, ESD, or a lightning strike, it could cause a data transfer error or damage the USB flash drive’s components.

It will also become a lot easier to accidentally delete some important data. If you’re doing some work on your PC or laptop, and your USB flash drive is correctly plugged in, you might suddenly get a pop-up message asking whether you want your data on your flash drive deleted. If you mistakenly press okay, it’ll be hard to restore all the lost data.

Because of the above reasons, it’s best to err on the side of caution and remove your flash drive when not in use.

Preventing a Flash Drive from Getting Hot When Not in Use

You should protect your flash drive even when you’re not using it, considering the potential importance of the data it carries. Extreme heat will, in most instances, destroy the flash drive. Take a look at these measures to ensure that your flash drive doesn’t get overly hot:

  • Avoid exposing your flash drive to high temperatures to avoid the cells in the flash drive from being damaged or data deleted. Do not store it in hot areas or where the sunlight may warm it.
  • Don’t leave it connected to your computer when you’re not using it. Leaving the USB flash drive in the computer causes the operating system to continue writing, generating heat and causing wear and tear.

How Long Should USB Flash Drives Last?

USB Flash Drives

Even if you store your documents and files in a flash drive, there is still the possibility of the flash drive breaking or spoiling for any unknown reason. Despite flash drives generally being durable, portable, and having the capacity to keep the memory safe, they will eventually lose memory.

Of course, the question is how long before a flash drive loses its stored data. It depends on how often you use it. If you keep a flash drive for long periods without using it, it’s bound to last longer. You can store essential data on a USB flash drive for up to 10 years. But if you use it continuously, then it will eventually wear out.

The life cycle of a flash drive can be calculated by the number of erase/write cycles. A quality flash drive is estimated to have between 10,000-100,000 erase/write cycles. That is pretty long for a small device’s lifespan.

Having said that, do not rely on your flash drive as your only backup, especially if your data is so precious to you. Consider backing up in as many platforms and devices available to you, such as your computer, another computer, a cloud storage, or an external hard drive.