If Santa's looking for ``wow!'' stocking stuffers and has no current plans to rob a bank, check out the new Digitalway MPIO HS-100 USB drive.

First, it's about the size of a Zippo lighter, second, it holds 1.5 gigabytes of data, and third, it's USB 1.1 and 2.0 compliant.

But that's just a three-base hit. What makes it a home run is the price _ suggested at $199 and expected by the manufacturer to be around $149 street pricing for the holidays. That's about a dime a megabyte (1,500,000,000/150 10,000,000 for a buck, one megabyte for a dime.)

Which, if it happens as expected, is going to really shake up the existing USB market, where the prevailing cost per megabyte is three to four times that.

This price break is said to be courtesy of Longmont, Colo., startup Cornice, Inc. Their Web site claims to have reinvented small storage technology and are building these things with just 31 electrical components and three integrated circuits.

Whether they're doing it by engineering or voodoo, the price to the user is very attractive.

I tested the review unit on Windows XP systems and the only technical involvement was plugging it into an available USB 2.0 port. XP recognizes it as another drive. That would also happen with Macintosh OS X.

It comes with a driver CD-ROM for those running Windows 98/SE/ME. And it comes with a connection cable, which is handy, and a carrying case, which isn't _ at least for me. Pockets work better. While I'm very likely to forget something in carrying case, it's still not likely that I'll leave the house without shirt and pants.

If you want to check it out on the Web, go to mpio.com, the South Korean manufacturer's Web site, but be prepared to do some wading before you find the product. The storage company's Web site is at corniceco.com.


Since the holiday season also sparks its share of online shopping, here's a cautionary tale passed here by Mark Bowder, assistant business editor of the Riverside Press-Enterprise in California. A reader saw a low printer price in a column that mentioned an online retailer. She ordered the printer and got the royal runaround.

A check at one of the rating sites like pricegrabbers.com or resellerratings.com would have saved some grief, since it became apparent that other shoppers from that particular site were also experiencing problems, Bowder pointed out, and he's right. Besides those mentioned, there are other sites, but unless you know the online retailer, check. And even if you've done business there before, checking doesn't hurt _ like people, businesses change.


Questions and comments are welcome. Send them to Larry Blasko, The Associated Press, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020-1666. Or e-mail lblasko(at)ap.org.