Review: The Imation Pivot Plus Flash Drive -- good, compact security

The hardware-based encryption software on this drive leaves no footprint on your PC

The Pivot Plus Flash Drive is not made by Imation; it's manufactured for the company by a top secret firm that Imation won't disclose. But I really liked several features about this simple drive. For one, I like its form factor: It's small but not too small and it opens on a pivoting arm from a sheath that protects the USB plug, so there's no cap to lose (I always lose my USB stick caps). I also like that everything you download to this drive is automatically encrypted -- period. There's only one partition for storage and it's secure, so human error can't be a factor in exposing data.

Because of the simple physical makeup of this drive, I expected my experience would be describable in a word: easy. Alas, it wasn't. Immediately after plugging in the Pivot Plus Flash Drive, I was slapped with a rather inscrutable message stating "No Imation Pivot Plus Flash Drive found. Pivot Plus Login Application will now terminate." Wow. That was rude, I thought.

I called Imation and the company explained that the security feature on the drive requires two drive letters be assigned to the device. The first drive letter is automatically assigned to a secure read-only partition and the second drive letter is assigned to the flash drive's main read/write partition. My PC assigned the letter "E" to the secure partition, but then it couldn't assign the next available drive letter ("F") to the device because it was already assigned as my network share. Imation called this a bug in Microsoft Windows XP. There are two ways to address this glitch. The work-around involves remapping your network drive to another letter, freeing up the "F" drive for the local volume, or assigning a new drive to the USB flash drive. The alternative is to download a patch from Microsoft, a description of which is in this Microsoft knowledge-based article. I tried the patch, which is inconveniently not in any monthly Microsoft updates. You'll have to submit a request to Microsoft Online Customer Services to obtain the hot fix. Mine arrived later that day.

Imation says this Windows XP problem is not unique to its flash drive, but that it will occur with any drive that uses similar security features. Unfortunately, Microsoft's patch didn't work, so I switched to plan B and went into my Disk Manager File and changed drive assigned to the flash drive. Onward and upward.

Security features

The first thing the drive log-in application asks is for a password and password hint. There is a minimum of seven characters that must include both alpha and numeric characters. Once you've created a password, a separate box allows you to continue the start-up in standard mode or switch to corporate mode. Corporate mode allows users to create an Administrator override password that can be used to access the drive in case they forget their password.

The start-up menu then asks for a password to log onto the Imation Encryption Manager Plus application. Once you do that, you're in and all but 455KB of space is available to you. One feature I liked about this drive is a physical write-protection switch on the outside of the case. It works in the same way that the old floppy disks did. While I've seen these switches before on some USB sticks, they're infrequently offered. I find them handy in that once you have sensitive data downloaded to the drive, you can change it to read-only mode so that no one can overwrite the files if they happen to be working on your computer while the USB drive is installed. Like the other drives we tested for this series of articles, Imation's Pivot Plug USB stick uses 256-bit AES encryption. It features a one password-protected partition that does not allow storage of unencrypted content and hardware encryption that is integrated into the drive controller and is automatically initiated by the drive, requiring secure storage of all data. After seven failed password attempts, the flash drive requires reformatting for use, a feature to protect against brute force security attacks. The hardware-based encryption software also leaves no footprint on whatever host computer you're using.

Speed test

It took 5:20 minutes to copy a 1GB folder with 303 photos and/or video to the drive. An I/O test using HD Tach showed a 16.1MB/sec. average read speed and a burst rate of 16.7MB/sec. The random access speed was .9 milliseconds -- pretty middle of the road. The CPU utilization was a meager 8%. All in all, I wasn't impressed with the drive's throughput.

The Pivot Plus Drive is compatible with Windows ME, 2000, XP, Vista and Macintosh Mac OS 9.0. The Pivot Flash Drive is also compatible with Windows Vista ReadyBoost technology, which allows you to boot from the flash drive if you so desire.

While easy to use, the security features are as good, but not the best compared to the drives we tested. That said, this is a good drive with better than average security, so I'd recommend this drive to the average user because of its handy ergonomic design and relative ease of use.

Pricing for the Imation Pivot Plus on PriceGrabber ranged from $41.03 for a 1GB model to 191.42 for an 8GB model.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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