Lots of Storage in A Little Space

If you've been a computer user for very long, you will be familiar with floppy disks and how they are used as a storage device for data. You may even still have a computer with a floppy drive. And your older computer may have what is called a "USB port." If you've bought a new computer within the past few years, your computer probably won't have a floppy drive. Instead, you'll probably have CD burner capabilities, and one or more USB ports. There are many extras that can be plugged into USB ports, including external hard drives and printers, just to name a couple. But another handy gadget that works in these ports is a USB Flash Drive. They've been on the market for a few years now, and come in sizes from 32MB on up to at least 4GB (although I did see one place advertising an 8GB flash drive) at the time this article was written. Read on as we tell you more about USB Flash Drives, who makes them, where you can get yours, and other information.

Flash Drives Explained

USB Flash Drives are also known by other names, such as Jump Drive, Thumb Drive, Travel Drive, Mobile Drive, etc. They are very small devices, much smaller than a cigarette lighter, which stores data from your computer files. The first ones were 32 and 64 MB, and are a little larger than they are today. They range in size from the 32MB on up to 4GB. These sizes refer to the amount of data that can be stored on them. If you've been around computers since the 1.44MB floppy disk first appeared, you'll truly appreciate these flash drives. As mentioned before, these are generally a little smaller than a cigarette lighter, with a USB connector that slips into your USB port. The connector is usually protected by a cap of some sort, or with a retractable USB connector. They are far more durable than a floppy disk because they are well-protected in a plastic or metal housing. They have no moving parts, so less things to go wrong with them. They're good for storing files for safekeeping or to transport elsewhere. Because of their small capacity, they won't do for a complete system backup, however.

Makes, Models, Prices and Where To Buy

There are many manufacturers of USB Flash Drives, including Iomega, Imation, Lexar, Memorex, and SanDisk, to name just a few. The following paragraphs will cover available USB Flash Drives, their makers, capacity, price ranges and where you can buy. We'll separate them out by price ranges, with information on each model.

$10 - $15
Lexar's JumpDrive Sport is a 128MB capacity flash drive with a reasonable price. For as low as $11 you can own one of these drives. It's rugged and has a cap which stays put, since it's held on by a plastic strap that goes around the whole drive. US Modular Quick Drive makes two flash drives which can be purchased for under $15--a 128MB and 256MB capacity model. Both have a cap to protect the USB connector, but since it's not attached in any way, it's easy to lose. Edge makes several models for under $15--a 32MB and a 128MB model.

$15 - $20
SanDisk's Cruzer Mini USB Flash Drive comes in both 128MB and 256MB capacities for under $20. Both are basic flash drives with no extra bells and whistles. A plastic cap covers the USB connector, and since it's easy to lose it, these drives come with a couple of spare ones. The downside to flash drives by SanDisk is that they are slower than most other makes. For $19 - $25 you can purchase a 1GB Crucial Gizmo Overdrive. It's small, roughly the size of a 5-stick pack of gum, and has a cap which is not attached to protect the connector. Nothing fancy here, just basic file writing capabilities.

$20 - $30
As you move up in price, you'll see an increase in capacity, too. SandDisk has a 2GB Cruzer Micro that can be bought for as low as $21. Like its smaller brothers, you'll find its write speeds on the slow side. The 1GB Luxar JumpDrive Mercury comes in a 1GB capacity for $21-$33. A unique feature is an external capacity meter that shows you how much space is left on your drive. Memorex M-Flyer USB 2.0 TravelDrive is a 512MB capacity flash drive. It has a retractable connector and software that is included can password-protect and encrypt data. The only drawback is the case could be beefier.

$30 and Up
Generally speaking, the higher the price, the greater the capacity for storage. As you get above $30, here's some of what is available: From Lexar comes a 2GB Mercury model, similar to their 1GB model including the external capacity meter. And for 4GB models, look at SanDisk's Cruzer Mini or Kanguru Flash Drive KFD-4G. Prices fluctuate wildly when you get above 1GB capacities, so be sure to check prices before buying.

Where To Buy

Maybe we should say, "Where can't you buy one? These seem to be more widely available than the old 1.44MB floppy disks when they were in their prime. You can buy these little flash drives from WalMart, Target, Circuit City, Best Buy, Office Max, Office Depot, Staples -- the list goes on and on. Fortunately they are readily available, and the prices are lower than they were a few years ago, too. If you're in the market for one or more of these useful little storage drives, you won't have any problems locating one at a price you can afford.

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