Call them "memory keys", "memory pen drive" or "memory sticks", a new class of storage devices can help storage managers in the jobs of troubleshooting systems, or restoring crashed devices.

Whatever you call them, these devices consist of several megabytes to a gigabyte or more of solid-state memory with an attached USB port. They cost anywhere from less than a hundred dollars to over $500 depending on the amount of memory they hold and they are packaged to clip into a shirt pocket like a pen or even to be attached to a key ring. They are available from

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Dell, specialist companies like Sweex and many other manufacturers and because they rely on a USB connection they will work with any computer with a USB port.

The undeniable 'cool' factor aside, memory keys are useful tools in difficult backup, restore and troubleshooting situations. They can be loaded with diagnostics, boot routines or other useful software and carried with you. They can hold more than floppy disks (some more than a CD-ROM) and they are easier to keep constantly in your pocket or on your key chain. Because they rely on solid-state memory (albeit over a USB bus) the software they carry is usually faster than software on a floppy disk. Even the lower capacity models can carry more software than an entire box of floppy disks.

Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last twenty years he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.

This was first published in September 2003

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