iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Seven USB Flash Drives In Tests

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Today we are going to review seven USB drives from different manufacturers. We've collected a couple of products from each manufacturer and we don't feel like waiting for new products in each series, because our current data may grow outdated by that time. So this review is in the best traditions of our early reviews -- several models very different in capacity, speed, and functionality from five manufacturers. Some of them are well-known, some are less known, one drive is a newcomer. Let's start alphabetically.

ATP EarthDrive

Nobody gets excited about a usual flash drive anymore, so manufacturers invent various contrivances to distinguish their products. However, my cynicism may be inappropriate here, and ATP Electronics really cares for ecological environment, not just for promotion. EarthDrive will certainly please tree huggers for at least three reasons. For one, the package uses recycled materials. Outside the USA and Canada, these products may come in plain boxes made of 'waste' cardboard. For two, part of the income from sales of this model are transferred to non-profit-making American Forests organization, which is into protection and recultivation of forests. Necessity of the latter is a very complex issue, of course. The popular opinion that forests generate oxygen is a delusion. In fact, trees consume more oxygen than they produce, so their contribution into the oxygen balance is purely negative. We breathe only owing to alga in the oceans ;) Whatever, forests are useful, so let them recultivate. Anywhere they like. And the third attraction for environmentalists is the enclosure of the device. Most drives are made of traditional plastic these days, conversion product of oil and other hydrocarbons. They are good, but they take too much time to decompose in nature. When burnt, they poison the atmosphere. Plastic recycling is not the most ecologic process either -- lots of poison appears in the process, and people in this business (headquartered in continental China, what a surprise) statistically live no more than 10 years (from the moment they start working in this industry). Besides, oil itself is considered nonrenewable resource, and its extraction poisons everything living around the field. EarthDrive uses a radically different material: PLA is purely organic plastic made of renewable raw material (for example, it can be produced from corn). When you toss it out, it relatively quickly decomposes to water and carbon dioxide.

So if you are an environmentalist, you know what product to choose. And if one of your friends cares about nature, now you know what Christmas present to give. In other respects it's a traditional memory stick in a slider format. Its dimensions are 35.7 x 23.3 x 10.31 mm, quite small. Its capacity varies from 1 GB to 8 GB (we tested a sample with the most popular capacity -- 2 GB). Note that this flash drive is waterproof. No, its enclosure is not watertight, of course. But if water leaks in, there will be no negative consequences: the controller, memory chips, and other components on the board are implemented as a plastic monolith. The company speaks of this design as a whole new technology, but there is nothing innovative about this approach -- we've already seen such flash drives and even flash cards. So, it's a traditional device.

What concerns additional functionality, the manufacturer copied Carry it Easy Plus from CoSoSys SRL to the flash drive. First of all I was pleased with the fact the product comes with a commercial utility (24.95 EUR), but it turned out that the key to this program is not included into the bundle. So it will work for 30 days of trial and then you'll have to buy it or delete it. However, registration of the ATP version costs 14.95 EUR. so the utility comes with a big discount. And the program itself is really very convenient and useful, so let's take a closer look at it.

When the program is run for the first time, it prompts a user to enable its autostart option when the flash drive is plugged to a computer. It's a very useful option, which is not available in the Light version of the program.

We are already familiar with the main window, but the Light version lacked the Sync All button (as it could sync only files, it did not need this feature), and icons in the left part of the window are all active now.

You can carry with you not only usual files with data. For example, you mention an interesting website at your friend's, and he wants to know the address.. and then you make a helpless gesture and say that you bookmarked it, but don't remember the address. Sounds familiar? You bet! Or you may want the address yourself, and you cannot remember it. So you'd better carry your bookmarks with you in a flash drive. As you can see, the program supports both most popular browsers -- Internet Explorer and FireFox. It cannot convert favorites of the former to bookmarks of the latter and back, but that's not what it's written for. Especially as web surfers, who use both browsers, usually employ one of them as the main tool, while the second browser may even come with an empty list of bookmarks.

Another useful option is anonymous operations in Internet, which is especially handy when you have to use someone else's computer to surf the Web. You can clean temp files manually, of course, but why bother? Computers were invented to perform routine operations, weren't they?

If you use Outlook, you are sure to appreciate syncing with it or creating backups of its data. What concerns me, I don't use Outlook, so I cannot evaluate this feature.

Similar features are available for Outlook Express, but I don't have it installed either. However, lots of people use this program, and it does not have a portable version (unlike many other competing solutions), so synchronization with a flash drive will certainly be very popular.

The next two tabbed paged allow to configure synchronization of any files between computers and flash drives (plain copying, ZIP archiving, AES encryption with a 128-bit key, or both).

Let's have a look at settings. The first page configures autostart of the utility, when the drive is plugged to a computer.

The second page configures Sync All. Full sync (you can configure what files to sync manually) can be performed by pressing the corresponding button, or you can schedule it.

The last tab in this group displays various information. The program 'knows' a lot of flash drives, so it can show you the name of your product and even its serial number. And the same window displays a detailed report about the program itself: which functions are enabled, how much space is occupied by each option, when the last sync was run, etc.

Like all small objects, flash drives are often lost by their owners. This utility allows to encrypt your data so that nobody could read your files. But that's not all. Sometimes a person who finds your flash drive is eager to return it to its owner, but to whom? And where? All flash drives look alike. You can sometimes fish owner info out of them, but you will have to look through the files to find this private information, which is not easy to locate. Sticking a label to the drive may solve the problem. But Carry it Easy offers a better solution -- to store contact information in the program itself. This feature may help the drive return to you.

And the last tab is responsible for program updates and registration.

So, this is a powerful and easy-to-use utility. But we should thank CoSoSys for it, not ATP. ATP also made its contribution by providing a discount. Just compare: if you download the program from CoSoSys website, you will have to pay 24.95 EUR for it; if we buy a flash drive from Verbatim, the upgrade from Light version will cost 16.99 EUR, and in this case you pay only 14.95. On the other hand, I like Verbatim's approach better -- you get some of the functions with these drives for free.

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