The market for USB storage devices is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years, and JMTek’s USBDrive promises to be among the best of the offerings with a variety of features that make it more than just a storage medium. Yet despite its high storage capacities and bootability, the USBDrive’s features have serious limitations that prevent if from living up to its full potential.

The product
The USBDrive is packaged with the same options that accompany most USB storage products: the drive, software on CD, a USB extension cable, lanyard, and a handy key chain. JMTek touts the USBDrive as being truly plug and play, and, like the other devices, all you have to do is plug it in and you’re ready to go. The hook on the USBDrive for attaching it to the lanyard or key chain is located on the device itself rather than the cap—a nice feature since the cap fits relatively loosely and you’re better off losing the cap as opposed to the drive itself.

The CD that accompanies the USBDrive was a bit of a disappointment. In addition to the drive utilities, it’s chock full of other goodies, such as a trial version of McAfee SecurityCenter and Earthlink software. For the home user, some of these programs may be useful, but I suspect most support techs will be indifferent to Earthlink and don’t really want McAfee’s opinion on whether their computers are secure or not. I installed the SecurityCenter just to see what it had to offer, and the first thing I noticed was that it was unable to detect the enterprise antivirus program installed on our network. It reported that I needed antivirus software.

My second beef about the CD is that it’s more of a marketing tool than anything else. Its purpose is to promote JMTek’s products along with the products of a number of other companies. I don’t want a CD that entices me to buy other products; I just need the drivers and a manual.

The biggest problem is that the stuff you really need is hidden amid the clutter of the advertising. I was looking for a link in the CD interface to run the utilities the device comes with to format the drive, install password protection, make the device bootable, and so forth, but it didn’t exist.

So I had to use Windows Explorer to find what I was looking for on the disc. That also turned out to be more difficult than it should’ve been because it took me several minutes to locate the utilities I needed. I finally found them in the folder labeled “Win98SE.” The only problem was, I wasn’t running Win98SE, and I suspect that a great many people who might purchase the device are also not running Win98SE. What are the Win2K and WinXP users supposed to do? Granted, this is a minor quibble, but if your device works with multiple OSs, it simply doesn’t make sense to me to put the utilities that everyone needs in a folder labeled for a specific OS. I should also add that the format utility user’s guide indicates that the utility is located on the root of the CD so that it’s easily accessible.

Luckily, the formatting program works with Win2K as well as Win98SE. In a subfolder labeled “Tools,” I found the password utility.

Like some of the other products, the USBDrive’s password protection feature allows you to partition a segment of the drive as the protected area. To access that partition or the files stored on it, you must enter a password. One thing that raises the USBDrive’s password protection feature a notch above some of the others is that it doesn’t require that you install the utility on every machine with which you’ll be using the device. Instead, once you’ve partitioned the drive to password protect part or all of it, the utility resides on the drive itself, so no matter where you take the USBDrive, your password protection remains intact.

A small key icon appears in the system tray when the password protection is enabled. To access the protected partition, double-click the system tray icon and enter your password. The utility will open a window specifically for that partition to allow you to access, edit, or move files.

The password feature works well enough to protect sensitive files and conveniently resides on the drive itself. Any files stored on the protected segment are invisible until the password is entered.

One feature that I was really looking forward to trying out was USBDrive’s boot feature. With other drives, bootability depends on whether your BIOS supports booting from a USB device. Making the devices bootable is actually just a matter of copying the necessary files to the device and then configuring the BIOS.

With USBDrive’s format utility, on the other hand, you can make the device bootable by simply selecting the Enable Boot Support option when formatting or configuring the drive. But here’s the catch: It works only with Win98SE/Me.

While this still distinguishes the USBDrive from many competing devices, it’s an option that will likely only be useful to home users because most enterprises run Windows 2000 or NT. Since I’m running Windows 2000, I was unable to test this feature of the device.

Edging forward
Many companies like JMTek are beginning to incorporate functionality into their flash storage products that make them true floppy replacements. But so far, beyond the much larger storage capacities and portability, the progress has been incremental. Password protection and true boot features are a big step in the right direction. Though the promise of these features isn’t fully realized in the USBDrive, it is nonetheless a solid contender in a crowded market and worth consideration.

JMTek also offers the USBDrive in a Professional version that includes e-mail, security, and privacy features. Depending on what you need, the Professional version of the product offers more robust features and is aimed squarely at the corporate user, while the regular USBDrive remains a good option for the home user.