April 20, 2006


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Flash uber-drives
Is that 64GB in your pocket, or...
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

If you’ve been watching the new Doctor Who series on the Sci Fi Channel, you’re familiar with the TARDIS — a vehicle for traveling through time and space that, through transdimensional trickery, is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

USB flash drives are getting to be like that. When they first came out a few years ago you could put some word processing documents on them, a couple pictures and then they were full up. But hey, they fit on your keychain and, unlike floppies, didn’t eat your data whenever a comet passed too close to the Earth’s orbit.

They’ve come a long way, baby.

The latest? 64GB. As every announcement about these things has mentioned, no, that’s not a typo. GB, as in gigabytes, as in a thousand megabytes. 64 o’ those.

BUSlink and Kanguru came out with 64GB additions to their flash drive lines around the end of March, with surprisingly little fanfare. Perhaps that’s because while the technical achievement is impressive, the things are far too expensive to be practical. The Kanguru unit lists for $2,800; the BUSlink one is over $4,000. And they’re both still fit for a keychain.

My laptop has a 30GB hard drive. On it is Windows XP (2GB), a partition with an image of the drive as it came from the factory so it can be restored at the press of a button (2GB), all the digital photos I’ve ever taken (4GB), a relatively modest collection of MP3s, absolutely none of which were downloaded illegally, how dare you even suggest it (4GB), a ton of articles and columns (260MB), homework from my night college days (1GB), other various documents (1GB), a disc image of my favorite game so I don’t have to load the CD every time (450MB), other games and applications (5GB) and a recording of that one episode of Car Talk when they used a song of mine as bumper music (520MB).

My point is that 64GB is really big.

It’s enough room for 91 extended-play CDs. Rip those to MP3 and fit over 900 albums. It’s bigger than the biggest iPod (60GB, for the record).

Now, you can buy external hard drives that are much cheaper, and with more capacity. Hundreds of gigabytes. But they’re (slightly) bigger, usually require a power adapter and are made with ancient spinning disk technology. The beauty of flash memory is that it has no moving parts. Thus it consumes less power and can stand a bigger beating. You still don’t want to go Gallagher on it, but toss it to your butterfingered pal and odds are it’ll be undamaged.

Plus, there’s the cool factor. You could potentially save your entire computer’s contents to your flash drive and boot up right from that drive on a friend’s PC. Essentially, any computer that supports booting from USB can be “your” PC now.

Try not to abuse this power.

Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at hippoflea.com

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