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Flash drive maker adds boot feature

In a move that may speed the death of floppy disk drives, M-Systems says its USB flash memory storage device can now start a PC's boot-up process.

In a move that may speed the death of floppy disk drives, M-Systems on Tuesday said its USB flash memory storage device can now start a PC's boot-up process.

M-Systems said that if users plug the flash memory device into the USB port of a computer that has crashed and turn on the power, the machine will start to boot up. Booting up a computer loads an operating system into its main memory.

"We believe the new bootability function will provide users with a world of benefit, including those owners with slimline laptops that no longer need to carry their external disk or CD drives," said Blaine Phelps, director of worldwide marketing for M-Systems' DiskOnKey business unit.

DiskOnKey is what M-Systems calls its USB flash memory device, which is also known as a flash drive. M-Systems flash drives are small enough to fit on a key chain.

In the past, floppy disks have been used to reboot a computer when the system experiences a severe crash and will not boot up automatically. Floppy drives have been waning in popularity, and some PCs are now built without them.

M-Systems makes flash drive devices for companies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard. Both those companies began shipping the new flash drive with the boot function in June, Phelps said.

In order for the flash drive's boot function to work, computer users have to prepare their machines to work with the flash drive in advance.

Users would still need to reinstall the operating system if it became corrupted, Phelps said. For that they would need a CD drive and CD containing the operating system--or a floppy drive and floppy disks.

But the flash drive is useful even when it's not possible to reinstall the OS, Phleps added, because it lets users snag material from the hard drive.

"If you don't have the CD at least you still have access to your files," he said.