My Flypaper Mind Brenden Schaaf's opinions, ideas, comments, rantings, & minutiae

17May/090

Flash drives

sandisktitaniumMy last post about using SyncToy perhaps jumped the gun for anyone reading it that didn't already own a flash drive.  Or perhaps you are in the market for a new flash drive to replace one that isn't performing well or is too small.  Thus, I bring you this brief post to give you some flash drive ideas before you make a purchase.

Flash drives are handy for many things, the most obvious being to make your files easily portable.  Most of them can be easily attached to a keychain so you can always have your files with you in your pocket or purse.  For a guy that remembers adding 4MB (yes, megabytes not gigabytes!!) to his PC back in 1995 (at a cost of around $230) so it would have 8MB total RAM to better run Windows 95, it is quite amazing to carry several gigabytes around in his pocket.

Another great use of a flash drive is as a backup device.  With 16GB and larger drives selling for a reasonable price these days, it would be very easy to make a flash drive your backup medium of choice if you don't want to invest in an external hard drive (although the prices on those are getting pretty affordable as well).  Plus a flash drive is easier to lock up in a fire safe or safety deposit box.

A few years ago, I bought a few flash drives that caught my eye on Slickdeals, a favorite site of mine.  I'd look for the biggest drive for the cheapest price, but I found out soon that you get what you pay for.  The first several flash drives I bought this way ended up lasting only a few months before they were inoperable and it was generally only a week or two before pieces would break off, caps would go missing, or the USB plug would get bent (often because the cap was missing, actually).

I then discovered the basic Sandisk Cruzer models where the USB plug retracts inside the flash drive when not in use...that solved the problem of the caps going missing, but the durability was still an issue because the plastic just wouldn't hold up to constant handling and use.  I never had one of these fail where data was lost, but plastic pieces would break off and sharp edges would remain and I was nevertheless concerned that my flash drive could stop working at any time.  That is definitely not a good feeling to have when it comes to data that is important...it's like owning a car that you are never sure whether or not it will start (on a related note, I once owned a car that I had to park facing downhill so I could "pop the clutch" to start the engine if the battery died -- which it did randomly from time to time -- talk about lack of confidence).

I no longer have this issue since I switched to the Sandisk Cruzer Titanium flash drives.  The first one I owned had a 2GB capacity, then I bought a 4GB model, and I now use an 8GB one.  I'll probably stick with this size for a while since I still have plenty of room on it and I don't see the need to spend money to upgrade at this time.  Although I'm sure the "guts" of the Titanium flash drive is the same as the cheaper plastic Sandisk models the increased price is money well spent given the durability of the more expensive model, especially in a situation like mine where I carry it with me everywhere.  In fact, there is a review of the 2GB model from a couple years ago where they ran a car over a Cruzer Titanium flash drive and it survived.  Probably worth the extra few dollars to make sure it can withstand the beating in your coat pocket!!

16May/090

SyncToy makes using your flash drive easy

synctoylogoUSB flash drives (also called jumpdrives or thumb drives) are great devices, but if you edit documents on your flash drive that you also use on your hard drive, how do you keep track of which file is the more current version?  And once you figure that out, how do you copy the "current versions" from your flash drive to your computer and vice versa?

Enter SyncToy, now in version 2.0, by Microsoft.  SyncToy is available as a free download for Windows and once you set up the relationship between your flash drive and a folder (or set of folders) on your computer it is a simple matter of inserting the flash drive into a USB port and clicking a button each time you want synchronize your files.

Furthermore, SyncToy isn't useful only when managing files between a computer and a  flash drive.  Maybe you copied an Excel file from your PC to your laptop so you could take it on the road, but now you have two versions of the same file in two locations.  Without a tool like SyncToy it would be very easy to miss copying the edited files to back to your main data storage location or you might accidentally copy an older version of a file over the top of a more recent version.

I use SyncToy extensively because I use four different computers to create/edit my documents for a class that I teach.  On 3 of the computers I store new/edited files on my flash drive with the hard drive on my laptop being my main storage location.  In the 2+ years I have used SyncToy (starting with version 1.4) it has never caused me any trouble and it has made my life significantly easier.  It is one of those programs that is "just there" and it "just works" -- something that can not be said often enough about other applications unfortunately.

Get SyncToy version 2.0 at this link: http://www.microsoft.com/DownLoads/details.aspx?familyid=C26EFA36-98E0-4EE9-A7C5-98D0592D8C52&displaylang=en

synctoy1

A SyncToy preview screen showing changes that will be made to keep two file locations synchronized with each other. Files can be individually excluded from the process if desired. Click this image to see it more clearly.