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Flash, Hard Disk, and Optical (4/2006)
by Douglas Dixon
Flash Drives for Fashion -
Flash Drives for Performance
Flash Drives with Displays - Flash Drives with Applications
Portable Hard Drives
Managing USB Devices
What could be more bland than memory and discs? -- It's
just different kinds of portable storage for your digital data. There certainly
was a lot of excitement around sexy high-definition displays and portable media
players kicking off the new year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
in January. But there also was plenty of activity in portable storage --
fashionable designs in brighter colors, more capacity in smaller sizes
(gigabytes in a pendant, much less your pocket), as well as new options for
delivering your productions on CD and DVD with snazzy colors and labels.
Let's look at the range of new storage products, from memory cards, to USB flash drives, to portable
hard drives, to CDs and DVDs.
continue to evolve, adding capacity for use in digital cameras and camcorders,
and shrinking in size for smaller devices like mobile phones. For example, the
new SanDisk 2GB miniSD card
(suggested retail $199) is doubled in capacity, at half the size of the original
SD card (www.sandisk.com). Then the new SanDisk 1GB microSD card ($119, formerly known as TransFlash) is
incredibly half again smaller, like a tiny fingernail -- but still able to store
up to approximately 480 WMA-compressed songs in your mobile phone, downloaded
from the Verizon Wireless V CAST Music service.
SanDisk miniSD & microSD
And you don't even need a card reader device to access data
stored on the new SanDisk
Ultra II SD Plus USB card.
It has a hinged cover around the bottom half of the card that folds down to
reveal a USB connector, so you can plug it in directly to your computer (1 GB
$134 for $134).
SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus USB card
For use with a computer, however, USB "thumb" drives -- solid-state flash memory on a stick with
a USB interface -- are a popular and convenient solution for carrying and
sharing digital files. You can carry your digital life -- documents and photos,
music and video -- everywhere you go, and plug in to any computer to access and
share your stuff.
As these USB drives increase in capacity into multiple
gigabytes, they also are shrinking in size, and being designed as colorful
fashion accessories you can wear around your neck. Companies are offering
multiple lines of USB drives -- fun and style vs. more rugged, with higher
capacity and performance (using USB 2.0), and with security features to protect
your digital data (typically only for
Windows). New designs also offer sliding or retractable covers so you
won't loose the cap protecting the USB connector.
Some companies are color-coding their product lines to
indicate different capacities. The Imation
Swivel flash drives (www.imation.com) with brightly colored swivel caps are
available in 32 MB, 64 MB, 128 MB and 1 GB capacities ($15 to $99), with orange,
lime green, blue and gray hued caps, respectively. And the Imation
Swivel Pro drive includes a blue LED light to signal data being transferred,
in capacities from 128 MB to 2 GB ($24 to $199). Imation also offers a free
download of drive partitioning and password protection software, so you can
segment your drive into public and private areas.
For the ultimate in convenient, wearable, go-anywhere
storage, the Imation Flash Wristband
is available in basic black or blue. It's a flexible rubber band that uses the
USB connector as a clasp, and is available with 256 MB for $34.
Imation Flash Wristband
The Sony line of flash drives, for example, includes the Sony
Micro Vault "Tiny" drives, roughly 1/2 inch wide and one inch long, with
color-coded capacities of 256 MB to 2 GB, with a "fashion-forward"
Sony Micro Vault "Tiny" drive
higher-capacity Sony Micro Vault Classic
has a one-piece design with retractable connector, in capacities from 256 MB to
4 GB. The Sony Micro Vault Turbo model offers transfer speeds up to 28 MB per
second, and a read speed of 18 MB per second. The drives also are preloaded with
Virtual Expander, offering automatic file compression for up to three times more
Sony Micro Vault Turbo
And for secure access, the Sony Micro Vault with Fingerprint Access with 512 MB capacity uses a
finger swipe sensor to protect encrypted files and offers Auto Login software to
store and automatically enter Web site IDs and passwords.
