USB flash drives have long since replaced floppy disks as the preferred method of computer data storage. Flash drives use a NAND-type flash memory data-storage device integrated with a universal serial bus (USB) interface. The drives are rewritable and removable, much smaller and lighter than floppy disks. The phrase “jump drive” is often tossed around when talking about portable storage devices. But so-called jump drives are not, in fact, a unique type of storage device. JumpDrive is a brand name given to flash drives by the company Lexar.

There are a lot of flash drives out there, with a lot of unique features. Consumers should shop around and determine which features and models suite their purpose. This article offers general information on flash and jump drives, as well as comparisons on a few top models.

1. Flash/Jump Drive Assets:
Flash drives have many assets that appeal to consumers. They are extremely small and portable. They are invulnerable to dust and scratches, and are relatively indestructible. Some flash drives even retain memory after being submerged in water. Hard drives, in comparison, have many moving parts susceptible to failure, and use much more power to run. And of course, they have the capacity for very dense data storage. Very recently, drives with 64 GB storage capacity have hit the market — memory storage much more robust than a DVD.

Computer and software manufacturers have embraced the flash drive, so that most operating systems across platforms allow reading and writing to flash drives without the installation of drivers. The OS can use any block addressing scheme or file system, regardless of the type or brand of flash drive. Some computers can even use flash drives to boot up.

2. Storage Capacity:
Flash drives come in with assigned storage capacities, expressed in gigabytes (GB). The most common capacities are 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB and the enormous 64GB. Needless to say, most consumers don’t need anything near the storage capacity of the super-high-end 64 GB models.

Most experts agree that 4GB is generally the best for the average user. It offers a great deal of memory for a good price, and many of these mid-range models come with all sorts of extras and special features. 4GB translates (roughly) into over 1,000 4-minute songs or 4,000 photographs or 100 hours of video.

3. 4GB SanDiskCruzer Contour:
It’s a bit heavier and larger than most USB drives, but for a good reason. The Contour hides a USB plug beneath a flip-up shield, which protects the plug when not in use. It’s reasonably priced at around $69.99. Its speed is among the highest of the flash drives in this range, with read times at 25.7 MB/second, and write times at 16.9 MB/second.

Its software applications include Avast! Antivirus, CruzerSync for synching files between the flash and hard drives, HP Photosmart, SignupShield password manager, and games. It also supports Vista ReadyBoost. It even comes with a padded carrying case, a clip for a keychain, and a lifetime guarantee from the manufacturer.

4. 4GB Imation’s Swivel Flash Drive:
At around $49.99 Imation’s Swivel Flash Drive is easily one the least expensive of its caliber. Its name comes from the swivel feature, which allows the attached cap to swivel around 180 degrees to attach, protecting the plug when not in use. It is extremely light and small, with an activity light and a lock switch which, when set, prevents overwriting of the contents of the drive. It has a great read speed of 26.7MB/second, fantastic for the price, but its write speed, at 6.2MB/second is not quite on par with its more expensive counterparts.

The Swivel comes with a full neck lanyard, so you can wear the drive under a shirt. The casing has a small yellow activity light on one side, and opposite it is a feature no one else offered amid the crop of USB flash drives we tested: a lock switch to prevent overwriting anything on the drive.

5. 4GB Lexar JumpDrive Lightning:
The JumpDrive Lightning is one of Lexar’s premium JumpDrives. The design of the Lightning is not quite as current as some other models. It’s just a straight capped stick, with no retractable plug. But its speed and software extras make it a good value at around $79.99. The Lightning reads at 30MB/second and writes at 21MB/second. It is both Mac and PC compatible, and it is compatible with Windows Vista and enhanced for Windows ReadyBoast. It also comes with PowerToGo software — Ceedo technology that offers a pop-up menu mimicking the Windows X P start menu. From this menu, you can access and run applications from the flash drive.

Its most advantageous feature is its security software. Secure II advanced security software is integrated with each drive to protect data. The software can secure individual files and can also create a secured folder called a “vault.” It even has a “file shredder” application that makes sure deleted files are unrecoverable.

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