The Ultimate Guide to USB Flash Drives: Part I

What kind of USB Flash Drive do you want?

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USB flash drives are what I consider to be the floppy drives of the millenium. Most everyone is using a USB drive for either transporting documents from one location to another or they are using it for a utility of some kind.

As I see everyone carrying their USB drives around their neck, in their pockets, and on their wrist watches, I sometimes wonder if they use them for storage or a utility for booting into your own operating system. But enough about everyone else...why do you need one?

Determine your needs

For starters, look at your day-to-day duties and see where you can use "portable data." Three questions will answer what kind of USB drive you need: How much data will I be carrying, what type of data will I be carrying, and what kind of USB drive will it be?

Are you carrying documents from home to work and vice-versa? Are you carrying around a bootable equivalent of a CD/DVD for basic data recovery? Does it need to be secure? If you lost your data and someone found it, would it matter to you if someone looked at it? Or are you just using the USB drive for pictures that you carry around?

Finding your USB flash drive 

There are two types of USB flash drives. The first type contains flash memory already installed "on a stick." The only way you can take the the memory out of the USB stick is by using a handy screwdriver to pry it open. Even then, it's pretty much useless.

The second type of USB flash drive requires a certain type of flash media and can be inserted into a USB case shell. The most common flash media used for this type of drive are Secure Digital (SD) cards. Another type of media you can use are the Sony Memory Pro sticks. There are a number of shells that use both types of media and some that use more.

There are two advantages to using a USB shell. One advantage is that you can exchange different types of flash media without being tied down to a particular size. For example, if you purchased a 1GB flash drive (no shell, just a stick) and you've filled it, your only choice will be to purchase another flash drive. If you had a USB shell drive, you could easily swap out the 1GB SD card for a 2GB SD card.

The second advantage to using a USB shell drive is you can use your SD card to exchange data with other devices. Secure Digital and Sony Memory Pro sticks are common with other devices, such as digital cameras, PDA's, and digital video recorders. When you take pictures with your camera, you can easily take your SD card out of your camera and insert it into your USB shell and plug it into your laptop or desktop to view the pictures. Simple enough.

One disadvantage, which I just recently discovered, is that if you are constantly swaping your SD card between your USB Shell drive and your card reader, your SD Card (not your USB Shell drive) may become worn and pieces may start falling off your SD card. So make sure you have a backup SD card handy. And yes, I'm speaking from experience.


Before purchasing a USB flash drive, find out what you'll be using it for and what type you'll be getting. In my opinion, the best deals are the USB shells where you can swap out flash media with larger sizes as your storage needs increase where the USB sticks have a fixed amount of storage.

On Monday, we'll talk about where to purchase your USB drives and how to look for the best deals in part II of this series.

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Picture of Jonathan Danylko

Jonathan Danylko is a freelance web architect and avid programmer who has been programming for over 20 years. He has developed various systems in numerous industries including e-commerce, biotechnology, real estate, health, insurance, and utility companies.

When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, he replies, "Programming."

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