Date: June 10th, 2003
Floppy drives have served us well for many, many years. However, in this day and age of digital photography, MP3s, bootable CDs, and portability, floppies have clearly outlived their usefulness. Agonizingly slow access times, short-lived and unreliable media, as well as extremely limited storage capabilities have pretty much sealed the fate of floppies. CD-R/W have become a very popular and attractive storage option, but they require a CD burner and special software for writing data, but not every computer is equipped with these two.
Enter the USB flash drive. It is a simple device that plugs into a USB port and within a couple of seconds shows up as a regular drive in Windows Explorer ready to be used. Files can be transferred from and to the USB flash drive via drag and drop/copy and paste, just like with a hard drive or floppy drive. Since every computer built within the last 5 years has a USB port, a flash drive works with virtually every computer in a true plug-and-play fashion with Windows ME/2000/XP which natively support USB flash drives. Windows 98 users first have to download and install drivers from the Crucial website. One disadvantage it has compared to the floppy disk is that it is not bootable, ruling it out as a great computer recovery or troubleshooting tool.
Crucial offers a line of USB flash drives called the Gizmo! in a range of storage capacities (and prices) currently ranging from 64MB to 256MB. In case you’re concerned, in spite of the cutesy name, the Gizmo! is not furry and looks very manly. It weighs less than an ounce and is the size of one or two fingers (depending how fat your fingers are). It easily fits into a pocket without discomfort. Crucial also supplies a detachable wrist-strap that has a plastic clip to attach it to fabric. While made of plastic, the casing feels sturdy and nowhere near as flimsy as some other flash drives. It appears solid enough to survive a fall from several feet high without damage. Flash drives are based on solid-state technology, meaning there are no moving or mechanical parts inside that could break or wear out over time. The data is stored on a memory chip similar to the RAM in a PC with the main difference that it does not require power to retain the data.
The Gizmo! plugs easily into any USB port. It can be plugged into the USB port on the back of any PC without blocking a second adjacent USB port, but also works in a USB hub. If there is no hub, and the USB ports on the back of the PC are hard to reach, Crucial supplies a USB extension cable.
The Gizmo! connects to any PC via a USB port. It is a USB 1.1 full-speed device, meaning it operates at a theoretical maximum speed of 12Mbps. Since USB 2.0 ports are backwards compatible with USB 1.1 devices, the Gizmo! can be used in either USB 1.1 or 2.0 ports. Copying a 55MB test file to the Gizmo! took an average of 1 minute and 12 seconds. Copying the same file from the Gizmo! back to the hard drive took an average of 1 minute and 10 seconds. This translates to about 6.3 Mbps. Acceptable speeds – not as fast as a current CD burner, but a lot faster than a floppy drive! Slower than a Ethernet connection, but a lot faster than a broadband connection.
Hopefully the next generation Gizmo! will be available with USB 2.0 speeds with a theoretical maximum of 480 instead of 12 Mpbs. Between the increased speed and advances in storage technology it should be likely there will be Gizmo!s with Gigs of storage, USB 2.0 speeds, and affordable prices in a year.
The Gizmo! has numerous possibilities and comes in handy in many situations. Just to mention a few:
Of course, a device that is this small and portable bears a high risk of being lost or stolen, which raises the issue of security. Data that is copied straight over has no protection, encryption, or other security. If the device gets lost or stolen, the data on it will be accessible to anybody unless it has been encrypted or password protected beforehand.
However, the Gizmo! comes with a utility from Samsung called Secure-D that covers security. It is installed on a computer and can then be used to configure the flash drive. The available space on the drive can be separated in public and private zones (caveat: setting it up erases the drive so save your data before doing this). The private zone is password protected and can only be accessed with the proper authentication. To switch between zones, the Secure-D application is required so it’s a good idea to keep a copy of it on the Gizmo.
A flash drive like the Gizmo! is another great must-have gadget – not only for geeks, but everybody with a computer. It has a million uses, is maintenance-free, very portable, user-friendly, plug-and-play, and affordable.
Submitted by: Alex Byron