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What the heck is a thumb drive and what is it used for?

Posted By : of Data Doctors on February 7, 2003

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What is a thumb drive and what is it used for?

- Joel

This question was answered on February 7, 2003. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The term ‘thumb drive’ refers to a new generation of small storage devices that is about the size of your thumb and plugs into a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port on your computer They are also commonly referred to as ‘USB flash drives’.

They use a technology called ‘flash memory’ (same as is used in most of today’s digital cameras) which is basically an electrically erasable programmable read-only memory module (EEPROM) that can be used as a reusable portable storage device.

The size of the drive will determine how much information can be stored They range from 8Mb (5.5 floppy disks worth of data) to 1Gb (almost 700 floppy disks worth) and can store any type of computer file The most common sizes are 64Mb ($30-$50) and 128Mb ($50-$100) and are available from a wide variety of companies from Trek ( to Sony (

If you need to transport information from one computer to another on a regular basis, it is a great way to make it very easy Because of its size, (many are setup as key chains) it is much more convenient than floppy disks, CDs or Zip disks and is compatible with any computer or laptop that has a USB port in both the Mac and Windows operating systems.

It’s great for pictures, music, documents, spreadsheets or presentations and is being used more and more by those that speak in front of groups.

Imagine making a presentation to a group then allowing anyone that wants the electronic version of the presentation to quickly download it to their laptop at the end of the meeting

Or you may want to get a dual-purpose flash memory device like <a href="" target="_blank">Creative’s Nomad Muvo</a> which doubles as an MP3 player You just slide the drive into a small carriage that contains a AAA battery and plug in the included headphones to listen to whatever music files are stored on the drive It comes in 64Mb (about 20 songs) and 128Mb (about 40 songs) sizes and sells for between $99 and $149.

As a music player, the Muvo is great for those on the go because there is nothing to cause the music to skip and when you need to transfer documents or pictures, they co-exist with the music files.

Some of the more sophisticated units incorporate password protection for access to the drive, in case it falls into the hands of the wrong party And some are now introducing bio-metric security so that you have to provide an authorized fingerprint in order to access the data contained on it.

Most also incorporate lock protection, much like floppy and zip disks that won’t allow data to be changed, erased or overwritten as long as the switch is in the locked position.

These drives truly live up to the ‘non-volatile’ memory tag because they can generally maintain the integrity of the data for 5 to 10 years.

When you plug one of these drives into your system, it will show up as a standard drive using the next available drive letter and is even accessible via a network When you unplug it, the drive letter will disappear.

If you work with data between two or more computers, you should really consider owning one of these mini wonders!

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Posted by of Data Doctors on February 7, 2003

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