Hardware

Hands On with a 256 Gigabyte Flash Drive

Flash drives have been around for 15 years or more. Sometimes called “thumb drives” or “jump drives” or “memory sticks,” these tiny devices have become one of the most useful devices a computer user can own.

A flash drive is a data storage device about the size of a tube of lipstick that includes flash memory with an integrated USB interface. It is typically removable, rewritable, and much smaller than a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM disk. Flash drives are rugged, can withstand normal handling, and are impervious to magnetism. As a result, they make great devices for storing data. They are often used for making backup copies of important information as well as for transporting files from one computer to another. As such, they have largely replaced floppy disks (remember those?) and CD-ROM and DVD-ROM disks.

There are many reasons for the success of flash drives, but perhaps the single biggest factor has been the increase in storage capacity of these tiny devices. The first USB flash drive was sold in the U.S. by I.B.M. in the year 2000. Called the DiskOnKey, it held just eight megabytes of files. That was considered to be huge at the time, more than 5 times the storage capacity of the floppy disks that it replaced.

Of course, the storage capacity started increasing as manufacturing techniques became refined. Today, flash drives that will store 256 gigabytes are common at reasonable prices. That’s 32,000 times the storage capacity of the first flash drives that were considered to be huge at that time! However, in less than 10 years, the flash drive’s storage capacity has increased to 256 gigabytes and more.

Unlike a few years ago, it is now possible to back up an entire hard drive to a flash drive! In fact, it is possible to purchase a flash drive with 2 terabytes of storage capacity; however, prices for the 2-terabyte flash drives are not cost-effective for most consumers. Prices escalate quickly for the few flash drives that will store more than 256 gigabytes. For instance, Amazon sells the Kingston Digital 2TB DataTraveler Ultimate GT flash drive for $1,386.93 U.S. at https://amzn.to/2HyRyTX. For home computing purposes, 256 gigabytes seems to be the practical limit for today’s flash drives.

NOTE: Do not be fooled by shady vendors offering to sell one terabyte or two terabyte flash drives for bargain prices of $10 or $20. Those are scams! For details, read my earlier article, Beware the Flash Drive Scam, at: https://blog.eogn.com/2016/09/07/beware-the-flash-drive-scam/.

I recently purchased a VisionTek 256-gigabyte USB 3.0 SSD Pro flash drive and have fallen in love with it. I thought I would describe my experiences with it.

The VisionTek 256-gigabyte flash drive costs $141.78, a price that is significantly higher than external hard drives of the same storage capacity. However, that strikes me as a modest price when you factor in the ease of use, much faster speed, and much smaller size compared to external hard drives.

This 256-gigabyte flash drive works well with all the recent versions of Microsoft Windows. (That’s not true of all high-capacity flash drives.) The flash drive was formatted at the factory in Microsoft’s Windows NT File System (NTFS) format. As such, all Windows systems produced in the past 10 or 15 years will work with this flash drive.

However, I wanted to use my new flash drive on my Mac. While Macintosh systems can read NTFS-formatted disks and flash drives, a Mac cannot write to them without installing third-party software in the Mac that adds the capability to both read AND write NTFS formatted devices. When I first plugged the VisionTek 256-gigabyte flash drive into my Macintosh system, I could not write to it.

I had a choice. I could either reformat the flash drive in the Macintosh HPFS format (which means it will no longer work on Windows systems), or I could purchase and install one of the third-party NTFS drivers for Macintosh produced by any of several companies. (See https://www.howtogeek.com/236055/how-to-write-to-ntfs-drives-on-a-mac/ for details.) I decided to pay $19.95 and install Paragon NTFS for Mac. The installation process was painless and was completed in a minute or two. I now have the capability to read AND write to this 256-gigabyte flash drive from any modern Windows system and from my own Macintosh system – but not from other Macs that lack a third-party NTFS driver.

