Mon, 14 Jul 2003

Small devices to back up data

The flash memory technology has really revolutionized our data storage. The stamp-sized memory devices are small and lightweight, but their storage capacity is amazing. They do not need any battery power to store the data. As long as we do not erase it, the data will remain there. And their storage capacity is large, and growing. Just for comparison, my Pentium 133 MHz notebook has a 1 GB hard disk. The largest flash memory capacity available today is also 1 GB.

Besides, the Universal Serial Bus (USB) port is another boon for computer users. Not only can we plug and unplug devices at any time without having to first power down the system, the devices that we attach to the USB will automatically be recognized by the system, provided you run Windows XP.

Windows XP already has the software driver for an external data storage device. If you run the earlier version of Windows, you will have to install the driver yourself. If you do not have it, you will have to download it from the Internet.

Because they are so simple to use, these flash memory-based data storage devices can be used as backup storage devices, too. There are various different formats of flash memory devices on the market today. The most popular is the key chain, thumb-like USB card.

Now, if you have a digital camera such as Canon Powershot, a good choice will be the CompactFlash (CF) format that you can also use for the camera as well as a storage device to backup the data on your hard disk.

Recently I had the chance to try out Netac's 128 MB UCF card. This particular card has two interfaces -- a CompactFlash interface to connect it to the camera and a USB to connect it to the PC. I placed the UCF into the slot in my Powershot A50 and took several photos. Then I took the card out of its slot in the camera, connected it to my PC's USB. The PC immediately recognized the card and, after a few clicks, I was able to display all the photos on my screen. I did not even have Canon's Zoombrowser application on my PC. I liked the simplicity very much.

By the way, the CompactFlash that originally came with this Powershot A50 had only 8 MB of storage capacity. With a 128 MB UCF, I would be able to store hundreds of photos taken with this one-megapixel camera. Of course, if you have a 3 or 4 or 5 megapixel digital camera, you will need a larger CF card.

Some flash memory vendors have added compression and encryption utilities in the flash memory as well. Thus, when you save your files on it, they will be compressed and you can even secure them with a password. Check with the stores if you think you need password protection for your data.

Actually, the biggest problem with these flash memory devices today is that they are so small and it is so easy to misplace them. The challenge is now how we can organize our collection of flash memory devices so that they do not get lost under the stuff on our desks or inside our drawers. Some of the flash memory vendors have come up with a nice idea. They have designed the flash memory card beautifully like a necklace so you can wear it around your neck.

So, regardless of whether you use the thumb-like flash memory device or the CF card, backing up your data should not be a problem. You should never lose your data because your hard disk crashes. Only careless computer users -- myself included -- can have such a devastating experience.

-- Zatni Arbi