Personal Storage Devices: An Overview

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Once upon a time, the most advanced computers held half a gigabyte, floppy disks were five inches wide and actually floppy, and most consumers’ data storage needs didn’t extend beyond a WordPerfect document. But with the onslaught of digital photos, home videos, music files and a vast array of other applications and programs, personal data storage needs have continued to grow by leaps and bounds.

Floppy/Zip Disks
Once the sole means of data storage and portability, floppy disks still have a place in consumers’ storage arsenal. However, their presence is quickly fading. Now offered in a 3.5-inch format, floppy disks generally hold 1.44 megabytes of storage. Rarely sold singularly, these disks are usually found in packs of at least five to 10 and sell for around $5 to $7 per pack.

Although consumers still use floppy disks, the rise in digital photography and media has lessened their appeal. To pick up the slack, Zip disks came onto the scene about a decade ago. These disks typically hold up to 100MB (or the equivalent of about 70 floppy disks) on one disk. They retail for about $8 each and are usually sold in packs of three to five disks. Zip disks rose in popularity in the ’90s as consumers increased their appetite for storage. However, that appetite soon outgrew Zip-disk capacity as consumers turned their attention toward other forms for storage.

Zip-disk popularity also was hindered by the need to own a Zip drive in order to use the disk. At around $100 each, Zip drives were often too expensive compared to other forms of data storage. (As a college student, Zip drives were a hot commodity for many journalism majors because we constantly had to transport large amounts of digital photos and text. However, because of the lack of available Zip drives, we often ended up using our e-mail accounts for storage. E-mail could hold a relatively large amount of information, it was accessible everywhere and, most importantly for college students, it was free.)

Zip-disk maker Iomega has since released a newer, higher capacity disk called the REV. These disks can hold up to 90GB of compressed data, and they retail for around $60 each. Although these disks can hold large amounts of data, like the Zip disks before them, REV disks only work with REV drives, which retail around $400.

Picking up where other disks fell short, recordable CDs and DVDs have become storage staples for many consumers. Recordable CDs, or CD-Rs, each hold up to 700MB of data or 80 minutes of music. DVD-Rs can hold up to 4.7GB of information or 120 minutes of video. Because of their storage capacity and inexpensive price (a 6-pack of DVD-Rs retails for about $10), CD-Rs and DVD-Rs have became one of the most popular forms of data storage.

Adding to their popularity, these disks also have rewriteable capabilities. DVD-RWs and CD-RWs can be burned and reburned multiple times, making them convenient, portable, non-static and easily accessible storage devices.

Portable USB Drives
Another rewritable, portable and easily accessible storage device came onto the market in the late ’90s. Portable USB drives, also known as thumb drives, flash drives, pen drives, USB keys and a wide variety of other names, are small enough to carry on a key chain, yet powerful enough to store digital images, music and multimedia files.

They’ve become popular because of their small size, portability and accessibility. With a USB drive, consumers don’t have to store files on multiple floppy disks or CDs or worry about finding computers that had a DVD, CD, floppy or Zip drive. All computers have USB ports. In addition, because of their portability, USB drives have eliminated the need for users to turn e-mail accounts into storage devices.

Making them safer than CDs and DVDs, many portable USB drives also include safeguards such as password protection, data encryption and write protection to guard data. Portable USB drives range is storage capacity from 250MB to 6GB and range in price from $20 to $200.

iPods/MP3 Players
As the appetite for portable storage has grown, many people have realized that the music devices they already carry around also can be used as portable storage units. iPods and other MP3 players range from 128MB to 60GB and range in price from $40 to $400.

There are three basic types of MP3 players that all offer various storage capacities: Flash memory players, expandable memory players and hard drive players. Flash memory players usually offer 128 to 512MB and can store enough MP3s for a few hours of music. Expandable memory players feature ports for additional memory cards, so users can start with a smaller capacity and get additional cards as their data needs grow. Hard drive players, such as the iPod, range from 4GB to 60GB. A 60GB player can store up to 15,000 songs, or the equivalent of six weeks worth of continuous music.

Personal Digital Assistants, or PDAs, also have grown into the storage-device market. Because many people already carry these around on a daily basis, they’ve starting to become storage units as well. PDAs range in storage capacity from 32MB of built-in storage to 4GB.

Most PDAs now come equipped with an expansion slot. Each slot accommodates a different type of expansion card. The most common types secure digital cards, compact flash memory and MultiMediaCards, or MMCs. Some PDAs also offer dual expansion slots, meaning that they can accommodate more than one kind of memory card.

PDAs range in price from $100 to upward of $700. The more expensive versions don’t necessarily offer more memory (generally just 256 MB). Instead, they come with features such a GPS unit.

Cell Phones
Combining the storage capabilities of CD-Rs, the portability of USB drives, the functionality of PDAs and the ubiquitousness of MP3 players are new the versions of cell phones.

These multi-tasking phones, such as the BlackBerry and Treo, range in price from $250 to $500. They usually offer 16 to 64MB of flash memory as well as ports for additional memory cards. They feature wireless Internet, organizers, software programs, e-mail access, cameras, text messaging, walkie-talkies, GPS units, tethered modems and MP3 players. And of course, you also can use them as phones.

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