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IronKey Workspace review: Windows 8 PC on a stick

Lucas Mearian | Feb. 4, 2013
Imation's new USB drive uses Windows To Go to create a fully functional Windows 8 PC on any computer.

Additionally, this drive can't be used for external storage, meaning you can't create a separate partition for data storage, and you can't run your computer's native OS and store data on it. That functionality, which Imation calls "cross-over storage," is currently available on Imation's Stealth Zone flash drives and will be available in the second generation of the Workspace W300 flash drive, Gerber says.

Good quality drives

Admittedly, I've always been partial to IronKey's USB drives. They were the first to use 256-bit AES encryption, and the flash drive cases are one piece of seamless metal, so you can't pry them open to have your way with the high-end flash chips inside. I have successfully broken into other USB drives and bypassed hardware-based security to access the data.

Imation bought the hardware business of privately-held IronKey in 2011. IronKey has arguably made the world's most secure flash drives.

IronKey storage devices have also been validated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to meet the stringent Level 3 criteria of FIPS 140-2. Combined with the cloud-based IronKey Enterprise Management Service, data security can be managed and audited from anywhere in the world. The IronKey Workspace flash drive, however, is not FIPS-certified.

"This year we will be introducing IronKey Workspace products that include features such as hardware encryption, device management, cross-over storage, mass provisioning and FIPS Level 3 certification," says Ken Kadet, Imation's global public relations manager.

What has also set IronKey apart from other USB flash drives in the past is that it uses high-end single-level cell (SLC) NAND flash memory chips as opposed to multilevel cell, consumer-grade (MLC) NAND. SLC has better native performance over MLC and, perhaps most importantly, it has as much as 10 times the lifespan, up to 100,000 write/erase cycles.

The newest drives, like the IronKey Workspace, use MLC, which is less expensive than SLC but, with new firmware, offers nearly as fast data transfer rates.

Imation's says that, because of the drive's architecture, it delivers over five times the minimum read/write performance required for Windows To Go-certified devices.

Setting up

Because most computers boot up from their internal hard drives, you'll need to change your BIOS settings to boot up from this USB device; it's a very simple process.

First, insert the drive into an external USB port while the computer is powered off (or simply restart it). Before Windows has booted up, you'll need to press either the F2 or F12 key, depending on your PC. That will bring you to a BIOS setup screen, where you can choose to boot up from an external USB device.

 

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