Also known as a USB key, USB hard drive, USB keychain hard drive or USB diskette, this refers to a solid state storage unit coupled to a male USB connector on a device the size of a keychain.

While portable solid state memory is not a new technology (e.g. Sony's Memory Stick, CompactFlash, SmartMedia, etc.), most solid state memory modules are of a proprietary nature -- usually directly coupled to a particular brand of digital camera, and almost always requiring special hardware in order to interface with a PC.

However, USB keychains combine the stability and convieneince of solid state memory (no moving parts == Good Thing) with the ease and ubiquity of the non-propietary USB interface. Ultimately this technology may finally succeed where zip disks have fallen short: that is, replacing floppy disks as the common pluri-compatible method of data transfer between PC's.

At the time of this write-up, the following USB keychain products are available in capacities ranging from 8 to 128MB (including the powers of two in-between):

Personally, they are a bit pricey at this time, but when the price comes down I'll get myself a nice USB hub and a few of these. And if anybody figures out how to boot off of one of these babies, I don't think I'll ever own a FDD again . . .

Update! 3 Feb 2002: generic-man kindly informs me that "some BIOSes can boot to USB right now. I've heard tales of people using USB keys to do minimal Debian installs."

USB flash drives -- also called keychain drives -- have replaced floppy disks as the portable storage medium of choice for many people. However, these small drives can be damaged fairly easily if they're bent or twisted while they're plugged into a computer. Such damage can destroy the data outright, or simply make the drive inaccessible. The latter is typically manifested by the computer entirely failing to recognize the drive when it's plugged in.

Data can also become corrupted due to driver or other software problems. In those cases disk recovery programs like Norton or BadCopy Pro may be able to restore or recover data from the device.

The SanDisk company offers recovery software as well as an unadvertised data recovery service. SanDisk drive owners should contact their support and then send SanDisk proof of purchase before they will issue an Return Materials Authorizations. Other drive manufacturers may offer similar services.

In the case of physically broken drives, technically-savvy owners may have luck manually opening the drive casing and looking for broken connectors or cracked solder joints. Some people have been able to manually reconnect broken connectors long enough to get the data off the flash drives onto a computer. This of course will void any warranty.

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