Flash Drives (Buyer's Guide)

Published Date
01 - Dec - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2007
Flash Drives (Buyer's Guide)

Convenient, durable, fast

lash drives have been around for quite some time now, having completely replaced floppy disks. The fact that they are more reliable than CDs or DVDs is another big plus. Available in capacities ranging from 128 MB to 16 GB, they are very affordable. They come in all shapes, sizes, and even colours, and choosing the right one can be difficult.

What You Should Be Looking At

Capacity: While anything less than 256 MB is a definite no-no, if you need to transfer music, a 512 MB drive should be the minimum to opt for. Transferring larger files such as games and movies may require larger capacities. The price of Flash drives increases with the capacity, but 4 GB seems to be the sweet spot at the moment, with drives available at around Rs 1,500. Higher capacity drives are a lot more expensive.

Interface: All PCs today are equipped with a USB 2.0 interface, but PCs more than 5 years old will generally have a USB 1.1 interface. The USB 1.1 interface is slower and has a speed of 12 Mbps, while the 2.0, also labelled as “High Speed”, is faster with 480 Mbps. If you have an older PC with a USB 1.1 interface, then make sure that your Flash drive is backward-compatible with it. Drives, which are not compatible will only work with USB 2.0 ports and will not show up at all in older PCs.

Ruggedness: Flash memory is shock-resistant, but it still needs to be protected from extreme shock (dropping on a hard surface, for instance). Some drives are encased in rugged shock-absorbing rubber jackets, while some are even water-resistant. Though these are a bit expensive, they are worth the investment if you have a carefree way of handling these gadgets.

ReadyBoost: Windows Vista has a feature known as ReadyBoost, which lets you use a connected USB Flash drive as RAM. This allows the OS to create a page file on the drive, and this considerably speeds up memory-intensive tasks. Drives marked as ReadyBoost capable should therefore be preferred.

What You Might Need

Data security: Some Flash drives come bundled with software that lets you password-protect the contents. The usual drawback is that these are a little slower due to the on-the-fly encryption and decryption of data. Some drives have biometric security in the form of fingerprint recognition, though these are a bit expensive. There is a write-protect switch on some drives and this is a sure-shot way of making sure that your data remains safe in the read-only mode even if the drive is plugged in and accessed.

U3: This is a technology that lets you take your Desktop with you on your Flash drive. When you plug in your U3 drive into any computer, you’ll have your complete Desktop with all your settings and documents at your disposal. You can download U3 software from the Internet to add to the usability of the drive, but for that, you need to buy a U3-capable Flash drive.
Bootable: Though you can boot through most USB flash drives, some of them (such as some supporting data encryption) may not support this feature. A bootable drive is very useful in scenarios where the hard drive refuses to boot and you need to get that urgently important file from the hard drive.

Accessories and features: Here are some of the accessories and additional features that you may find useful. USB extension cables are very useful in case, your PC does not have a front USB port, as it is very inconvenient to plug it in behind your PC cabinet. A neck strap or lanyard is very useful at times, especially for people who are paranoid about losing their Flash drive.

Backup and synchronisation software: In addition to the security software, quite a few drives also come with software that lets you backup as well as synchronise the data between the drive and your PC. Used in this way, it becomes a really fast and convenient backup device—just plug in and backup or synchronise.

Agent Tips
Drives larger than 4 GB will not always help you carry DVD images greater than 4 GB. This limitation is due to the fact that most larger Flash drives can only be formatted with the FAT32 filesystem (which does not support the storing of files greater than 4 GB).

Going beyond storage: Some Flash drives go beyond just the function of storage—they can have additional functionalities such as voice recorder, MP3 player, etc.


Innovations do happen in this product segment: take a look at the OCZ USB 2.0 Rally2 which at first look seems like just any other USB Flash drive. Internally, it uses dual-channel technology, and that makes it one of the fastest drives out there.


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