A PC-free hard drive

Soon you'll be able to offload files from your digital camera and stash them on PC mass storage -- while leaving the PC behind.

That is, if the new Digital Wallet, a $US399 device from Minds@Work, lives up to its promise. Essentially a 4GB portable hard drive with its own operating system and Motorola ColdFire processor, the Digital Wallet will ship in the first quarter of 2000, the company says.

Digital cameras can quickly fill up their tiny storage devices, requiring you either to download files to a PC to make room, or carry extra storage. By connecting an adapter to the Digital Wallet's PC-card slot, you can transfer the files from a number of mini-storage devices, among them Compact Flash, SmartMedia Flash, the Sony Memory Stick, and the Iomega Clik drive.

The Digital Wallet also has a Universal Serial Bus port that allows it to provide shareable add-on storage for a PC or notebook, says Tee Nguyen, a Minds@Work marketing manager.

"It's a great way to add instant mass storage to your PC," Nguyen says.

An 8GB version, also available next year, will likely cost around $US150 more than the 4GB drive, and a 16GB version is expected sometime later, she adds. The PC must be running Windows 98 or 2000 or MacOS 8.5 or higher, and you must install a device driver from an included floppy disk.

The Digital Wallet can also store and carry business presentations and archive, but not play back, MP3 music files. It has rechargeable batteries and comes with an AC adapter.

It is not, however, a speed demon. The Digital Wallet has a data-transfer rate of 1.5 megabits per second and an average seek time of 13 milliseconds, according to Minds@Work. These rates are substantially slower than those of internal hard drives and even some external storage devices with which the Digital Wallet indirectly competes. These include Iomega's 2GB Jaz drive, which has an average transfer rate of 7.4mbps and seek times between 10 and 12 milliseconds.

Coming later: a much smaller "smart storage" unit called the Movie Wallet that will hold DVD movies downloaded on store kiosks and play them back on a "mini-VCR" attached to a TV, PC or DVD player.

Nguyen says the Movie Wallet is in development and will arrive later in 2000. It will be able to download a full-length movie in two minutes and will let distributors periodically change advertisements via satellite as well as monitor consumer buying patterns.

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David Essex

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