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May 20th, 2009:

For Small Values of “Thumb”


The last time we had the nerd gang over, Eric Bowersox gave me a couple of the smallest USB thumb drives I have ever seen. The unit shown above right is 1 3/8″ long X 1/2″ wide and holds 512MB. It was a promo giveaway branded with AMD’s logo, containing tech spec PDFs for AMD’s CPUs and motherboards. I included a 4 GB Cruzer Micro Skin in the photo for comparison, but what doesn’t show well is the little gadget’s thickness, which is just about 1/16″, or a hair over 2 mm.

The unit Eric gave me is a Kingmax Super Stick, and in case that’s too big for ya, there is also a Kingmax Super Stick Mini that is another 4 mm shorter. I was not surprised to see that they have higher-capacity units, from 2GB up to 16GB. The 4GB unit sells on Amazon for $6.95, and the 16 GB for only $35.75. Kingmax knows its market, or at least understands careless geek laundry habits, since the product is advertised as “…washer and dryer SAFE!”

A drive that small is basically the size of the glass-epoxy connection tang inside a conventional USB flash drive, minus the metal guide that ordinarily surrounds it. The downside to a thumb drive without the metal guide is that it can plug into a USB port two ways, only one of which is useful. I made that mistake the first time I tried it, but I recognize that there’s no harm done plugging it in the wrong way, because in that event there’s no electrical connection between drive and port.

It’s a little small for my own personal thumbs, but may be a reasonable form factor for plugging into netbooks or smuggling across borders stuffed up one nostril. What I find more notable is the fact that 512MB flash drives are now so cheap that they can be produced as trade-show freebies. The size of our data isn’t increasing, and the capacity of cheap storage is expanding astonishingly fast. What’s the bandwidth of a $5, 64 GB nostril drive crammed full of 25,000 MP3s and passed from one hand to another? Media creators are wondering in their nightmares, and if they aren’t, they should be, because we’ll be there before you know it.