Difference between a USB Portable Hard Drive and a USB Flash Drive

Published on January 4, 2016

When thinking about external data storages and transfers, these two usually comes into mind. Picking the right one for you may already be an easy task, but we’ll make it even easier for you.


USB Portable Hard Drive

USB Portable Hard Drive vs USB Flash Drive
Western Digital 1 TB Portable Hard Disk

Used prominently for large data storage and transfers, it is a hard drive that uses USB connection and semiconductor memories that can’t provide the whole storage capacity required in your standard computer hard drives. This now limits the cost per bit of the stored information, but unlike your computer hard drives, a portable hard drive can be carried around easily, hence the term “portable”.

Aside from being portable, it is also good for  storing software and other data that is not needed regularly to save space from your hard drive. Other than that, it is also good as a data back-up in case of hard drive crashes (which will rarely happen, but still happens).

Storage capacity varies and can go from 500 GB up to 8 TB of space (As of March 2015). Sizes available would be between 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch. Transfer rate would also have a difference depending on its model and could go from 12 MB/sec up to 10 GB/sec, compared to your internal hard drives that could go from 100 MB/sec up to 12 GB/sec.

A sample USB portable hard drive would be your Transcend 2 TB Thunderbolt that uses USB 3.0. It can reach up to a very fast 10 Gbit/sec, but will also cost you around $190.

USB Flash Drive

Flash drive
Flash drive with a bulky shape and fruit designs

Also known under a variety of different names like USB storage, pendrive, thumbdrive, USB drive and USB stick, it is a storage device that includes a flash memory (electronic non-volatile computer storage) with an integrated USB interface. It generally is removable, rewritable, and is the smallest among USB external storage devices.

Its purpose is the same as the floppy disks and CD’s that were often used for storage, back-up, and data transfer, but is much more durable. It uses USB mass storage device class standard supported by  different operating systems.

Sizes can vary and even shapes, from 1 inch to 4 inches and from a rectangular shape to even fruits and animal figures. Transfer rate would be from 35 MB/s up to 530 MB/s and could go from 8 MB up to 512 GB of storage space.

A sample USB Flash Drive would be your SanDisk Cruzer CZ36 that could store up to 32 GB of space that uses USB 2.0, and costs around $10.

USB Portable Hard Drive vs USB Flash Drive

What’s the difference between a USB portable hard drive and a flash drive? The purpose is mostly the same but the differences lie within their sizes, transfer rates, portability and of course their prices.

A USB portable hard drive comes in large storage spaces up to a whopping 8 TB, while a USB flash drive can only go up to 512 MB. A flash drive’s size however will be much smaller than your portable hard drive, making it much easier to carry around. Speed will go in favor of your portable hard drive with up to 10 GB/s versus your flash drive’s 530 MB/s. Since a portable hard drive is much more efficient than a flash drive, it does come with a larger price with $25 on an 80 GB USB 2.0 compared to a 128 GB flash drive worth around $26.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but depending on how you see yourself using these portable storage devices, one will surely be more suited for you than the other.

Comparison Chart

USB Portable Hard DriveUSB Flash Drive
Can store up to 8 TB of storage spaceCan store up to 512 GB of storage space
More expensiveCheaper
Faster transfer rateSlower transfer rate
Comes in 2.5” and 3.5” in sizeComes in different shapes and sizes
Standard size is much bigger than flash drivesStandard size is much smaller than portable hard drives
Relatively heavyRelatively lightweight


Here is a video that can suggest other uses for your flash drives.