The floppy disk is so dead that most people have stopped declaring that its dead. One of the culprits is the USB memory drive, which lets you carry far more data in a device small enough to stick in a pocket or use as a keychain. But while these storage accessories have become commodities, companies such as IBM and Iomega are adding security and self-running apps to differentiate their offerings.
The IBM 256MB USB 2.0 Memory Key ($149 direct) includes a security utility called KeySafe, which lets you partition the drive into sizes of your choosing and password-protect the second partition. So if the module goes astray, your data is secure.
The Memory Key can also act as the boot disk for computers for diagnostics (a boon for IT personnel), or you can have it run simple applications automatically when inserted into a running PC. Its also about the thinnest USB storage drive available, which can be important if another device is wedged into an adjacent USB port.
The Iomega Mini USB Drive ($150 street for 256MB) offers ActiveDisk, its term for applications that execute from the device without having to be installed on your PC. About 100 apps are available (at www.iomega-activedisk.com), including MusicMatch (an MP3 jukebox) and Stuffit (a compression utility). This extra functionality makes the Mini USB Drive worth the $30 premium compared with storage-only drives.
Note that with these and other flash memory–based dongles, having USB 2.0 in their names or invoked in their specs doesnt mean that they approach the standards 480-Mbps throughput ceiling. The problem: Flash memory, which does not need external power, is slower than a rotating hard drive.
In fact, these USB memory keys read files at just under 1 MBps and write them about 15 percent slower—meaning youd need 4 minutes to off-load a 256MB key. By way of comparison, on our tests a USB 1.1 key ran at the same speed, while a USB 2.0 external hard drive completed the off-load in 20 seconds. So consider these devices for their convenience, not their speed.