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What Should I Consider When Buying Portable Memory for my Computer?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

Portable memory is a great way to transfer large amounts of data between computers, archive multimedia libraries, store secure documents, game, or perform network maintenance. The only requirement is a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port and a memory stick, also called a flash drive or key drive. Windows XP and newer operating systems have built-in drivers for the plug-and-play functionality of portable memory. For older operating systems, drivers are freely available in most cases.

Portable memory is non-volatile memory, meaning it does not require a power source to hold its contents. This distinguishes it from Random Access Memory (RAM), which loses its data whenever power is cut. Portable memory also lacks moving parts, making it extremely durable.

A USB flash drive, one type of portable memory.
A USB flash drive, one type of portable memory.

Like hard disks, portable memory is available in different capacities. Multimedia such as graphics, video, or music files require considerably more space than text-based files. You can also use portable memory to archive multimedia libraries for easy sharing.

For example, build a music library of MP3 files, a digital photo library, or a digital video library on a large capacity memory stick. When visiting relatives or friends, your photos, music or videos are available to share with them on any USB-equipped computer or entertainment center. With the latter, you’ll be able to view your digital videos or photographs on a television.

A hard drive reader allows a hard drive to function like a portable mass media device.
A hard drive reader allows a hard drive to function like a portable mass media device.

Portable memory is so fast many gamers play directly from the memory stick rather than installing the game to a hard drive. For added convenience, Xbox 360’s USB ports allow portable memory to transfer home settings, scores, and other information to the Xbox. SanDisk has created a portable memory stick geared towards this market. Other gaming models, such as Nintendo, are also implementing USB ports to utilize portable memory enhancements.

Newer motherboards support booting off the USB port, which comes in handy for network administrators. If the network goes down, bootable portable memory will get you in for maintenance without the series of diskettes otherwise necessary. Formatting instructions are generally provided by the manufacturer of the portable memory device.

Some portable memory sticks come with preloaded software, such as a password tool to secure data on the device in case it is lost. Other software might include a synchronization tool, virus checker, or Skype – a voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) program.

Flash memory cards of the type used in digital cameras provide an alternate form of portable memory. A USB card reader costs about 5 US dollars (USD). This resembles a memory stick, but contains no internal memory. Instead, it features a slot for a flash card, purchased separately.

The USB card reader amounts to an expandable memory stick that can never run out of memory, as additional cards can be purchased. Some people prefer this method of storage for organizational purposes. Others prefer a large capacity memory stick, slightly more economical, and without extraneous cards to keep track of and protect. Your preference may depend on whether you also need a reader for camera and video applications.

Portable memory has dramatically dropped in price since becoming more economical to manufacture. For this reason, 512 megabytes (MB), 1 gigabyte, (GB) and 2 GB key drives can be found for close to the same price: about 50 US Dollars (USD). This argues against getting a smaller drive, even if you believe your current needs are undemanding.

Chances are, you will find many uses for portable memory once you have it. Larger portable memory drives are also available, up to several gigabytes. Prices fluctuate greatly between vendors for the same product, so it pays to shop wisely.

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Discussion Comments


Windows Vista supports a feature called ReadyBoost that allows you to use high speed USB flash drives as memory. Although it seems like a great thing, performance increases are usually noted on systems with under 2 GB of RAM, which most computers running Vista already have. Kind of pointless but to answer the question, yes, portable USB memory can be used like memory already installed on a pc.


Can portable usb memory be used like the memory already installed on a pc? In other words, can it be used to expand the memory already on my computer and used in the same way, instead of installing more internal memory?

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    • A USB flash drive, one type of portable memory.
      By: Andrea Biraghi
      A USB flash drive, one type of portable memory.
    • A hard drive reader allows a hard drive to function like a portable mass media device.
      By: witthaya
      A hard drive reader allows a hard drive to function like a portable mass media device.