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Flash Forward

Your data won't miss a beat with one of these super-portable drives.

USB flash drives and micro hard drives are more than just a flash in the pan. They're portable, affordable and can hold a ton of data. They're sold everywhere from department stores to big-box retailers. You might have a few tucked into your pockets, laptop case or desk drawer. Sorting through the masses of super-portable drives to find one that fits your needs may be as simple as getting the most storage space for the fewest bucks. Or you may look to some of the extra features that are cropping up in these popular devices. We'll sort through a pile of drives to see what's shaking.

There are some differences between micro hard drives and flash drives. Micro hard drives are typically slightly larger than flash drives but are still tiny compared to regular external hard drives. The $140 (all prices street) 2GB Imation Micro Hard Drive, for example, weighs less than 2 ounces. Another difference is that micro hard drives tend to read and write more slowly than flash drives. This can be an issue if you're planning frequent transfers of very large files. The $120 8GB PNY MaxFile Attach� micro hard drive is admittedly cool-looking with its swiveling USB connector and clip-on carrying case. And 8GB gives you a lot of space to work with at an affordable price. An included extension USB cable lets you use it with hard-to-reach USB ports, and it's truly plug-and-play.

When you're carrying your sensitive business data around on a small portable device, it's smart to be prepared in case of loss or theft. The Kingston DataTraveler Elite-Privacy Edition is a 2GB flash drive with some built-in safety features. When you first plug the device into your computer, you're automatically prompted to create a strong password to protect your files from unwanted access. It's simple and quick to set up, but goes a long way toward protecting your information. The $280 8GB EDGE DiskGO also includes encryption software that protects your files with a password. It's not the most intuitive setup process, but after you get going, it works like any other drive, and the 8GB capacity can handle a heap of data.

The $70 1GB Memorex TravelDrive I.D. is a flash drive with a twist. It has a small, built-in LCD display that shows you how much storage space you have left. It can also be customized with a short message that tells you what you have stored on the device. Another unusual flash drive is the $80 2GB ATP Electronics ToughDrive. It's water-resistant and ruggedized for users who may need to be out in the weather or those who are just prone to dropping things.

Flash memory and USB are combining in some creative ways. Check out the $135 2GB SanDisk Ultra II SD Plus. It's the size of a regular SD card and works with an SD-capable device. But fold it down the middle, and you get a USB 2.0 connector. No need for a regular SD card reader; you can go straight from your digital camera or other device to your computer and vice versa. If you're planning to buy an SD card anyway, this is a convenient choice.

Flash drive and micro hard drive manufacturers are constantly working at ramping up drive capacity. Prices are good right now, so you don't have to wait for the next generation to cover your portable data and backup storage. You can angle for cheap gigabytes or invest in a drive with extra features to fit your security or usability needs.

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This article was originally published in the November 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Flash Forward.

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