It's amazing how the cost of USB flash drives keep going down while their memory capacity keeps going up.
I recently picked up an 8GB SanDisk Cruzer Micro from Costco for around $35. I've since found the same model on Amazon for as low as $15. That's an incredible amount of storage for such a small device, and at such a small price. And now SanDisk is selling a 16GB model!
One of the most exciting evolutions of flash memory is how the technology is starting to replace the woefully outdated technology found in hard drives. Cutting edge laptops like the MacBook Air and the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 already replace clunky hard drives with "solid-state drives" (SSDs) that are based on flash memory.
Traditional hard drives still contain moving parts — a rarity in modern computers. The guts of a hard drive contain shiny platters that spin thousands of times per minute, while a tiny metal arm zips back and forth reading the data stored on those platters. It's truly amazing how well hard drives work from an engineering perspective, but they could be so much faster if we could eliminate all the moving parts. That's why solid-state drives are so promising — they're fast, they have no moving parts, and are relatively small compared to hard drives.
But until the capacities of SSDs can catch up (which will be soon), we'll have to continue to get our flash-memory fix from USB products like the SanDisk Cruzer.
The SanDisk Cruzer is eloquently designed, sporting a white slider on top that pushes or pulls the USB plug in or out of the body casing. I much prefer this design over other USB drives that simply give you a plastic cap over the plug and which gets lost easily. A little click of the Cruzer's slider tells you when the USB plug is fully extended and ready to plug into your computer. If you don't feel that click, the USB plug may retreat back into its shell when you plug it into your computer.
The SanDisk Cruzer is USB 2.0 compatible, and I would recommend staying with USB 2.0 whenever you can. The USB 2.0 standard is backwards compatible with USB 1.0 so you can use the Cruzer on an older computer — it will just be frustratingly slow. The vast majority of computers manufactured in the last 8-10 years have USB 2.0 ports so hopefully this won't be a problem for anyone.
The best surprise is that the SanDisk Cruzer contains the U3 technology right out of the package. U3 is proprietary software that can be installed on compatible USB flash drives enabling software applications to be run directly from the flash drive. While you may normally think of a USB flash drive as simply a storage device, the U3 technology turns the flash drive into a portable computing environment.
You must purchase a U3 compatible USB flash drive for the software to work, and so it's fortunate that it comes pre-installed on many SanDisk flash drives like the Cruzer. Having the U3 software on the Cruzer does not limit your storage use of the flash drive — you can copy data and files to and from the Cruzer just like a regular USB drive. But the U3 software adds a welcome level of functionality to the Cruzer.
The first time you plug the SanDisk Cruzer into a computer (Windows 2000, XP, or Vista), the computer will take a couple moments to recognize the new device. The computer will recognize the SanDisk Cruzer as a regular "removable disk" and it will appear as another drive letter. In addition, the U3 software actually creates a virtual CD drive so that the U3 software can auto-launch when you plug the Cruzer into a computer.
Inserting the SanDisk Cruzer into a computer launches the "U3 Launchpad" which resembles the Windows Start Menu. A tiny U3 icon gets added to your system tray way next to the Windows clock. You can single-click on that tiny icon to bring up the Launchpad which shows the applications you've installed on the Cruzer. The Launchpad also tells you how much free space is on your USB flash drive, and lets you configure auto-launching options for each program.
Software can be downloaded from the "U3 Software Central" portal You can either visit this site in a regular Web browser, or the Launchpad has a "Download Programs" button that will take you directly to the site in its own simplified browser.
There are a good number of free applications that you can download (e.g. Evernote for U3, Mozilla Firefox for U3, and the Maxthon Web Browser), along with many pricey applications for purchase. I found that most of the free applications suited my needs.
The U3-enabled SanDisk Cruzer is a constant companion in my briefcase. Whenever I sit in front of a foreign computer, either at a client site or a hotel business room, I usually reach for the Cruzer because it has the applications I'm familiar with configured the way I want them to work.
For example, I have Mozilla Thunderbird installed on my Cruzer to access e-mail. I can launch that application from my Cruzer on any computer to check my e-mail without changing settings on a computer, or sacrificing my own privacy.
Likewise, I have both the Firefox and Maxthon Web browsers installed on my Cruzer and they're configured exactly the way I like them for security and ease of access. That may not sound like a big deal, but I hate sitting down at a foreign computer, launching Internet Explorer, and looking at an unsightly collection of toolbars and odd-sized fonts. My browsers on the Cruzer look exactly the way I want to them look, and work just like I'm used to. That makes me more efficient.
I've used other USB-based application platforms like PortableApps.com and MojoPac, but I like U3's simplicity and convenience. I regularly recommend PortableApps.com, but that system requires the user to download, install, and set up the USB flash drive yourself. It's incredibly simple to do, but the U3 software comes pre-loaded on the SanDisk Cruzer, and it just works right out of the package.
If you're in the market for a USB flash-drive, there's certainly no shortage of products to pick from today. But I would suggest taking a look at the SanDisk Cruzer because it can provide both a reliable, portable storage device as well as a convenient portable computing environment.
|SanDisk Cruzer Micro 8 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive SDCZ6-8192-A11|
List price: $44.99 USD
Amazon price: $19.89 USD
|SanDisk Cruzer Micro 16 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive SDCZ6-016G-A11|
List price: $69.99 USD
Amazon price: $34.09 USD
|Apple MacBook Air MB940LL/A 13.3 Inch Laptop (1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor, 2 GB RAM, 128 GB |
Binding: Personal Computers
List price: $1,699.00 USD
Amazon price: $2,299.60 USD
|Dell Inspiron mini 9-Inch (Intel® Atom Processor 1.6 Ghz , 1 GB DDR2 at 533MHz, 8GB Solid State Dri|
Binding: Personal Computers
Amazon price: $649.00 USD