SanDisk Cruzer Micro 4GB U3 Flash Drive and USB Portable Software

Anyone remember the days of 1.44MB floppy disks? I do and even though they are still on sale in stores today, they’re becoming very rare. You’ll find students carrying mini USB flash drives around more now. They look cooler and those who work with large files such as databases, accounting spreadsheets or high resolution graphics can use the higher capacity and speed. It kind of makes you wonder what people used to carry large files around on in the earlier days.

Last week, I decided to order one off Play.com myself too because the files I’ve been working with at uni are fairly big in size. Most of the time I don’t have enough time to finish off coursework because I have to run to work in the afternoon so, I thought it was best if I had something portable to store the files on that I could bring home with. Not to mention during group work, you often work on separate pieces of a project and have to bring it together for review.

SanDisk Cruzer Flash Drive

Lots of students enter university and usually say they need a laptop for work but, truth be told, you don’t really need one. That’s what the university “labs” and the library is for. It’s just an excuse to own a cool piece of gear and look all business-like. Unless of course, you’re either an overseas student who doesn’t have a computer at your term-time address or, you’re a part time student who needs to type up important documents for work.

So, what flash drive did I choose to go for in the end? Well, unlike other hardware where it’s probably best to spend some time reading reviews first, there’s really not much to expect from a flash drive. Capacity and build quality is really about it but since you’ll be pulling one out in front of people, the image cautious might want a cool linking one. I decided to go for SanDisk’s Cruzer Micro U3 flash drive.

I actually already bought a 1GB flash drive about 5 years ago when they weren’t so popular and were very expensive. The 1GB stick cost me £100 but these days you can get the same capacity for a few pounds. Broadband was also just rolling out too back then so it was expensive to subscribe to so I thought I could download stuff off IRC at the net cafes then stick it onto the drive. So why don’t I use that instead of buying a new one? The reason I decided to get a new one is because the old was big and of poor build quality. The casing was very brittle and it was already cracking and falling apart.

The Old and New 1

Nowadays the build quality has improved and they’re much cheaper as with all technology as they mature. The Cruzer Micro I got has a black plastic casing as with most flash drives but it feels sturdier than my past one. If you squeeze it with a little force you can’t feel it bending whereas with my old drive, it would break to pieces.

The Cruzer doesn’t come with a cap for the USB connector unlike most but instead, uses a sliding mechanism. If you shake it you can hear the connector rattling slightly but that shouldn’t really annoy you. To slide it out, you have to press down on the white part of the drive lightly and it will click into place. If you then try to connect it into a USB slot, you can feel it’s clicked into place very securely so you don’t have to worry about it sliding back in again.

The Old and New 2

As you can see, the little sliding switch is also actually the bright orange LED light that blinks when the drive is in operation. Pretty eye-catching.

Cruzer in operation.

My old flash drive came with an extension USB cable and a lanyard so that you could hang it around your neck but, the Cruzer didn’t come packaged with either even though it has a little ring attached to it. I know most people just pocket their drives or attach it to their set of keys but, a lanyard would have been handy.

Another feature with flash drives today is that some of them are labelled “U3 Smart” which means not only can you carry around your work but, also your favourite applications too. Well, at least the ones that are U3 compatible anyway. This means you’re no longer stuck with certain applications when you’re working on someone else’s computer or, have to change software settings all over again.

Cruzer Micro is U3 Smart

My drive came pre-loaded with Skype, CruzerSync, HP Photosmart, McAfee VirusScan and two games which just took up 100MB of the 4GB space I had. More U3 compatible apps were available from the official U3 website so I decided to put Firefox on too.

After plugging in the drive on any computer, the first thing that happens is two new drives appear in the My Computer window; a removable drive and an emulated CD drive for the U3 Launchpad itself. Once that’s done, the U3 Launchpad is loaded and you’re free to run any of the programs installed on your flash drive.

Most of the Windows XP computers which I used the drive on ran the U3 software fine even though I was on a limited account. One or two refused to load. Other downsides are the launchpad can take some time to start up and programs can be slow since they are running off the flash drive itself. The good news is if you think it’s just a waste of space, you can disable and uninstall it all and if you wanted to, can restore the software later. Then there’s also the risk of losing the drive to consider but there’s some form of security provided to protect the data.

U3 Launchpad

As of now, the only application I’ve found handy is having Firefox on the drive because of the way IE is configured at uni. Windows are opened everywhere when I’m working with multiple sites, popups get through IE’s filter and all sorts of other Javascript effects sometimes end up crashing the browser so it’s good to have my own browser setup the way I want it. Other than that, the current U3 applications are very limited and really aren’t the ones I need to use to work on my coursework. That said, apps such as Open Office could come in handy but who doesn’t have Microsoft Word installed anyway?

Overall, the Cruzer Micro U3 Flash Drive is a nice little purchase for those who need to carry large data files on the move.

If you already have a flash drive and want to try U3 yourself, I’m afraid you can’t as far as I know. The good news is there is a free alternative named PortableApps which you can install onto any flash drive yourself. It actually seems to load faster than U3 but you have to launch it manually. Try it yourself and see what you think about these portable applications.

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8 Responses

  1. For large files back in the day, I recall Zip drives. Unfortunately, that fad didn’t quite catch on..

  2. Hell, I still remember the 8-inch floppy disk.

  3. I remember those useless tape drives.

  4. I couldn’t agree more about the whole not-needing-a-laptop issue. A pen drive could suffice in most cases, since most people can probably get their hands on some PC, new or used, which is probably cheaper than most laptops. In the absence of a decent pen drive, you can always use stuff like gmail to send yourself the documents (I find it hard to believe that you people require files over 10Mb in size on a regular basis).

    BTW, those U3 and other portable applications are quite nice. A friend of mine got a 4GB U3 Cruzer like yours for 50 Euros (@ Mediamarkt) and it seems like a convenient device to purchase. Neat stuff indeed.

  5. @Ener
    I have one of those 100MB Iomega Zip drives which I bought for £80 but don’t use anymore. Doubt it would go for much now ^^;

    @elsng
    Really? I only remember messing around with the 5.25 inch discs the BBC Micros had back in school.

    @Nabe
    You mean like the ones used back on the Spectrum ZX and Jaz drives? I had fun playing all sorts of games on a friend’s Spectrum – Bomb Jack, Yie Ar Kung Fu, Oh Mummy.

    @kernelPANIC
    Yes, I would expect most students just work with documents under that size. In the case of graphic design and multimedia however, file sizes can be very large.

    I think these portable apps are useful if you’re travelling but don’t want to lug a laptop around. You can then use your own software on any computer you can get access to such as say, a net cafe.

    On the other hand, there are sites such as Google who are starting to offer software that runs directly from your browser though so this idea might fade away soon.

  6. lol well my new hp computer has something called a portable drive bay… and it’s like almost the size of a zip drive.. wonder why it’s so large and what it’s for…

  7. My university requires a laptop, so it wasn’t an option for me. Expensive, but well worth it IMO.

    And I also have Cruzer Micro (got one when the largest size available was 1GB) . It’s funny though, U3 drove me completley insane. Whenever I plugged it in U3 would load up and completely bog the computer down.. when I only wanted to transfer a simple Word document. Don’t know if U3 has improved since then, but I uninstalled it right away.

  8. @Tanooki
    IDK… Maybe it’s one of those cases that converts an internal drive to external?

    @DarkWarrior
    I have yet to come across any unis or courses that makes owning a laptop mandatory so far TBH.

    Yeah, auto-start is pretty annoying so I just turned it off. I think you’ll need U3 Launchpad v1.2 or higher to do this though.

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