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I need flash drives with LEDs, which is like needing dodo birds. LEDs are disappearing from major-brand flash drive models (I suspect so people will yank them at the worst times, inadvertently kill them, not know why, and have to buy replacements more often). At least some models of one brand seem to have been unchanged except for removal or disabling of the LED. I thought I found some flash thumb drives anyway, but two I bought, under different brands, turned out to be U disks sold as flash drives (at least one internally calls itself a flash drive). The retailer sales pages said what they were, calling one model both a U disk and a flash drive, but I didn't notice before buying. Their prices were competitive; no premium. Their outer dimensions are like those of other thumb drives.

I found a couple of minor websites describing them, and I suspect one website infringed the copyright of the other, so I didn’t find much, even though they've been manufactured for years. Apparently, these are magnetic hard drives, which is astonishing, considering their size. I couldn't find much through Google about platters that must be less than half an inch across and yet hold 16GB. I don't know if it's one platter working on one side only; a stack of platters with multiple R/W arms in a thin package is even more astonishing. I wish I could safely X ray them to see inside. At least one is slow; writing that took maybe 20 minutes onto a flash drive was slated to take at least a couple of hours onto a U disk.

I'm having reliability problems, don't trust them yet, and have not yet put them into production use. With a FAT32 format receiving from Linux, the only way I could erase all the content, even though I owned all of it under a nonroot account, was by reformatting it; before I did that, it refused to let me liberalize my permissions through the GUI. This seems to show unreliability.

I wonder if hard drives are really that tiny now and yet not existing in laptops, never mind server towers. I would imagine a laptop’s platters should hold a petabyte or two, even at today’s prices for laptops. It seems unlikely that U disks being hard drives is utter fiction and someone has been getting away with this for a bunch of years, but are they real but awful and so no one wants to put U disk platters (smaller than a dime) into desktop machines yet?

I'm still shopping for a flash drive with an LED that's not a U disk. I've exhausted Newegg, Amazon, and a couple of others. I'm trying Froogle.com. One retailer revealed that a flash drive is a U disk but only in text embedded within an image that you have to select to view. Checking a product against what its manufacturer's website says reveals some contradictions, especially about LEDs (manufacturers may not offer LEDs though retailers claim them). (I'm also avoiding cutesy designs and thumbs meant as premiums with logos because I want longer life, but that's something else.) The shopping used to be easy.

  • TIL that U disks are a thing. I don't think anyone would sell something like that in 2020. One way you could probably tell them apart would be random read performance, which should be much faster on flash-based storage. – towe Oct 9 '20 at 11:33

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