A Need For Speed

If time is money, there is good reason to consider hassle-free key chain drives, such as Disk-On-Key by M-Systems (www.diskonkey.com). The tiny drives go anywhere and store data like any hard drive, but the Flash-based technology means you no longer need to lug hefty hard disks. These approximately one-ounce drives store from 16—256MB of data with no cables or disks needed. Just pop off the top and connect it to a USB port; you can then use your files as if they were on a second, internal hard drive. And with the newer version of Disk-On-Key there is no need to install drivers (unless you’re running Windows 98, in which case you would simply download the drivers).

Because Disk-On-Key manipulates files the way traditional hard drives do, you can use files while they’re still on the key chain drive or you can copy them to your hard drive. The Flash data copies fast but its speed depends partly on the speed of your PC. The really big news is that Disk-On-Key drives are now USB 2.0-compliant. USB 2.0, the latest standard, is theoretically up to 3 times faster than the old USB 1.1 standard–and even slightly faster than FireWire. We tested the 32MB review unit ($39.99), which didn’t work the device for the biggest time savings possible, but our copying speed tripled from 33 seconds to 10 seconds when we switched the Disk-On-Key from the USB 1.1 port to the USB 2.0 port. Ask your PC vendor whether your USB ports use the 1.1 or 2.0 standard. If you have an older PC with USB 1.1 ports, it’s worth adding a USB 2.0 controller card to your computer if you have a free slot.

Besides the new speed, some of the featherweight file carriers have a new shape. Disk-On-Key Pro leans more toward the sleekness of a pocketknife. The first crop of Pros will be USB 1.1, followed by USB 2.0 models. Be sure to buy the USB 2.0 version, even if you have to wait. You can plug it into a USB 1.1 port and run it at the old speed until you’re ready to upgrade to a USB 2.0 port.
The convenience of Disk-On-Key makes it easy to grab large files as you’re tearing out of the office–and easy for others to do the same with their own Disks-On-Key. Because these drives are plug-and-play, it’s a good idea for network Admins to disable unused USB ports throughout the company and let security know that employees might carry their own hard drives on keys. While this opens the possibility of company information getting into the wrong hands, files can be password protected using the KeySafe software that comes with the product. A free download called MyKey lets you personalize your unit. And soon, manufacturers will sell software right on the devices.

The cost of Disks-On-Key is comparable to that of regular hard drives. The USB 2.0 version comes in 64-, 128-, 256-, and 512MB capacities, at suggested retail prices of