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The ultimate storage device

With a capacity to store 16,000 songs or 70 DVD quality movies,SanDisk’s new flash drive is an alluring monster.

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: May 3, 2009

In 1999, the typical personal computer came with four to five gigabytes (GB) of storage. If you crammed every nook and cranny of the disc with MP3 music files (which one might recall, was quite the rage back then), you could, theoretically, fill your disc with 1,000 songs. But since your hard disc was in all likelihood filled with software, in reality you could pack in much less. To store music, therefore, meant buying blank CDs with a capacity of 640 megabytes (MB). The blank discs cost around Rs 75-100.

A decade back, it was considered a revolutionary change. Today, looking back they were the early years for storage devices. The remarkable evolution of storage is typified by what SanDisk launched a few weeks ago: a 64 GB USB Flash Drive, more popularly called a “pendrive”. It means storing 16,000 songs that can play nonstop for almost 45 days. Or over 70 DVD-quality movies in the DivX format.

SanDisk has launched this as a “back-up” drive and so it has plug-and-play back-up capabilities as well. Press a button on the drive and it copies all your critical documents. Of course, you can use it as a simple pendrive also, or with the addition of some software (such as U3), you can convert it into a pendrive from which you can directly run applications.

What does this mean for you? To put it simply, you could carry all your important files and applications with you all the time and plug it in to any computer that runs the relevant operating system. The same thing can be done through the cloud, by running applications hosted online with files saved online. But it requires a fast Net connection, and the fact of the matter is that there are still under six million broadband connections in India.

USB Flash Drives, however, are not without their problems. Most of them come cheap and a 32 GB pendrive costs under Rs 2,000, though the one terabyte (TB) powered hard disc drive from Western Digital cost around Rs 7,000. A bigger problem is that pendrives, like all other forms of storage, suffer from “Data Rot”—a physical degradation of the drive that leads to the data inside being lost.

Pendrives are particularly susceptible to this and usually give up their ghost anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000 read-write cycles, depending on the quality of the drive. For me, though, the biggest problem with pendrives is simple. I lose them. Over the past year, I must have lost about 10 of them. But then again, nowadays most press releases come on pendrives and so, I do have a healthy supply chain. As you can see, I’m not complaining.

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