In what is quickly becoming a crowded USB storage market, the SanDisk Cruzer offers a more distinguishing feature than many of the popular key chain data transport mediums: Cruzer is upgradeable.

This feature along with the competitive price makes it an attractive portable storage option. The Cruzer is also the one device that supports memory disks of different sizes. Although the disks currently only go up to 256 MB, SanDisk says 512-MB and 1-GB memory cards are on the way. If you’re in the market for a portable USB storage option, you can’t go wrong with the SanDisk Cruzer.

Packed with features
The Cruzer comes packaged with the following items (shown in Figure A):

  • Reader
  • Memory card (which would range from 16 MB to 265 MB)
  • USB cable
  • Carrying pouch
  • Installation CD

Figure A
Cruzer and accessories

The small flash memory card provides the Cruzer with its data storage, which makes the Cruzer a combination flash card and reader. Once you’ve purchased the complete package, your can easily purchase additional flash memory cards.

The Cruzer is perhaps not as conveniently portable as many key chain devices, but it comes with a velvet drawstring pouch that makes it a snap to pack up the Cruzer and its accompanying USB cable. And although the carrying pouch may conjure up memories of a D&D gamers’ pouch for carrying around multi-colored dice, it will protect the device from dents and scratches.

The USB cable is only 5 1/8 in. long, but it’s a very necessary accessory because the Cruzer can’t plug into a USB port as easily as the key chain devices. The Cruzer’s bulky enclosure makes attaching it directly to many desktops difficult, if not impossible. Other cables and ports surrounding the USB ports block the Cruzer from being properly seated, so you almost have to use the cable unless you have USB ports conveniently located on the front of your PC case or if you’re using a laptop. This is a minor annoyance, however, that makes the Cruzer slightly less convenient.

On the front of the Cruzer case, you’ll notice a slidebar switch, which allows you to retract or extend the USB connector and also pop out the memory card. You can also retract the USB connector to prevent it from being damaged while you’re carrying it.

SanDisk labels the three slidebar positions as load, travel, and connect. In the load position, the slidebar ejects the memory card so you can remove it and load another. In the travel position, the USB plug is retracted into the device. And in connect mode, the USB plug is extended so you can insert it into a USB port or connect the USB cable.

Memory disks
The Cruzer supports disks in both secure digital (SD) and multimedia card (MMC) formats. Sources indicate that the MMC format will die out soon, leaving SD as the only memory card option for the Cruzer. As I mentioned, the largest capacity currently available is 256 MB, so this could be a limitation, depending on how much data you need to store. SanDisk however, says that 512-MB and 1-GB memory cards in SD format will be available soon, so it seems like this format will evolve with user needs.

Like many portable USB storage devices, the Cruzer includes password security for files stored on the memory disk, but it takes a different approach than the others. Instead of establishing secure and open partitions on the drive that are visible depending on whether you’re logged in, the Cruzer’s CruzerLock utility lets you select which files you want to encrypt and secure with a password as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
The CruzerLock file encryption feature

Once you’ve encrypted a file, it cannot be opened until you decrypt it. Unlike other devices, instead of installing CruzerLock on each PC to which you’ll be connecting the Cruzer, the utility resides on the device itself. However, you must copy it to the Cruzer from the included CD, which also contains the driver installation for Windows versions other than Win2K and WinXP, the user’s guide, and other documents.

The memory cards also have a write protection switch to protect data from being deleted or overwritten, just like a floppy disk.

The Cruzer complies with USB 1.1, which limits the speed at which it can transfer data, but this is comparable with many other USB storage devices.

WinBench 99 v2.0 recorded a data transfer rate of 1.2 Mbps for the Cruzer, which places it among the fastest of the key chain USB storage devices. You won’t get blazingly fast transfer speeds out of any of these portable devices, so the Cruzer really doesn’t stand out in this category or lag behind.

A cost-effective, portable option
It’s easy to recommend the Cruzer as a solid portable USB storage option. In terms of portable USB storage devices, the SanDisk Cruzer offers features comparable to others, but its ability to be upgraded puts it one step above the devices it’s currently competing with. And in terms of price per megabyte of storage, the Cruzer is a cost-effective option.

One of the facts you quickly discover when examining portable USB storage options—and this holds true for just about every storage device—the price per megabyte drops dramatically with higher capacities.

The only thing that currently holds the Cruzer back is that the memory cards it supports are limited in their capacity. Where key chain devices offer up to 2 GB of storage, SD cards only offer up to 256 MB. But the 512-MB and 1-GB cards should soon be available.

Prices listed online for the Cruzer range from $38 for the 32-MB version up to $138 for the 256-MB version.