Here are multiple external devices for making portable data storage, but you may be confused about them sometimes. Thumb drive or flash drive? To make a wise choice, it is vital to understand the main differences on thumb drive vs flash drive. You can get the details in this post of MiniTool.

As you know, the data storage has taken tremendous changes over the years. The storage capacity changes from a few GB to several TB. The device also converts from huge machines to small memory cards.

If you want to choose a portable storage device, here are plenty of options for you. For example, you can select a jump drive, USB flash drive, TF card, SD card, U disk, or external hard drive. However, various options may let you confused.

Today, we will focus on 2 commonly used portable data storage devices: flash drive and thumb drive. Both of the two items are very popular with users. Thumb drive vs flash drive: which is better? To help you make a wise choice, we will introduce them one by one and then explore the difference between flash drive and thumb drive.

What Is a Flash Drive

The flash drive is a data storage device that acts as a portable hard drive. Compared with hard disks or compact disks, flash drives have better performance. The way to access flash drives is similar to the way to access hard disks.

what is flash drive

Flash drives are small and portable solid-state drives, which can be used as the replacement of CDs and HDDs. Once you plug the drive into your computer, the PC will detect it as removable device. Then, you can back up data from the computer to flash drive.

Note: Sometimes, the USB flash drive may not be recognized by your computer. To get the drive recognized by the PC and recover losing data, you can refer to this guide.

As flash drives don’t have moving parts, they are durable and can withstand mechanical shocks and intense pressure. Hence, it has a long lifespan. Besides, it can store more data than floppy disks and optical disk with a faster speed. More importantly, the thumb drive can support all operating systems and BIOS.

Here is a USB flash drive purchase tutorial for you: The Guide to Choose the Best USB Flash Drive

What Is a Thumb Drive

What is a thumb drive? A solid-state drive (SSD) that utilizes a USB port to connect with other devices is called a thumb drive. This name mainly comes from its small size with a few inches in both width and length like a thumb finger. The thumb drive is also called USB thumb drive or pen drive.

what is thumb drive

The thumb drive stores data by using flash memory, which indicates that the data can be erased and reprogrammed easily to be used repeatedly. It is often used to store and transfer electronic data from one computer to another via the USB port.

If your USB ports don’t work, you can refer to this guide to fix it: Top 3 Fixes for Solving USB 3.0 Ports Not Working Issue

The industry standard plug-and-play interface on USB enables the computer to communicate with peripheral devices like mouse, keyboard, and printer, etc. Thumb drives utilize 3 USB specifications (USB 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0) that offer you faster data transfer rates.

Tip: You can read this post for learning the difference between USB 2.0 and 3.0: USB 2.0 vs. 3.0: What’s the Difference and Which One Is Better

Thumb Drive VS Flash Drive

After reading the above content, you may have an overall understanding of thumb drive and flash drive. Thumb drive vs flash drive: which one should you pick? This is not a simple alternative question. Instead, you should make a choice based on the analysis.


First and foremost, both the thumb drive and flash drive are mobile data storage devices. The two items are small and convenient to carry out, which benefit you a lot. No matter a thumb drive or flash drive, you can store data with it after plugging it into the USB slot on the computer.

In addition, you are allowed to edit, write or delete the files or folders on the drive after you access it on the PC. Though here are some aspects of difference between flash drive and thumb drive, they still share some similarity.


What is the different between a flash drive and a thumb drive? Well, the differences manifest on 4 aspects containing memory storage type, application, durability and meaning.

Memory Storage Types

The memory storage types should be the most significant difference between flash drive and thumb drive. Flash drive is a kind of compact flash (CF), while thumb drive is a type of solid-state drive (SSD).

CF, a kind of high-speed, non-volatile, and magnetic read-and-write media, can carry all kinds of digital data. You can find compact flash on devices such as tablets, smartphones, cameras and MP3 players besides flash drives.

Tip: For more information about Non-Volatile Random-Access memory, please read this post: NVRAM (Non-Volatile Random-Access Memory) Definition & Reset

Thumb drive is referred to as a small SSD that can store, read and write data by using flash memory without magnetic properties.

Warning: SSD and compact flash are neither enemy nor counterparts. SSD also utilizes CF or flash memory.


Firstly, let’s talk about the respective meanings behind thumb drive and flash drive. The USB drive is a general term describing storage devices, which can be directly plugged into the USB port on the computer or laptop.

To be specific, users regard thumb drive as flash drive as if they are the same device. Both of the two devices can store the data or any digital content indeed. However, they are technically different.

Thumb drive is also considered as compact flash (CF), which stores data via flash memory in enclosed disc. Differently, flash drive (a tiny solid-state drive), is used as a standard portable USB data storage device connecting to other devices via USB port.


Flash memory devices are usually applied on digital cameras, MP3 players, USB flash drives, as well as solid-state drives. Since they are non-volatile, you can access them quickly. A flash drive can work as a flash memory to store data with high rates. Hence, they take the place of optical disks and floppy disks to store digital content or information.

