Digital Flash Tips

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How Flash Drives Work

It's easy to use a USB flash drive to transfer data. Plug your flash drive/thumb drive into your computer's USB port, and drag files into the folder that appears on your screen. Your files are instantly transferred to your USB flash drive/thumb drive. To transfer the items on your USB flash drive to another computer, plug your USB flash drive into the computer, open the folder that appears on your screen, and drag the desired files onto the computer's desktop.
Since USB flash drives use the universal USB protocol, they can work with any PC or Mac with a USB port. They work with Windows, Mac OS, even Linux.
USB flash drives are available with up to 2 GB capacity, which translates into 250 MP3 songs or hundreds of photos and thousands of words of text.


Shopping For Flash Drives

When shopping for electronics, the general advice these days is to research locally and then buy online. But flsh drives are pretty well defined, so little research is needed. Flash drives are all about the size of your thumb -- thus, the 'thumb drive' designation -- and run from 64B up to 1 or 2 GB. Some have additional features like MP3 players. Unless you feel the need to check them out in person, you can go straight to your favorite electronics site or search engine, type USB flash drive, and do some comparison shopping. Prices are usually lower online, and since the USB flash drives are so small, shipping costs, if any, are minimal.
Expect to pay as little as $10-$12 for a 64MB model, while 2GB models sell for as low as $120.


Flash Drive Security

The whole idea of the USB flash drive/thumb drive is to make it easy to remove data from a computer and transfer it to another computer. But convenience and security don't always co-exist well together. There are a lot of justified concerns about flash drive/thumb drive security, especially in the corporate world.
Flash drive/thumb drive makers have been trying to address some of the security issues. The security idea include the following:
* Secure flash drives protect data on the thumb drive with a password. You can't remove any data from the flash memory without first giving the correct password.
* Biometric flash drives/thumb drives. These take security to the next level, recognizing a fingerprint rather than a password.
These can make the data in the flash drive more secure but won't do much for the computer network itself. The easiest way to keep a computer safe from unauthorized or malicious use of a thumb drive is to set the computer to lock after just a few minutes of non-use. Then users will be forced to re-enter a user name and password before accessing the machine. Also, it's possible to disable the USB ports on certain machines, if needed.
Bottom line: USB flash drives are so convenient they can easily become security risks. If you're worried about data on your thumb drive, you can get password- or biometric-protected versions.


Flash Drives Optimal Choice For Storage

USB flash drives are a good deal in terms of price and capacity. Here's how they stack up against other forms of writeable/rewriteable media:

CD/DVD: USB ports are more common and it's much easier to load and unload data. Also, CD/DVD are disposable media (especially CD-R) and can run up in cost if you use a lot of them.

Floppy discs: Most new computers no longer have floppy ports. Plus, a standard floppy disc can hold only 1.44 MB. The smallest thumb drive is 64MB, many times the size of a floppy.

External hard drive: USB flash drives are smaller than external hard drives, much less expensive, and have no fragile moving parts that can break if dropped. So they're more easily transported.

Sony Minidisc: The latest models of these cult favorites hook up through USB ports and allow drag and drop, same as USB flash drives. But they cost a lot more money, starting at about $150.


USB Flash Drives

If you've been using computers for a while, you remember floppy disks and, more recently, CD-ROMs and DVDs. All of them were used at different times to hold data outside the computer, usually for transfer to another computer -- the so-called "sneaker drive."
Today, the easiest way to take data out of your computer is with a USB flash drive. A USB flash drive is a compact USB flash memory drive that acts like a portable hard drive, letting you store and transfer your data -- including programs, MP3s, photos and video -- from computer to computer.
USB flash drives, also called thumb drives and jump drives, hold up to 2GB of information and are small enough -- about the size of your thumb -- to slip easily into your pocket, around your neck like a necklace, or on your keychain.
This makes it easy to use flash drives as convenient data transfer devices. They're a great way to keep your favorite photos, songs, even your resume with you wherever you go.


Handling Tips for Flash Memory

Flash memory is tough and can take a pounding, but it's not indestructible. There are certain things you shouldn't do with your USB flash drive if you want to keep it intact and your data safe. Don't yank the drive off the USB port. Use the safe removal option on your Windows PC. If you simply pull the drive off, especially while it is transfering data, your memory can lock up and you may lose data.


Swiss Army Jump Drive

USB flash drives take up a relatively small amount of space and are designed to be carried with you. So it's only natural that these thumb drives -- about the size of your thumb -- be combined with other pocket conveniences. One of the most interesting is the flash drive/Swiss Army Knife combo. Victorinox, maker of the classic Swiss Army Knives, has models ranging from 64MB to 1GB. Other flash drive combos include flash drive MP3 players, and watches with integrated flash drives.


Choose A Flash Drive With Storage Capacity

Flash drives are relatively inexpensive. You can find them as cheap as $10 for a 64MB drive, or more than $100 for a 2GB USB flash drive. The type of flash drive to use depends on how you will use it.
A 256MB USB flash drive can hold a lot of data: dozens of digital pictures, a couple of hours worth of music, or hundreds of Microsoft Word or Excel documents. Anything less might be too small for your thumb drive to be really useful.
Stick with a brand name -- Lexar, SanDisk, Iomega. If money is no object, buy a big one -- 1 GB or 2 GB of storage capacity.

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Carma Spence-Pothitt