Review: Kingston's new USB drive offers public and encrypted partitions

DataTraveler drive is fast and easy to use and allows users to safely lend them to colleagues

USB sticks have offered pretty much the same functionality over the past year or so. So when Kingston announced a new DataTraveler Locker USB Flash Drive that offered partitioning capability, I took notice.

Kingston's new thumb drive offers the somewhat stand-out capability of allowing a user to set up an encrypted partition to safeguard some of that data, while allowing the remaining drive space to be open and accessible by anyone. I find this useful because I'm often lending my USB drive to friends who want a simple way to transfer files or temporarily save some data.

Sure you can trick a Windows system into creating partitions on a USB stick by flipping the Removable Media Bit, making it appear as a permanent or fixed drive, however, it's possible that solution could render your drive unusable.

So I liked that this product offers a reliable way to quickly set up a partition on a USB stick.

Kingston makes two versions of its encryptable DataTraveler, dubbed the Locker and the Locker+. The Locker+ automatically encrypts everything stored on the drive using 256-bit hardware-based AES encryption. The Locker allows a user to partition space and encrypt one of the two partitions with the AES algorithm.

Kingston's new thumb drive offers the somewhat stand-out capability of allowing a user to set up an encrypted partition to safeguard some of that data, while allowing the remaining drive space to remain open
Kingston's DataTraveler Locker+ USB flash drive

Like most other USB sticks with encryption features, the DataTraveler Locker+ drive set up is as simple as one, two, three. You type in a password and reminder; your name and company; and then select "OK". That's it. Everything you save to the drive is now automatically encrypted.

Kingston's DataTraveler Locker (sans +) setup isn't much more difficult. Once plugging it into your USB port, it will show up as a drive and you double click on "DTencryptor". Setting up the partition is intuitive and fast. Pop up boxes guide you along asking to first pick a language, then to pick whether or not you want a "privary zone" -- as it calls the encrypted partition.

The software asks you to choose a password for the encrypted partition and then allows you to choose the size of the partition with an easy-to-use sliding scale. The slide scale on my 16GB capacity drive allowed me to partition up to 13.7GB of secure space. One programming error on both evaluation drives Kingston sent me was that the partitioning tool listed the drive capacity in megabytes, not gigabytes, incorrectly identifying 16MB of available capacity, even though there was 16GB. I'm sure Kingston will get around to fixing that, but I thought it was important to give potential customers a heads up.

The DataTraveler Locker+ comes in capacities of up to 32GB, and the Locker comes with capacities of up to 16GB. The drive's size is pretty standard: 2.58-in x 0.71-in x 0.41-in.

One of the features I liked right off the bat is the ability of the two drives to protect themselves against brute-force attacks, or from someone attempting to guess the password. The DataTraveler Locker+ drive locks down and reformats after 10 incorrect password attempts, deleting all your data and protecting it from prying eyes. While other drives have this feature, they often tend to be the higher end, pricey models.

Another attribute is the DataTraveler's cover. Instead of a cap that can be lost, the drive swings out on a hinge - a relatively common form factor today, but still one of the best designs out there. I'm a big fan of non-removable caps for obvious reasons.

I tested the DataTraveler Locker+ drive's I/O speed with Simpli Software's HD Tach 3.0 benchmarking softare. The drive showed an average read speed of 28.3MB/sec and an impressive random access time of 1.7 milliseconds, but CPU utilization was a disappointing 24%. When you're running more than one application on your computer, that can definitely impact performance.

For my next performance test, I transferred a 2GB size folder containing 544 files made up of photos, video and text documents to the encrypted partition, which took 5 minutes, 37 seconds. Not bad at all.

A 4GB model of the DataTraveler Locker+ retails for $36.00, an 8GB $50.00, a 16GB $100.00, and a 32GB DataTraveler Locker+ retails for $200.00. A 4GB model of the DataTraveler Locker retails for $30; an 8GB for $44; and a 16GB for $93.

For comparison, you can purchase a 32GB SanDisk Extreme Contour USB Flash Drive with 256-bit AES encryption for $166.99 retail or a 16GB model of the same for $108.99.

The DataTraveler drives are compatable with Windows 7, Vista, XP, 2000 and Mac OS X v.10.4 - v.10.6.

While this drive is a little more affordable than others with similar encryption features, it mainly stands out for one thing: its partitioning capability.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, send e-mail to lmearian@computerworld.com or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed .

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