When shopping for a high-capacity flash drive, I wanted one with a USB 3.0 interface. While there are high capacity USB 2.0 or USB 2.1 flash drives available at lower prices, the slower speed of those devices can be a major drawback when copying hundreds of gigabytes through a USB port. A USB 3.0 connection transfers at roughly ten times the speed of USB 2.0 or USB 2.1 (4.8 Gigabits per second for USB 3.0 versus 480 Megabits per second for USB 2.0). Do you really want to wait 10 hours or more to fill a high-capacity USB 2.0 flash drive? See https://www.diffen.com/difference/USB_2.0_vs_USB_3.0#USB_3.0_Highlights_and_Benefits_over_USB_2.0 for more information.

Of course, high speeds can only be obtained if the computer being used also has USB 3.0 ports. The USB standard is backwards-compatible; this means that plugging a high-speed USB 3.0 flash drive into a computer that has USB 2.1 ports will work reliably, but it will be throttled down to the lower speed.

If you own a USB 3.0-compatible computer or think you may be upgrading to such a faster computer within the next year or so, you probably will want to only consider high-capacity flash drives that support the USB 3.0 standard. When purchasing lower-capacity flash drives or when only copying a few files at a time, the speed differences will be less noticeable. In my case, my laptop and desktop computers and even my cell phone all have USB 3.0 connections.

Once I unpacked the VisionTek 256-gigabyte USB 3.0 SSD Pro flash drive, the first thing I noticed is that it is bigger than my other flash drives. See the picture below for a comparison with an older 16-gigabyte flash drive that I already owned. However, the larger size doesn’t seem to be a factor as it easily plugs into the same USB ports on my computers that I have used previously. The larger size doesn’t appear to be enough of a difference to interfere with USB connectors or flash drives that are plugged into adjacent USB ports on my computer.

The new, high-capacity flash drive is also a bit heavier than the older flash drives I have used at about 2.5 ounces. To be blunt, I wouldn’t even notice the difference unless I was holding the old flash drive in one hand and the new flash drive in the other. Any time you are talking about items of 3 ounces or less, the differences are trivial.

The VisionTek 256-gigabyte flash drive appears to be very well made. I suspect it will withstand heavy abuse. However, like almost all other flash drives, it is not guaranteed to be waterproof. I once destroyed an older flash drive when I accidentally sent it through the laundry!

So, how well does it work?

In short, the VisionTek 256-gigabyte flash drive worked perfectly in my testing, once I installed the NTFS driver in my Macintosh. Windows users shouldn’t encounter any problems at all. The first thing I did after unboxing it was to plug it into my iMac and copy about 162 gigabytes of documents, digital pictures, and videos. The entire copy required 36 minutes. Had I used a flash drive with a USB 2.1 interface, I suspect the same file copy would have required 5 hours or more.

The VisionTek 256-gigabyte flash drive did become warm while copying all the files at high speed. However, I would describe it as “warm,” not “hot.” I didn’t feel the heat was a problem.

Summation

I am pleased with the 256 gigabyte flash drive. I already copy all my data files to a file storage service in the cloud, but having an extra backup is always a good idea. Besides, when traveling, I now can take the backup with me in a device that weighs 2.5 ounces. I also installed the NTFS driver in my laptop MacBook Pro so that I could use the same flash drive in it.

There is a downside to the small size and light weight of the flash drive, however. At the price of this thing, I would hate to lose it! I have had other flash drives that “disappeared” from my pocket. While inconvenient, I don’t lose too much sleep over losing a $20 flash drive. (My files are encrypted so that nobody else can read them.) However, at $141.78, I am going to keep a close eye on this flash drive!

The VisionTek 256-gigabyte USB 3.0 SSD Pro flash drive is not the only high-capacity flash drive available. I did not perform a side-by-side comparison with devices made by other manufacturers simply because it would have cost too much to purchase multiple drives and test all of them. However, I suspect my experience was similar to using any of the other competitive flash drives.

You can learn more about the VisionTek 256-gigabyte USB 3.0 SSD Pro flash drive by starting at https://duckduckgo.com/?q=VisionTek+256-gigabyte+USB+3.0+SSD+Pro&t=hf&ia=products. I purchased mine from Amazon at https://amzn.to/2HbmAjH but you might find lower prices by shopping on other sites.

Remember When a 29-pound Portable Computer was Light?

