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Does A Fully Loaded USB With Data Weigh More Than An Empty One? Here’s The Answer


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The blogosphere is going crazy with the useless-yet-engaging debate on what weighs more, a Full USB drive or an empty one, depending it is the same model and capacity as otherwise a Kingston would lose each time! So, without further ado, let’s dive into the debate ourselves and try to find out about the truth!

First of all, we have to understand how data is stored on our computers. Whatever the coding language may be, eventually the information is finally stored in the form of 1s and 0s in the data bank. But how do we assign 0s and 1s at the hardware level? There are different techniques used, but in flash drives like USBs, it is done by trapping electrons. The weight of one electron is so minute that it is normally ignored in our ordinary chemical equations and is equal to the 1/1820th part of a Proton or 0.000000000000000000000017 grams. The more data we store in our flash drive, the more electrons we trap in our system. For a 32 GB system, the difference comes out to be around 8 x 10-17 grams between a fully loaded an empty USB drive. These calculations were made by Berkeley Professor of Computer Science John D. Kubiatowicz especially for Amazon’s Kindle EReader. But, it generally applies to any kind of mass storage too. 

But, did you think the debate was over after a hotshot professor gave his theory, NO WAY!. People started coming forward with their own theories with many of them making a lot of sense as well. One guy rightly pointed out that the mass increase would be numerically half than what was calculated by the professor because not all of the storage numbers are 1 when data is stored. It is a combination of 1s and 0s that help us store information.


But, in one awesome statement by Onisa Sharia, a Physicist, the total charge in any device remains the same, so there is no change in overall mass of the system. Every bit of information is like a charged capacitor and even though in a charged capacitor, the charges are separated, the overall charge strength doesn’t change and hence no mass difference is observed except extremely small amounts that occurs due to the difference in the energy levels of each device. The difference is small that no laboratory equipment could accurately measure it, but yes, a full hard drive will have a higher mass, but very VERY small difference!

What do you think about this phenomenon? Let us know in the comments!


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5 Comments to Does A Fully Loaded USB With Data Weigh More Than An Empty One? Here’s The Answer

  1. An empty drive doesn’t mean all 0 or all 1. They are going to be random, the disk will store info to treat them as not useful. So sometimes an empty usb may weigh more or less depending how many 0s and 1s are stored on every bit locations.

  2. Keith Stegath

    The weight (mass) of a charged capacitor will be more than uncharged because charging adds electrons. The weight of a hard drive will not change because writing to it does not add anything – it simply re-arranges what is already there (just like magnetic tape). Flash drives use capacitance to retain the write function (“on”) … a charge (electrons) that comes from the attached device – so it too weighs more. A weight of a transistor and diode that are “on” will oscillate as it takes time for the electrons to flow through the device. When the charge (pressure/voltage) on the input is high enough, electrons at the input will “physically” enter the device, while electrons at the output will leave the device. The change does not occur instantaneously, so the weight (mass) will change. These devices also have leakage, so a small number of electrons are constantly moving in/out of the device.

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