LaCie’s FastKey is a mutt. It’s not sure whether it wants to be a svelte, mid-capacity SSD or a girthy, high-capacity USB stick.
At least there’s no doubt about the FastKey‘s appointments, which are dazzling: blazing USB 3.0 speed, a durable but surprisingly lightweight ruggedized aluminum case, AES 256-bit encryption and up to 120 GB of storage. All squeezed into something that weighs about an ounce and can be clenched in your fist.
Of course, the major gotcha is the heart-palpitating price — $150 for 30 GB, $250 for 60 GB, and $475 for 120 GB.
While it is specifically designed for computers with the newish USB 3.0 standard, it’s also backward-compatible with USB 2.0. To get the best performance, you need to use a computer that has native USB 3.0 on board. For most of us, USB 3.0 is accessible with add-on PCI expansions cards or, for notebooks, ExpressCard adapters. Read and write times with the add-ons are impressive, but still not as fast as native 3.0.
In our unscientific tests, the 60-GB FastKey excelled with a 201 MB per second read time, but averaged just 88 MB per second when writing data. That’s about the same or below many USB 3.0 external hard drives’ writing capabilities. When we tried the FastKey in a USB 2.0 drive, it read at an impressive 35 MBps but wrote data at an unexceptional 28 MBps, the comparable speed of standard external hard drives.
LaCie, a French company, is already a highly regarded manufacturer of USB 3.0 storage devices, like its desktop RAID. It’s also known for making some rugged wrappings. The company almost always bundles software with its storage products, and the FastKey follows suit.
It doesn’t come preformatted. Instead, on first use it starts with a temporary partition with a setup assistant loaded. Here, you chose to format it with either NTFS for Windows or HFS+ for Mac. Pick wisely, because once the quick-partitioning process starts, this temporary partition is eliminated, taking the management software with it.
On Windows XP or later, you get a single 120-GB partition named “La_Public.” Want to also exchange data with a Mac or Linux computer? Then you get two partitions: an 88-GB La_Public partition for Windows only, and a 32-GB partition accessible by Windows, Mac and Linux called “Exchange.” Loaded on the Public section are LaCie utilities, a 256-bit encryption app that can set up yet another password-protected partition, and a Turbo USB app that supposedly lets you read and write data over USB 3.0 more quickly. What is it, some magical Red Bull for your USB port?
And as an extra, LaCie throws in a two-year 4-GB subscription to the online storage service Wuala.
So, you get a lot of SSD capacity and security in a small portable package. Whether it is worth the steep price to you depends primarily on whether you already have USB 3.0, and, to a lesser extent, how much the convenience of the exceedingly small form factor appeals to you.
Photo courtesy of LaCie
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