The staff at Wired remembers 1983 and produced a YouTube video showing how useful the “lightweight” computer was in those days:

Proof of the Changes in Technology

The world has changed a bit:

And here is a one-terabyte flash drive from 2018:

Microsoft to Sell Low-Cost Chromebook Killers

NOTE: This article has nothing to do with genealogy, unless you happen to use a computer to assist you in searching and recording your family tree.

I have written often about Chromebooks. See https://duckduckgo.com/?q=site%3Aeogn.com+chromebook&t=hf&ia=web for my past Chromebook articles. Chromebook laptops boot up quickly, never get viruses, and perform most of the operations that the majority of computer users want: they surf the web, play games, have excellent word processors, work with Facebook, handle homework, and most everything else. However, they don’t do well at processing-intensive applications, such as 3D rendering, financial / scientific modelling, or video encoding. Chromebooks typically sell for $175 to $300 with a very few high-end models selling for higher prices.

Chromebooks run the Chrome operating system, produced by Google. They do not run Windows or the Macintosh macOS operating systems. Therefore, you cannot install and use Windows or Macintosh programs in them. Instead, almost all Chromebook applications are cloud-based applications, such as Facebook, Gmail, MyHeritage.com, Ancestry.com, The Next Generation of Genealogy Sitebuilding (“TNG”), and thousands of others.

These low-cost laptop computers have proven to be very popular and apparently have been taking sales away from Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system and, to a lesser extent, from Macintosh systems as well. Microsoft apparently has noticed the drop in sales. Now the company has announced that Microsoft will promote low-cost laptops manufactured by other firms that run a dummied-down version of Windows 10, called Windows 10 S. Prices will start at just $189. These new laptop systems obviously are designed to crush the Chromebook rebellion.

What to Do With Floppy Disks?

Do you or someone you know have lots of files saved on floppy disks? A lady contacted me recently and asked how she could read her old floppy disks that she had saved from many years ago. It seems her present computer does not have a floppy disk drive in it. I suggested she do something NOW to save the disks. Before long, floppy disks will be about as useful as buggy whips.

Actually, there are THREE separate problems:

Hands on with the $149.99 Insignia™ NS-P11A8100 11.6-inch Tablet with Removable Keyboard

I had a chance this week to use a new (to me) low-cost Insignia™ NS-P11A8100 tablet computer. I thought I would write about it here as many people are looking for potential Christmas presents or perhaps a tablet to add to one’s own “Christmas wish list.”

I selected the Insignia™ NS-P11A8100 tablet primarily because it is cheap. While it has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $199, BestBuy is selling it for $149.99. That is ridiculously cheap for an Android tablet with an 11.6” screen and a keyboard. After reading all the specifications, I visited a nearby BestBuy store and purchased one.

I plan to use the new tablet computer to run genealogy apps as well as dozens of other uses. It can surf the web, read and write email, run any of several word processing programs and spreadsheets, do everything on Facebook, and run all sorts of other applications for many different uses (see https://play.google.com/store/search?q=Android%20apps for information about the thousands of Android apps available). It even has dozens of genealogy apps available; most of them are available free of charge. (See https://play.google.com/store/search?q=genealogy&c=apps). I am primarily using it with MyHeritage’s genealogy app as well as BillionGraves.

QromaScan v3 Introduces Natural Language Tagging

I wrote about the QromaScan device earlier. Start at https://duckduckgo.com/?q=site%3Aeogn.com+QromaScan&t=hg&ia=web to see my earlier articles. Now a major new software upgrade is available for QromaScan. Here is the announcement from Qroma LLC:

Create Industry Standard Photo Metadata from Natural Voice Descriptions.

SAN JOSE, California— November 17, 2017— Consumers frustrated by the complexity of scanning and organizing their film based images will have a new option as Silicon Valley-based Qroma LLC announces the availability of QromaScan v3.0 for iOS®. QromaScan captures and organizes photos, slides and negatives in one step using specially designed iPhone® accessories and an innovative voice recognition technology. Version 3 brings a new Natural Language Tagging engine that enables users to describe their photos in their own words and use QromaScan’s cutting edge voice recognition technology to detect and embed photo metadata tags for key details such like the date, location and people. A new Relationship Manager detects the use of common nouns used for describing family members such as ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ and automatically tags the image with their full names.

