Review: M-System's Disk On Key

I wanted to see how it really performed (January 7th, 2003)

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Product Manufacturer: M-Systems

Price: $99

The Good

  • Reliable, fast, easy to keep with you, and easy to know when it\'s safe to unmount

The Bad

  • NONE. Get one.

When you've used a computer as long as I have, at some point in your life, you have called technical support. One of the inevitable first questions the representative asks, "You do have a backup," and waits for an unreasonably long moment. "Don't you?"

And then there's the problem some small business owners face, when they keep backups on site. When disaster strikes the site, they really ought to have a recent off-site backup.

Remember when every machine had a floppy drive on it, and you could run from one machine to the next to transfer files without a network? With the introduction of the iMac, computers have had varying degrees of ability to record to something you can take with you. (PC users have had this coming for years in the MS and Intel PC specification, but only Compaq seems to have had the courage to actually follow spec and try and eliminate legacy ports and devices like the iMac did in 1998.)

In every one of these cases, a Disk On Key comes in handy. 128MB may not be a lot anymore, but it's more than a floppy, equivalent to the old zip disk, and works on nearly every computer made since 1998.

What's So Special About This?

For one thing, for use with most every operating system, you will not need to load any drivers. Windows 98 does require a driver, and Windows XP has to recognize it as new hardware, but In Linux, no driver is needed. Of course for Windows users, they will only experience the wait of installing drivers and recognizing hardware the first time they use the Disk On Key on one machine. Subsequent uses will be faster. In Mac OS 9 and X 10.x, it simply works. In fact, I was able to use the Disk On Key on such uncommon an operating system as QNX RTOS. If you don't know what that is, don't sweat it to much- that's the point, it's obscure, and worked. This means it will likely work nearly anywhere you try it.

"Do Not Remove Device Before Ejecting?" Nahhh...

Disk On Key is fantastic in this respect. Under normal circumstances with most any other device, if you remove the device without ejecting it first you risk data loss. With Disk On Key, there is an LED that glows, pulsing quickly when the data is being accessed. Do not remove it when the LED pulses quickly. When the LED is pulsing slowly, it is safe to remove. The slow pulsing behavior is the normal state of the device when plugged into the USB port.

Testing Under Pressure

My partner really put his Disk On Key through a lot of abuse. He stepped on it. He dropped it. He submersed it in water. He lost it. Then he stepped on it again. Through all this, it continued to work. Don't do that to yours when you get one. I don't know anyone who abuses things quite like my partner.

I wanted to see how it really performed, and if there was any reason it couldn't be used as a replacement for the floppy disk. Rather than do multiple OS upgrades over the network, I took some time and set it aside for doing the updates the old-fashioned way. I placed the update on the Disk On Key, and ran from one machine to the next performing the upgrade. The Disk On Key didn't have any limitation for number of reads, writes, or mounts and dismounts from the system. It just didn't flinch.

Then I found myself in a real-world situation. I've loaded the Disk On Key with a few 'survival' applications, ones that help me recover a system, ones that test an LCD, and a copy of (praise be!) my resumé. My laptop wouldn't power on, and I had to have resumés for prospective employers. Disk On Key came through, and there's no other way to say it.

Why You Need One

We have come to the point in this day and age where there is some data we need to have with us on all occasions. Needing my resumé made me acutely aware of this. Having my business card on hand is probably the only thing Disk On Key can't do for me, but I could keep my template file of it on my keychain and print out as needed. The next time I have a presentation to deliver, I'm placing it on my Disk On Key, besides the laptop. If my laptop fails me again, I won't be a sucker for having relied on it.

I'll have Disk On Key.

Disk On Key is a very reliable solution capable of withstanding the rigors of demanding school or office use.

by Victor Marks


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