For fast access, drives like the Verbatim Store 'n' Go Pro (www.verbatim.com)
include an on-board processor to manage data access, providing error detection
and correction and wear-leveling to improve reliability to over one million
write/erase cycles. The Store 'n' Go Pro supports a maximum write speed of
14 MB/sec. (over 90 X in terms of CD speed rating), and a maximum read speed of
23 MB/sec. (over 150 X), so you can upload a 100 MB file in less than 7 seconds.
The drives also include a 2-color LED that identifies the port speed, and are
available in capacities from 256 MB to 2 GB ($65 to $329). Verbatim also offers
data encryption and password protection, with security and file synchronization
Similarly, the compact Lexar
JumpDrive Firefly drive (www.lexar.com/jumpdrive)
is available in 256 MB, 512 MB, and 1 GB capacities, the Lexar
JumpDrive Lightning is now available in up to 4 GB, with faster 150x write
speed (where "x" as equivalent to a minimum sustained write speed
capability of 150 KB/sec.). And the Lexar
JumpDrive TouchGuard drive with integrated biometric fingerprint sensor is
available in up to 1 GB.
Another helpful new feature just starting to appear in
flash drives is an integrated display to help you see how much storage is
available. Of course, this is a bit tricky to implement, since the drives have
no power source to light the display. Instead, these drives use an inert display
that is updated when the drive is plugged into a computer.
For example, the Lexar
JumpDrive Mercury, available in 1 and 2 GB, includes an integrated capacity
meter based on Electronic Paper Display (EPD) technology created by E Ink
Corporation, the display is a paper-thin, shatter proof form that is easy to
read, and does not rely on power to maintain capacity information.
SmartDrive flash drives (www.mydidigo.com)
have a BCD (Bi-stable Cholesteric) LCD Display that not only shows the remaining
capacity in megabytes, but also has a nice pie chart of disk space usage (1 GB
for $119). Even better, it also includes a line of text to help identify the
drive's owner or contents (an 11-character string changed by renaming the drive
volume label on your computer).
Didigo SmartDrive flash drive
The next leap for
USB flash drives is to go beyond being a data storage device to become your
portable desktop. The idea here is to include copies of your desktop
applications on the flash drive, along with associated preferences, so you sit
down at any computer -- in a library or Internet cafe, at work or at school, and
be immediately running with your preferred editors, browsers, utilities, and
other software applications. However, this feature does require special versions
of the software applications, which are now starting to become available
(currently only for Windows).
One such platform
is the U3 "smart drive"
platform (www.u3.com) created by SanDisk and M-Systems, available in flash
drives lines including the SanDisk Cruzer
Micro and Verbatim Store 'n Go
(available up to 2 GB for $179 and 4 GB for $349).
Verbatim U3 "smart drive"
is used for the Lexar PowerToGo JumpDrive.
This uses technology from Ceedo
Technologies (www.ceedo.com) to create a
private working space to run your applications self-contained, without leaving
any trace behind on the host computer. Lexar also plans to make PowerToGo
available to its installed customer base as an Internet download.
While flash memory
drives are becoming affordable in capacities up to 2 and 4 GB, miniature 1-inch
hard drives still can provide another option for affordable storage in small
sizes, plus another bump in capacity.
For example, the Imation
Micro Hard Drive with a padlock-like design (www.imation.com/microharddrive)
is available with 2 and 4 GB for only $159 and $189.
Imation Micro Hard Drive
Or if you prefer
your storage in a credit card, the Verbatim
Store 'n' Go 8 GB USB HD is only $199, in a credit card form factor
(2.75 x 2.125 x 0.5 inches, and 1.8 oz.).
Verbatim Store 'n' Go USB HD
Or try the LaCie Carte Orange
with 4 GB for $99, and 8 GB for $149,
in a very thin design (2.2 x 3.3 x 0.23 inches).
LaCie Carte Orange
Of course, you're paying a heavy premium for the small size
and tiny hard drive, so you can step up to 10 times the capacity at the same
price, in an only slightly larger form factor. For example, the LaCie
Skwarim is available in shocking pink with 30 GB for $149 or electric blue
with 60 GB for $199 -- and is still very easy to carry in a pocket (3.3 x 3.3 x
0.5 inches and 3.5 oz.).
