Windows XP / Beginners

Understanding flash memory and keydrives

Regular computer memory - RAM - needs a constant supply of power to keep going. Flash memory is a special kind of computer memory that doesn't self-destruct when the power goes out. Technically a type of EEPROM (Electronically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory), flash memory comes in many different kinds of packages.

If you've spent any time with electronic cameras, you probably know about all about memory cards - SD (Secure Digital), CF (Compact Flash), and SM (Smart Media) cards - and if you've been around Sony equipment, you also know about Memory Sticks. All of them rely on flash memory.

For us computer types, flash memory comes in a little package - frequently the size and shape of half a pack of gum - with a USB connector on the end. You can call it a USB flash memory stick (that's my preference), a keydrive or a keychain drive (people really use them as keychains?

If you have your USB drivers up to date, here's how hard it is to use a USB flash memory stick:

  1. Plug the USB flash memory stick in a USB slot.
  2. You're done.
    The data on the drive looks like data on any other drive. Choose Start → My Computer, and you can look at it. Or you can open a file on the stick with any program.

The salespeople would have you believe that it's cool to have color-coded sticks, fancy encrypted memory (so if somebody steals the stick it takes him ten minutes to look at the data instead of ten seconds), designer outsides, and on and on.

  • Make sure you get USB 2.0 (or later) even if you don't think you need the transfer speed
  • Buy twice the amount of memory that you think you need - you'll use it some day
  • Go for price

If you need to read the other kinds of flash memory - memory cards, the kind normally used in cameras or MP3 players - buy a cheap generic USB multiformat memory card reader. Shouldn't set you back more than ten bucks, and they can come in very handy.

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