The age of the personal computer has revolutionized the world in which we live. The data storage market has taken huge leaps forward and the golden rule of most high tech companies seems to be "faster, better, and smaller." For the consumer, this is great news. Not so long ago, the 5 1/4 inch floppy disk was the most portable way to store data. The industry improved upon itself with the introduction of the 3.5-inch diskette and in soon after, consumers would have access to Zip disks, CD-Rs, and DVD-Rs. Each one offered increased storage, smaller size, and a lower cost. In keeping with tradition, the industry's next-generation storage device is now ready for primetime: enter the USB flash drive.
USB flash drives are small, portable devices that store data and information on Flash memory chips (NAND chips for my fellow geeks out there). These drives feature a standard USB connector on one end and often have a removable cap. While the first USB drive debuted in 2001, they are quickly taking off thanks to recent improvements in the NAND storage and a reduction in price. Flash drives work similar to floppy diskettes, in that you can write, read, and edit information over and over again. The small size of USB drives makes them perfect to travel with, just toss one in your pocket and go. Capacities range from 16MB to more than 32GB, for example a 4GB USB drive will store many thousands of pictures and documents, hundreds of songs, and even full-screen videos.
There are several advantages USB flash drives have over floppies, CDs, and DVDs. First, the nature of solid-state memory makes them extremely reliable. Solid State means that there are no moving parts, which means there are no parts to break or wear out. No moving parts also mean there is very little power needed to operate a USB flash drive. The best part is that, unlike most CDs and DVDs which are write-once, the information on a flash drive can be edited, erased, and modified as often as necessary, no more messing with RW medias. The density of flash memory makes them the smallest commercially available drives. The ubiquity of USB ports on computers of all types and shapes, and the recent appearance of USB ports in car stereos, home theater equipment, and home appliances means that USB is here to stay. Wow, universally accepted, small size, big storage, lower power consumption … what more could you ask for?
Because of their small shape and large storage capacity, USB flash drives are the ideal method for storing data today. In the race to stay current, the music industry has adopted USB drives as a new means of distributing albums. Artists such as Bob Marley, Barenaked Ladies, and Jennifer Lopez already have music available on special limited-edition USB drives. Simply plug them in to your computer to enjoy instant, high-quality sound. As a marketing tool, custom USB drives excel in all the ways discs fall short. Besides being more portable and more durable, flash drives can have a logo or name imprinted on them for lasting brand recognition. At trade shows and events, USB drives are a clever, high-tech way to distribute product information and demo videos to large numbers of people.
Taking into account the unique shapes and colors, the rising capacity, and the increasing popularity of USB flash drives, it is easy to see that these pocket-sized tools are quickly becoming the new standard. Like iPods, pocketknives, and Altoids, USB drives are just one of the many good things in life that come in a small package.