For more capacity in a still mobile size, you can move up
to derives like the LaCie Mobile Hard
Drives (40 to 100+ GB, with USB and FireWire ports), or for less gentle
travels, the LaCie Rugged All-Terrain
Hard Drive, with tough metal casing and shock-resistant rubber bumper (80 GB
for $169 and120 GB for $329). The higher-end drives have larger caches (up from
2 to 8 MB or greater), faster rotation speeds, and therefore better data rates
(up from 20 to 30 MB/sec).
So now you have
more and more portable gadgets that are storage devices -- cameras and phones,
memory cards, and flash drives, and even portable hard drives. But you still
need to bring along a computer to manage your data, for example to off-load
photos from your mobile phone or camera to a portable hard drive.
Time for another
gadget -- the Memorex TravelSync (www.memorex.com),
a palm-size portable transfer device ($59) with two USB ports, plus a display so
you can choose which files to transfer, and in which direction. It's compatible
with a wide variety of devices that support the USB Mass Storage
interface, from card readers to digital
cameras to media players (but not Apple iPods). It's powered by 3 AAA batteries,
although transferring from a hard disk does require external power for the disk.
Or for even more
flexibility, the Memorex TravelLink
($79) adds two memory card slots, supporting CompactFlash I, CF II, SD,
SM, MMC, Memory Stick, MS Pro, and MS Duo. It also can be connected directly to
a computer to act as an 8-in-1 card reader.
And don't forget
optical discs for burning and sharing data. Just when you thought there were
enough choices for discs -- CD and DVD, R and RW, dash and plus, single and
double layer, colorful and printable -- the industry is poised to bring you
more. Many companies, including Imation and
TDK, are helping by redesigning their packaging to use stronger labeling and
color coding make the disc type and format very clear even at a glance.
New disc options
include the faster Verbatim 8X DVD+RW
media, to burn an entire 4.7GB disc in about 7 minutes.
And the small Verbatim Mini DVD+R DL delivers coaster-size DVDs (around 3 inches or 8 cm)
with double-layer capacity (2.6 GB) -- allowing DVD camcorders to record an hour
of video at reasonable quality.
Another big trend
is the rollout of recordable discs with hard coat surfaces that resist
scratching and make them easier to clean by just wiping with a cloth. Originally
developed for the new high-def DVD formats, these surfaces are now available for
DVD and CD, under names such as Imation ForceField and Memorex
For printing labels directly on discs, the new Imation
AquaGuard surface for inkjet printable CDs and DVDs is water- and
smear-resistant, offering not only great print quality but also instantaneous
drying, so you can handle them directly from the printer. The surface uses
nanoparticle technology to grip and hold ink, to lock printed images in place,
and also has a very white surface for better color reproduction and more
brilliant images. Media with the AquaGuard surface also is offered by Primera
for its inkjet-based disc duplication and printing equipment (www.primera.com).
Imation AquaGuard printable discs
Another option for printing on discs is to use LightScribe
media -- just flip the disc over in the drive tray, and use the laser to write
the label. However, since you're not printing in color, the result is a sepia
effect. New Verbatim LightScribe CDs
and DVDs offer not only a gold-background coating that enables up to 30 percent
faster label printing, but also more colorful results with vibrant jewel-toned
background colors such as yellow, green and orange.
SanDisk - miniSD / microSD memory cards, Cruzer flash
Imation - Swivel flash drives, Flash Wristband, Micro Hard Drive
Sony - Micro Vault flash drives
Verbatim - Store 'n' Go flash drives
Lexar - JumpDrive
Didigo SmartDrive flash drives
U3 - Smart Drive
LaCie - Carte Orange, Skwarim, Mobile Hard Drives
Memorex - TravelSync, TravelLink
Originally published in Camcorder & Computer
Video magazine, 22, 4, April 2006.