A reader of Mac-a-ro-nies purchased a 128MB Lexar Jump Drive for me from my Amazon Wish List. I scored a second Lexar, a version with a security feature, from a clearance sell at an unsavvy general merchandise retailer who had marked it way down. A third flash device, an EZ-Drive 64MB, was a corporate gift. Now seems like a good time to examine the phenomenon of the tiny drives that can also double as keychains, pens or MP3 players.
The drives consist of miniscule motherboards which contain flash memory operating software and space for storage. Flash memory is replacing modules that required bulky housing such as floppy and Zip drives.
Removable, easily transportable mass storage has gone though significant technological development with the uptake of solid state non-volatile NAND memory as used in CompactFlash and Secure Digital.
. . . USB Drive is now manufactured by numerous companies, each quite similar in the characteristics the offer, however all provide the essential functionality of removable mass storage via the USB port. What makes the USB drive or pen drive so popular is the wide variety of systems into which it may be connected whilst providing seamless compatibility. Small and medium sized companies and universities now find the USB drive one of the most reliable methods of transferring data such as PowerPoint presentations between sites or individual computers.
. . .The USB drive flash memory is small and non-volatile. That is, devices such as the flash drive retain data even after power is non longer made available.
Most are USB devices, though there is a more expensive type featuring a FireWire connection. The first generation of the drives was USB 1 and still predominates. However, USB 2 drives have become available at a higher price point. The drives are Windows and Macintosh compatible, though Windows computers may require a driver be installed.
Both the basic Lexar unit and the EZ-Drive, along with their companions, are plug and play — except with some installations of Windows. The secure version of the Lexar requires the installation of security software to prevent unauthorized persons who get access to the drive from reading the data stored on it.
Just about any kind of data can be stored on a flash drive. The only limitation is space. That report you want to print out at school, the sells data you may need for a presentation, photographs of your triplets, MP3s a friend wants to copy to his computer — any or all can be temporarily or permanently stored to your flash drive. To shift the data, simply plug the drive into the USB port on a computer. The drive will appear as if it were a full-sized or portable hard drive. Copy those files you loaded to the computer and/or copy some from the computer to the drive.
So far flash drives have been successful enough that manufacturers are upgrading them. New models have more memory. Some make it possible for the owner to upgrade memory herself by changing from one memory module to another.
My only reservation about this type of product is using it as a keychain or other secondary device. I lost my keys last Monday. They were on a regular keychain that suited my fancy — a piece of computer circuit board recyled as a keychain. If I had lost a keychain drive, the financial loss would have been much greater, more than $50 instead of $5. If the lost keychain drive had not been security protected, the data would be freely available to whoever found the keychain. You will want to keep these considerations in mind when deciding what kind of USB flash drive to purchase and whether to actually use it as a keychain, pen or MP3 player.
Note: My weblog is Mac-a-ro-nies, which features a recurring technology column designed for the average reader.