If you have a bunch of those older, smaller-capacity flash memory cards lying around, I may have found something new that will let you use...

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If you have a bunch of those older, smaller-capacity flash memory cards lying around, I may have found something new that will let you use them once again. After all, you spent a lot of money on them when they represented the biggest capacity you could get at the time.

Flash memory is computer memory that retains its information without electrical power. So why not use flash memory instead of the volatile kind used in personal computers?

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While the ability to retain is a desirable one, the simple fact is that flash memory is way too slow. Today’s high-speed computers need even faster memory to keep up with the demands of multigigahertz CPUs (central processing units) and screaming bus speeds.

Flash memory has definitely found a welcome place in many consumer electronic devices, most notably the digital camera.

But as these digital wonders continue to improve with higher megapixel capacities, digital shutterbugs find themselves having to buy larger-capacity flash memory cards to hold the bigger image files. A 5-megapixel camera, for example, can take a single picture that may require more than 100 megabytes of storage. It’s easy to see how even a gigabyte flash memory card may hold only 10 photographs.

As the price of these larger flash memory cards continues to fall, digital photographers buy the newer, higher-capacity cards. And while it’s possible to carry around the older, smaller cards as a form of backup, most find their way into a drawer, never to be used again.

But one company has come up with a clever way to breathe new life into these cards.

Basically, the Keychain Smart Media Reader looks just like one of those tiny flash memory thumb drives that plug into any available USB port. Just plug one in and you immediately see a new logical storage device with its own drive letter and name appear on your computer’s desktop.

But what makes the Keychain Smart Media Reader so different is that it contains no flash memory. Instead, you open it and insert any of your own flash memory cards into it. Close it and voilà! You have just converted that old useless flash memory card into a useful thumb drive.

When I heard about this, my immediate thought was that the cost of the Keychain Smart Media Reader would make this idea impractical. That was until I heard that the device sells for $9.95. At that price, even the smallest, most useless flash memory card becomes valuable again.

Made by MediaGear, the Keychain Smart Media Reader comes in five versions, each designed for a particular flash memory standard. There are Keychain Smart Media Readers for Sony’s Memory Stick (it does not support the Pro version), Compact Flash, SmartMedia, Secure Digital MultiMediaCard and the xD-Picture Card.

Each Keychain Smart Media Reader sports a USB plug along with a small blue drive-activity indicator LED that flickers when the memory card is being accessed.

MediaGear has come up with a clever and inexpensive way to reuse something you may have that was just collecting dust in a drawer. You can get the Keychain Smart Media Reader directly from the MediaGear Web site, www.mymediagear.com.