Flash Memory: Is it memory or is it storage? SanDisk's new flash-based Cruzer product, together with a 1GB Type I CompactFlash card, blurs the distinction. But one thing is clear: None of it is cheap.

Nelson Chan, SanDisk's vice president of worldwide sales, calls the USB-based (Universal Serial Bus) product a "personal portable storage device." It's due sometimes next quarter.

The Cruzer, which will hold up to 256MB of information, is about the size of a cigarette lighter. You plug it directly into a USB port--no cables required.

The idea is to provide a simple, painless way of moving megabytes from one computer to another, Can says. "We want to make [installing a Cruzer on another computer] as seamless as possible," he says. "But there may be drivers." There will also be optional password protection.

Small but pricey You'll be able to buy a Cruzer equipped with a 32MB, 64MB, 128MB, or 256MB MultiMediaCard or Secure Digital card, and you can buy additional cards, too. SanDisk chose these options over the more popular CompactFlash and SmartMedia standards because of their smaller size, Chan says.

A Cruzer bundled with a 128MB card will probably cost around US$100. SanDisk hasn't yet set prices for stand-alone cards. Clearly, however, these products will costs significantly more than CD-R (CD-recordable) and CD-RW (CD-rewritable) discs, which should remain the cheapest way to store and move data.

That said, SanDisk promises that the Cruzer will support other USB-capable devices, such as certain cameras, PDAs (personal digital assistants), and video recorders. CDs can't do that.

More RAM in a flash SanDisk's new 1GB CompactFlash Card can hold hundreds or even thousands of digital photographs. But that kind of storage comes at a steep price: $800.

Announced last November, available now in Europe, and arriving in the US within weeks, it's the first Type I card to hold a full gigabyte of data. Some Type II cards offer similar amounts of storage, but not all CompactFlash devices can accept a Type II card.

A 1GB CompactFlash card could help you carry your high-resolution digital camera through a long vacation without any worries that you'll run out of storage. With camera resolutions growing, people will undoubtedly want that expanded capacity.

Despite its initial high price, the very existence of this card - and the inevitable emergence of similar cards from SanDisk competitors - will likely push prices for smaller-capacity cards down in coming months.