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Computer Tips: Flash USB Drives

flash usbOne very handy, and cheap, computer accessory you should consider is a Flash USB drive. The devices, which are slightly larger than a matchbook, let you carry a hard drive in your pocket.

You can find these devices from a number of manufacturers with different price/memory combinations. I picked up a 64 MB drive for $29.99 (being a computer product, prices fell again almost immediately after I bought it), and you can also buy drives with 32, 128, and 256 MB and all the way up to 1 GB.

What are some uses for these drives? They can function as a "Nike Network" whenever you need to transfer files between non-networked computers: carrying files between home and work; or to a friend's house; or between laptops at a conference. Yes, floppy drives do the same thing, but how many MP3s can you fit on a floppy? Plus, more and more laptops are leaving off the floppy altogether. You can also burn a CD to transfer the files, too, but you sure can't carry one in your pocket, and these are much faster to operate.

flash usb connector

It's not just size that matters here -- ease of use is even more important. Once you pull off the cap and expose the USB connection, all you have to do is plug it in to a USB port on a Windows XP/2000/ME, Mac OS 9, or Linux 2.4 computer. Your computer will automatically recognize this as a new drive, and let you copy or paste files using any standard file management tool such as Windows Explorer. There's no need to load a driver onto the computer (unless you are using Windows 98SE).

Thinking back to my first hard drive really puts the technology growth into perspective. It was an add-on to a PC XT clone computer. It came on an expansion card that was two slots wide -- which meant that it was at about eight inches long by four inches high by two inches wide. It had a 32 MB capacity (enormous for the time when you could run WordPerfect from one floppy) and cost a little more than $300. That meant a megabyte of hard drive space cost a little under $10. The new one is three long by 3/8 of an inch high by one inch wide, and $30 buys you 64 MB -- or less than 50 cents per megabyte.

This review is also posted on Blogcritics