Often referred to as a jumpdrive, the pen drive is a portable flash memory solution, designed to transport data files from one computer to another. The product can carry audio, video and data files, and is brilliantly simple; all the user has to do is plug the pen drive into a computer`s USB port, drag and drop the necessary files from the hard drive, remove it and plug it into another machine.
Durable, portable and scratch-resistant, the pen drive is a marked improvement on previous data transportation devices, such as the CD and floppy disk, and a source of constant relief and graduate for millions of people the world over.
At the dawn of the new Millennium, it became clear that traditional storage solutions were no longer up to the job. People now needed to move large files between computers in the blink of eye, using intermediary technology which was quick to set up, easy to carry and hard to damage. A clutch of software companies, including SanDisk (then known as M-Systems), Lexar, Trek and IBM began working on a solution that would meet these needs.
Their solution was the revolutionary USB flash drive, which was gradually developed in the last years of the 20th century. In 2000 Trek rolled out the first-ever flash drive, named Thumb Drive, in Singapore, with IBM introducing a similar model to the North American market. Just a few months later Lexar introduced a Compact Flash (CF) card with a USB connection, and a companion card read/writer and USB cable; this eliminated the need for a USB hub, and allowed the pen/flash drive to enjoy meteoric growth over the next decade.
How it works
Each pen drive comprises a tiny Printed Circuit Board (or PCB) to store data, a USB connector, and a NAND flash memory chip using multicell level technology; this groundbreaking solution was first developed by SanDisk and Toshiba in 2005. The constituent technologies are encased within a tough outer shell, manufactured in metal, rubber or plastic, and the USB connector may be sheathed in an outer cap or protected by a retractable strip, which allows the user to withdraw the connector when not in use.
The name pen drive is actually an anachronism; drives typically rely on mechanical systems, but this little gem does not. The term drive remains as a vestigial nod to the past because computers read and write flash-drive data using the same system commands as for a mechanical disk drive, with the storage appearing to the computer operating system and user interface as just another drive.
In less than 10 years the pen drive has evolved from an optional extra for the technologically savvy into an indispensable staple for all computer users. People have found more and more reasons to use a pen drive, and they have been encouraged by rapid increases in storage capacity; the early pen drives had room for just 8MB, but this soon increased as the technology improved – today you can pick up a pen drive with capacity of 128GB, provided you are willing to pay top dollar for the privilege.
The growth of the pen drive has rendered the good-old floppy disk almost obsolete. Until 2005 most PCs were fitted with floppy disk drives as standard. Now, faced with the ubiquity of the pen drive, designers are leaving out the old drives and fitting USB ports instead. The revolution is nearly complete!