Anyone remember the days of 1.44MB floppy disks? I do and even though they are still on sale in stores today, they're becoming very rare. You'll find students carrying mini USB flash drives around more now. They look cooler and those who work with large files such as databases, accounting spreadsheets or high resolution graphics can use the higher capacity and speed. It kind of makes you wonder what people used to carry large files around on in the earlier days.
Last week, I decided to order one off Play.com myself too because the files I've been working with at uni are fairly big in size. Most of the time I don't have enough time to finish off coursework because I have to run to work in the afternoon so, I thought it was best if I had something portable to store the files on that I could bring home with. Not to mention during group work, you often work on separate pieces of a project and have to bring it together for review.
Lots of students enter university and usually say they need a laptop for work but, truth be told, you don't really need one. That's what the university "labs" and the library is for. It's just an excuse to own a cool piece of gear and look all business-like. Unless of course, you're either an overseas student who doesn't have a computer at your term-time address or, you're a part time student who needs to type up important documents for work.
So, what flash drive did I choose to go for in the end? Well, unlike other hardware where it's probably best to spend some time reading reviews first, there's really not much to expect from a flash drive. Capacity and build quality is really about it but since you'll be pulling one out in front of people, the image cautious might want a cool linking one. I decided to go for SanDisk's Cruzer Micro U3 flash drive.
I actually already bought a 1GB flash drive about 5 years ago when they weren't so popular and were very expensive. The 1GB stick cost me £100 but these days you can get the same capacity for a few pounds. Broadband was also just rolling out too back then so it was expensive to subscribe to so I thought I could download stuff off IRC at the net cafes then stick it onto the drive. So why don't I use that instead of buying a new one? The reason I decided to get a new one is because the old was big and of poor build quality. The casing was very brittle and it was already cracking and falling apart.
Nowadays the build quality has improved and they're much cheaper as with all technology as they mature. The Cruzer Micro I got has a black plastic casing as with most flash drives but it feels sturdier than my past one. If you squeeze it with a little force you can't feel it bending whereas with my old drive, it would break to pieces.
The Cruzer doesn't come with a cap for the USB connector unlike most but instead, uses a sliding mechanism. If you shake it you can hear the connector rattling slightly but that shouldn't really annoy you. To slide it out, you have to press down on the white part of the drive lightly and it will click into place. If you then try to connect it into a USB slot, you can feel it's clicked into place very securely so you don't have to worry about it sliding back in again.
As you can see, the little sliding switch is also actually the bright orange LED light that blinks when the drive is in operation. Pretty eye-catching.
My old flash drive came with an extension USB cable and a lanyard so that you could hang it around your neck but, the Cruzer didn't come packaged with either even though it has a little ring attached to it. I know most people just pocket their drives or attach it to their set of keys but, a lanyard would have been handy.
Another feature with flash drives today is that some of them are labelled "U3 Smart" which means not only can you carry around your work but, also your favourite applications too. Well, at least the ones that are U3 compatible anyway. This means you're no longer stuck with certain applications when you're working on someone else's computer or, have to change software settings all over again.
My drive came pre-loaded with Skype, CruzerSync, HP Photosmart, McAfee VirusScan and two games which just took up 100MB of the 4GB space I had. More U3 compatible apps were available from the official U3 website so I decided to put Firefox on too.
After plugging in the drive on any computer, the first thing that happens is two new drives appear in the My Computer window; a removable drive and an emulated CD drive for the U3 Launchpad itself. Once that's done, the U3 Launchpad is loaded and you're free to run any of the programs installed on your flash drive.
Most of the Windows XP computers which I used the drive on ran the U3 software fine even though I was on a limited account. One or two refused to load. Other downsides are the launchpad can take some time to start up and programs can be slow since they are running off the flash drive itself. The good news is if you think it's just a waste of space, you can disable and uninstall it all and if you wanted to, can restore the software later. Then there's also the risk of losing the drive to consider but there's some form of security provided to protect the data.
Overall, the Cruzer Micro U3 Flash Drive is a nice little purchase for those who need to carry large data files on the move.
If you already have a flash drive and want to try U3 yourself, I'm afraid you can't as far as I know. The good news is there is a free alternative named PortableApps which you can install onto any flash drive yourself. It actually seems to load faster than U3 but you have to launch it manually. Try it yourself and see what you think about these portable applications.