Flash drives: simple, portable, fast, affordable

Aaron Svec

Aaron Svec

The virtual age has created the need to cart around an ever-increasing amount of “e-stuff.” If you have computer files to move, a compact USB flash drive could be for you.

The first benefit of a USB flash drive is simplicity. Most of the latest operating systems can utilize flash drives without the addition of any software, which makes using a flash drive as simple as plugging it in. A user still has to observe operating procedures such as “Do not remove flash drive while indicator light is blinking,” but if you can fog a mirror your biggest problem should be finding the USB receptacle on your computer.

Another advantage of flash drives is their portability. They are marketed with catchy names like “pen drive,” “jump drive” or “key-chain storage” for a reason. Most USB flash drives are similar in size and weight to three keys. You can stow them in such uncreative ways as placing them in your pocket or dangling them on lanyards from your neck. Either of these would mean instant doom for a familiar 3.5″ floppy diskette, but USB flash drives are solid state, meaning they have no moving parts, are not susceptible to magnetic fields and are supposedly impervious to moisture (though I have not run mine through the washing machine … yet).

Flash drives will also have you spending less time waiting for progress bars. While the chirping, grinding and crunching of a floppy drive is amusing, it takes time. Transfer rates of data to a typical USB 2.0 storage device are about four mega-bytes (MB) per second, which is 75 times faster than a floppy drive. You could use the time you save transferring files for working out at the gym as you won’t have to heft around the some 177 odd floppies worth of data that will fit on a run-of-the-mill 256 MB flash drive.

Sizes of flash drives run from 8 MB to a whopping 8 giga-bytes (GB). Size is the biggest determinate of price. The lower-end, 8-MB, early-model, USB 1.1-compatible models start at just under $10 and the super-sized, USB-2.0, 8-GB drive could be yours for a cool $1400 (plus shipping). A more responsibly proportioned 256 MB drive only would set you back just under $50. If a person is thrifty there are “free” promotional flash drives offered by various companies, but keep in mind you get what you pay for. Even if someone else is picking up the tab make sure you have read the reviews and select a favored model. Otherwise you will be just as well off as if you had used a floppy.