QromaScan 3 greatly simplifies what was once the tedious process of creating industry standard photo metadata. Powered by machine learning and linguistic parsing, QromaScan 3’s Natural Language Tagging engine can store up to 2,000 characters of the user’s transcribed description of a photo and then automatically generate photo metadata tags for things like dates, places, GPS coordinates, and people names. The transcribed description and detected metadata are embedded into the image where they are recognized and made searchable by any operating system or photo organization software that reads standard EXIF and IPTC metadata, such as Adobe Lightroom CC®, Google Photos or Apple Photos®.

Buy a New Samsung Chromebook for $99

This article has nothing to do with genealogy. Instead, it is about one of my other interests: low-cost computer hardware. If you are looking for true genealogy articles, you might want to skip this article.

UPDATE: This was obviously a very popular sale! Most BestBuy stores are reporting they have now sold out of this model. However, you still might check with a BestBuy store near you to see if that store is one of the exceptions and still has a few left.

If not, keep your eyes open. Similar sales on other models of Chromebooks do happen, often in the $100 to $150 price range.

I have written many times about the advantages of Chromebooks, low-cost laptop computers that are web-oriented. I have a Chromebook and love it. The cheap laptop has become my preferred laptop for traveling. I know that laptops are frequently stolen from airports, train stations, bus stations, restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, and other public places. While I would hate to have my Chromebook stolen, I would feel much worse if my much more expensive Macintosh laptop was stolen! That is one of the reasons why I travel with a Chromebook: reducing the risk of financial loss. The other reason is the Chromebook accomplishes everything I need to do when traveling.

I also use the Chromebook frequently at home when watching TV. Chromebooks are designed to run applications “in the cloud” although they are also capable of running a few programs internally.

To find my past articles about Chromebooks, start at: http://bit.ly/2m3fGXz.

Now BestBuy is offering a basic Chromebook laptop for $99 US. That’s not a refurb nor a product by some manufacturer you never heard of. Instead, it is for a brand-new Samsung model XE500C13-S03US Chromebook with a one-year parts and labor warranty. To see the Black Friday sale, go to http://bit.ly/2AjZS4W.

Super-Accurate GPS Chips Coming to Smartphones in 2018, Will Improve Cemetery Locations Accuracy

New GPS (Global Positioning System) chips will be used in future cell phones that will be accurate within 30 centimeters (11.8 inches), rather than five meters (16 feet) which is typical of today’s cell phones. At least, that’s the claim chip maker Broadcom is making. While this may not seem at first to be significant for genealogists, it should greatly improve the accuracy of locations recorded with a cell phone and its camera.

The big benefit for genealogists will be in the accuracy of locations recorded in BillionGraves.com and FindAGrave.com.

Millions of tombstones are already recorded today with accuracy of plus or minus 16 feet or sometimes even worse accuracy than that. Sixteen feet sounds like reasonable accuracy in many cemeteries, but it still is not good enough for quick location of tombstones in many family plots and certainly not close enough for pinpoint accuracy in a columbarium, a room or building with niches where funeral urns are stored.

Write Your Notes in a Rocketbook

Introduction: I must say that I have mixed emotions about Rocketbook. On the positive side, it is an excellent use of technology to improve low-tech methods that have been in use for centuries. I can envision this being used extensively in genealogy research and note-taking.

On the negative side, use of any paper-based note-taking product is contrary to the paperless lifestyle I have been following for a few years. I try to never use paper as I find paper is easily lost, damaged, or at least is difficult to find when I need the information later. That is especially true if I am not in the place where the paper notes are stored. For a list of my past articles on going paperless, see http://bit.ly/2wfDaw6.

On the positive side, I realize that not everyone is comfortable with a paperless lifestyle. Paper notes are still used by hundreds of millions of people around the globe. If that includes you,  Rocketbook may be an attractive product for you. It helps store everything safely and securely in the cloud where you can quickly and later easily find digital images of your notes, drawings, and other paper-based items.

