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Memory Sticks and Flash Drives

Patrick from Olean, New York asks:

The USB MEMORY STICK is an amazing little thing, and so handy! My question? I have copied and pasted documents from My Documents without any problems. But from everything I read, you should download software in order to move this information from the computer to the USB Drive. So how am I doing it without software?

You may have been reading about Memory Sticks put out by Sony. These devices aren’t the same as a USB flash drive, which are also sometimes referred to as a memory stick. The Sony Memory Sticks are commonly used in digital cameras, camcorders, and cell phones for adding more storage. Many computers do require software to be downloaded for reading a specific type of Memory Stick. There are multiple kinds that Sony manufactures for different digital storage needs.

Once the proper software has been obtained and downloaded onto your personal computer, any images or audio files contained on the Memory Stick can be transferred to your computer and saved for later use. However, if you have a VAIO laptop computer, this software is already included. Since VAIO is manufactured by Sony, they decided to make it easily compatible with their Memory Stick products.


When transferring data from a computer, using a flash drive is the common method. A USB memory stick, or flash drive as some people refer to them, is simply an external storage device that can be easily plugged into a functional USB port on a computer. They have taken the place of the floppy disk, which was used to transfer data files from one computer system to another. Memory sticks are much smaller than floppy disks and less likely to become damaged, due to their compact size. They come in a range of storage options, with as little as 128MB to well over 200GB.

The data transferring process is much faster with flash drives as well. USB drives are mass storage devices that are supported by many of the popular operating systems today; Linux, Mac OS X, Unix-like systems, and Windows. Flash drives don’t have any mechanical movement that takes place inside, nor do they require batteries to operate. However, despite a lack of moving parts or batteries, memory sticks don’t last forever. The USB connector tends to last for an average of 1,500 connect and disconnect cycles.

There are also two different types of cell levels; single and multiple. Single-level cells, or SLC flash drives, have one bit of data contained in each cell. This allows the drive to be able to write at a fast speed, use little power, and have a higher endurance. SLC memory sticks tend to last for about 100,000 writes. The multi-level cells or MLC memory sticks, only last for around 10,000 writes, due to multiple bits stored in each cell. Having a denser storage system makes these devices cheaper than the SLC drives, but they also don’t last as long as the single-level cell flash drives.

People who have an older version of Windows will probably need to download a driver, in order for their computer to read a USB memory stick. Windows Vista, XP, 2000, and ME all have generic drivers included in the operating system. A few manufacturers of flash drives offer a CD for users of Windows 98. This disc enables a driver to be downloaded onto the computer, making it possible for any USB drive to be read. Besides flash drives, this disc also allows computers with Windows 98 to read USB hard drives, MP3 players, digital cameras and camcorders, as well as Sony PSPs.

If the flash drive doesn’t come with a CD for downloading a driver compatible with Windows 98, then the website of most larger flash drive producing companies will have downloads available on their homepage.

Even though additional software doesn’t need to be downloaded for newer operating systems, some people run into other obstacles when using a flash drive. Some older computers only have one flash drive, which might be occupied by a printer or another much needed external device. There are hubs that can be purchased for plugging in multiple USB devices. These are plugged into one USB port, thus providing a hub of at least 4 additional USB ports for plugging in all sorts of devices.

Due to the usage of the words Memory Stick as a generic term, there is often much confusion between a flash drive and the actual Memory Stick products produced by Sony. In short, most operating systems found in computers allow the computer to easily transfer data to and from a USB flash drive, without the need for any additional downloads.

Hopefully, this has cleared up any confusion you had about why your USB memory stick was working so efficiently with your computer.

~Cory Buford