As for thumb drives, they are mainly used to store files and copy/transfer files between computers. They are available in 16, 32 and 64GB versions with three main USB specifications (USB 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0).


The durability for a storage device is also important. If a device can be damaged or broken easily, you may often suffer from a data loss. There are multiple thumb drives on the market, but only a few of them are durable.

As the name indicates, thumb drives are tiny and portable. They usually come with enclosed in plastic or aluminum cases that make them to be affected by shocks and pressure easily. On the contrary, flash drives are rather durable and even can bear the mechanical shocks, intense pressure and accidental dropdowns.

Generally speaking, thumb drives will degrade with age, while flash drives will degrade because of writing cycles. The more you erase and reprogram for reuse, the more the flash drive will degrade.

Top recommendation: Complete Guide to Bit Rot [Definition, Detection, Fixes]

What is the difference between a flash drive and a thumb drive? The above 4 aspects are the main differences between the two drives. Flash drive vs thumb drive: which one to select? After comparing the 2 drives comprehensively, we recommend you choose flash drive. Of course, you can also pick thumb drive as well. There is no standard answer.

How to Use Thumb Drive and Flash Drive

Before using the newly bought thumb drive or flash drive, you are required to do some operations. For instance, you may need to format or partition the drive before putting it into use. Here comes the need of a partition manager.

MiniTool Partition Wizard probably is what you are looking for. It is professional partition management tool, which enables you to move/resize partition, merge partition, format partition, etc.

Besides, it is also an ideal SSD health checker, disk benchmark tool, PC optimizer, and hard drive repair program. You can start managing your flash drive or thumb drive after downloading and installing MiniTool Partition Wizard by clicking the buttons below.

MiniTool Partition Wizard FreeClick to Download100%Clean & Safe

Step 1: Plug the thumb drive or flash drive in the USB port on your computer.

Step 2: Launch MiniTool Partition Wizard to enter its main interface.

Step 3: Right click the thumb drive or flash drive and choose Format from the elevated menu.

choose format option from the elevated menu

Step 4: In the next window, click the button behind File System to choose a file system. You are also able to set Partition Label and Cluster Size based on your demand. If you don’t have specific need, you can follow the default setting. Then, click OK to save the changes and back to the main interface. Finally, click Apply to execute the operation.

click Apply to execute the operation

If you lose data on the flash drive or thumb drive, you can also use MiniTool Partition Wizard to recover it. Here is the tutorial for recovering data on flash drive.

Tip: The MiniTool Partition Wizard Free Edition doesn’t support data recovery feature. You need to get advanced editions like Pro Ultimate to do that. Check the details in edition comparison section.

Step 1: Connect the drive to your computer and then launch MiniTool Partition Wizard. Click on the Data Recovery feature in the upper left corner of the main interface.

click data recovery

Step 2: Click the target drive on the next window and click Scan to begin scanning.

choose the target drive to scan

Step 3: View the scan process.

View the scan process

Step 4: After scanning, click the files or folders that you want to recover and click Save.

save the target files

Step 5: In the prompted window, choose a destination for storing the recovered data and click OK.

Tip: Don’t select the original drive as the destination. Otherwise, the data will be overwritten.

choose a destination for the recovered files

What is the difference between a flash drive and a thumb drive? I found the answers in this post. In addition, I obtained the methods for managing and recovering data on flash drive and thumb drive. If you are seeking such tutorial, this post is worth reading. Click to Tweet

Wrap up

What is a thumb drive? What is a flash drive? You can get the detailed information from this article. Thumb drive vs flash drive: which one is better? The answer is also obvious after learning the difference between flash drive and thumb drive.

If you buy a new flash drive or thumb drive, you can refer to the given methods to manage it too. You can write down the ideas that you would like to share with us in the comment area. If you have any doubt about MiniTool software, directly send us an email via [email protected].

Thumb Drive VS Flash Drive FAQ

Why is it called thumb drive?
The thumb drive name comes into being mainly because of its size. Like a thumb, the thumb drive has a size with a few inches both in width and length. Given to that fact, it is called a thumb drive.
Pen drive VS flash drive: what’s the difference?
The obvious difference between pen drive and flash drive is their application. The pen drive usually is only used as a portable USB storage device, while the flash drive can be applied on many places. Pen drive typically refers to a drive that can be plugged into a USB port directly, while flash drive can be accessed via a direct USB connection, a corded USB connection, or internally stored within a cellphone.
SSD vs flash drive: which one is better?
As the more you erase and reprogram the flash drive, the more it will start degrading, its lifespan is limited. Differently, the number of times a block can be read on SSD is countless. In other words, SSDs have longer lifespan. You can decide which one to choose after reading this post.
Is USB 3.0 fast enough for SATA SSD?
As we know, the maximum speed for USB 3.0 is 5Gbps (625MB/s). This is a theoretical data and the practical speed is slower than it claims. While, a SATA SSD has a theoretical limit of 600MB/s. In fact, it can reach 550MB/s. Hence, USB 3.0 can work with this SATA SSD. If you think that your USB 3.0 is slow, you can improve its speed with this guide.
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