In short, if Rocketbook appeals to you, I’d suggest you try it out! As for me, I will write about it but am unlikely to use Rocketbook myself.

Are you still writing notes and transcriptions in a spiral notebook? It’s time to move into the 21st century!

A Rocketbook looks like many other notebooks. It has paper and even a spiral binding. You can write in a Rocketbook with a pen or pencil. What’s different is what you can do AFTER you have written your notes. In short, you can upload your precious notes to your own private area in the cloud where they can be easily accessed at any time. Your notes will never be lost unless you deliberately erase the online notes later.

The Demise of CDs and DVDs

Alas, poor CDs and DVDs, we hardly knew ye.

Have you purchased any software lately? How about digital images of an old genealogy book? Did you obtain them on a CD or DVD disk? If so, keep that disk. It is already an antique and probably will be a collector’s item before long.

Twenty years ago, we all purchased software on floppy disks. Perhaps ten years ago, software was usually delivered on CD-ROM disks. When was the last time you purchased software that was delivered on a CD or even a high-capacity DVD-ROM disk? Yes, there are a few companies that still deliver software that way, but the number of such companies is dwindling.

Most software these days is delivered electronically, usually by means of a file download. Even Microsoft is now delivering Windows 10 by software download.

Hard Drives and Storage Space Continue to Become Cheaper and Cheaper

The following isn’t directly related to genealogy but it is related to something that concerns all genealogists: storage of information that we have found. Today, it is easier and much, much cheaper to save information in our own computers or in the cloud than ever before. Saving things in digital format is also much, much cheaper (and safer) than storing paper. However, there are signs that consumers are saving less and less these days.

For the past 35+ years or so, hard drives prices have dropped, from around $500,000 per gigabyte in 1981 to less than $0.03 per gigabyte today. See http://www.mkomo.com/cost-per-gigabyte-update for details.

Somewhat surprisingly, manufacturers are selling fewer disk drives to consumers these days than they used to. Consumers are not downloading and saving as many files as they used to, be it text information, music, videos, or anything else. Why not? It appears that the primary reason is that all those things are increasingly more available upon demand in the cloud. There is less need than ever to save things yourself when you can retrieve those items again and again in the future at any time. Even better, the version you retrieve in the future may be updated or be an enhanced version, such as a higher-resolution image or video or contain higher-fidelity sound.

Turn Your Chromebook into a Killer Workstation with the Best Android Apps on Chrome OS

I have written often about the great value offered by Chromebook laptops. (See http://bit.ly/2sewngv for a list of my past Chromebook articles.) Now the Digital Trends web site has an article at http://bit.ly/2sejvad that should interest anyone who is thinking of purchasing one of these low-cost systems.

Turn Your Chromebook into a Killer Workstation with the Best Android Apps on Chrome OS describes the more than 2.5 million Chrome and Android apps that run on Chromebooks. That includes many genealogy apps. (See http://bit.ly/2tNrahN for more information about the many Android genealogy apps that run on Chromebooks.)

This article was written on and posted by my Chromebook laptop.

The Lenovo Chromebook is Now Just $129

NOTE: The following article has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy-related articles, I suggest you skip this one.

I have written a number of times about the usefulness of the low-cost Chromebook laptops. (My past articles about Chromebooks may be found by starting at: http://bit.ly/2pm21Iu.) I use my Chromebook more or less daily. It also has become my primary traveling computer and I also often use it from the living room couch whenever that is convenient.

While Chromebooks are cheaper than most any other laptops, WalMart is now offering an even lower price than I have seen before: $129. The Lenovo N22 Chromebook isn’t a used or refurbished system; it is brand-new and comes with a full warranty. The WalMart web site doesn’t say anything about a sale or a “special price” so I assume this is the regular price. Other web sites sell it for $150 to $200.

If you were thinking of picking up a Chromebook for yourself or for a family member, now might be the time. You can have it shipped to you or you can pick it up in person at a nearby WalMart store.

Update: Is the Smartphone Becoming the PC Replacement?

