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The first time we saw a USB flash drive we didn't know whether to plug it into our computer or try to light a cigarette with it. JMTek's 16MB Flash USB Drive and Agate's Q. USB 16MB Hard Drive are remarkably small and conveniently portable. They have no moving parts and use flash memory technology similar to CompactFlash digital camera media. Although both of the products are thumb-size, only the Q. USB device is fully functional.
The two portable flash memory drives connect to your Mac via the USB port. Current capacities and prices range from 16MB for about $60 to 512MB at $900. Each has an LED indicator that illuminates during reads and writes as well as a tiny external locking switch to avoid accidental overwriting.
The manufacturers of these drives envision them transporting MP3 files, databases, and applications, but due to their relatively small capacity they're best used for transporting files or backing up critical data off an iBook or PowerBook.
The 16MB Flash USB Drive, from JMTek, has a dark gray external case that's industrial-looking and durable. The Q. Drive has a nice curvy shape and comes in colors that will complement any iMac.
Although both devices claim Mac compatibility, neither include Mac software or instructions in the box. We downloaded and installed the appropriate Mac version of the software for the Flash USB Drive. When we plugged the drive in and booted up, we immediately discovered a bug that prevents the menu bar in Mac OS 9.2.1 from appearing. We were able to work around the problem by inserting the drive into the port after start-up. We sent several e-mail messages about this matter to tech support but never received a response. The Flash USB drive is also unable to function properly when the Mac wakes from sleep. An alert message appears warning that, "Some information may have been lost." Although we did not lose any files, this message does not inspire confidence.
Once we downloaded the Mac software, the Q. USB drive did not suffer from any of the operational glitches its competitor displayed. Its software is capable of formatting the drive for Mac as well as DOS.
Both drives offer similar performance, although the Q. USB drive has an edge. We were able to copy 12MB to the Q. USB drive in roughly 37 seconds. The Flash USB drive trailed behind at 57 seconds. As longevity goes, both manufacturers claim data can be stored on their drives for up to 10 years.
Macworld's Buying Advice
When you're running out the door to make a presentation or writing a report at the last minute, burning a CD may not be an option. Flash memory drives are fast and will work with any USB-equipped system. They're relatively expensive right now, but if your main goal is portability and you only need a few megabytes, a flash drive is hard to beat. Of the drives we looked at the Q. USB Hard Drive is the clear choice.Q. USB 16MB Hard Drive 16MB Flash USB Drive