Last December, I wrote the following in this newsletter at http://bit.ly/2nNh4gC:

“Today, the smartphone can become a person’s only computer, used alone when away from home or the office, then used with a “docking station” when at home or at the office. Of course, most smartphones already have internal cameras, even webcams. With a docking station to accommodate a keyboard, a larger screen, stereo speakers, printers, scanners, and more, today’s home computer may soon become a thing of the past.”

I also wrote:

“Will your next PC be a smartphone? Do you really need a desktop computer for checking email, surfing the web, or doing genealogy research? The smartphones of today will do most everything your present desktop computer can do.”

It looks like some people agree with me. One company with plans for converting a smartphone into a desktop or laptop computer is a rather well-known producer of personal computers and of smartphones: Apple.

A new patent application from Apple shows the company is toying with the idea of a laptop powered by an iPhone that’s docked face up where the touchpad is normally positioned.

LiteBook – the Impressive $249 to $269 Linux Laptop

NOTE: the following article has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy-related articles, you might want to skip this one. Instead, it reflects one of my other interests: low-cost hardware that can be used for multiple purposes. I decided to publish the article here in case others might have similar interests.

Linux has always been known as a more secure operating system than Windows and even more secure than Macintosh. For most installations, Linux also requires less computing power than do either of its two major competing operating systems: Windows and Macintosh. Therefore, it is interesting (to me) that a company called Litebook has released a new Linux laptop that is priced to compete with Chromebooks and other low-cost laptops. The price? $249. If you want to add the one (and only) option available, it may cost you $269. Those prices include a one-year warranty.

Even at those prices, the LiteBook has some impressive specifications.

An Easy Way to Add More Disk Space to Your Computer

low-disk-spaceIs your computer’s hard drive getting full? No matter how much hard drive space came with your computer, chances are you have already used a good chunk of that space. Sometimes I think that all disk drives exist simply for the purpose of filling them up. Of course, you can always buy a new computer with a bigger internal disk drive, but my wallet rebels at that that idea. For many people, there is an easier and cheaper solution: add an external plug-in disk drive.

Adding an external hard drive adds huge amounts of disk space, as much as you might want. It also adds portability and safety, and it provides an easy way to backup your valuable data. It is surprisingly affordable and easy to do. I recently added a 960 gigabyte external hard drive (that’s almost a terabyte!) to my laptop computer and thought I would describe the process. It was simple. The entire “installation” process required about three minutes to complete. No screwdrivers or other tools were required. The technical knowledge required? Just about zero.

The Best Laptop for Traveling Is One You Can Afford to Lose

laptop_stolenThis is not a genealogy-related article. However, I wrote an article that describes a problem and a solution that I think every person who is contemplating purchasing a laptop should read. I won’t publish the article here but will mention that it is available at https://goo.gl/CvYS4i in case you would like to read it.

All New Chromebooks Will Run Android Apps

asus_flipChromebooks offer a lot of computing for very little money. Some Chromebooks cost less than $200. Spending a bit more money, however, results in faster performance, better displays, and better keyboards. The better Chromebooks cost $250 to $350 although a few may cost even more. When traveling, I normally carry my $200 Chromebook laptop with me and it does most everything I need to do. You can read my past articles about Chromebooks by starting at: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=site%3Aeogn.com+chromebook&t=h_&ia=web.

A few recent Chromebooks have been able to run both web-based apps as well as Android apps simultaneously. The new capability includes dozens of genealogy apps that were developed for Android. Now Google, the company that produces the Chrome operating system, has announced that ALL the new Chromebooks will be able to run Android apps and will have access to the Google Play Store, the marquee store for Android apps.

Dacuda – PocketScan Wireless Scanner

This might be the world’s smallest scanner. A genealogist could carry it in pocket or purse when visiting libraries or archives and make digital copies of documents, photographs, pages from books, or anything similar.

dacuda-pocketscan

Quoting from the advertising:

SCAN ON THE GO
Swipe this hand-held scanner over any text or image, and it sends a high-res image to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth.

Kids’ artwork, documents, recipes, or just a part of a page—all look much clearer than a pic from your phone, thanks to built-in illumination. Even artwork, large books, and other images that aren’t completely flat get scanned beautifully. That can’t happen on glass or with a camera.