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LaCie XtremKey USB 3.0: the flash drive you want for the zombie apocalypse

USB flash drives are usually a yawner, something that is more of a giveaway item (at least to the press) at trade shows than something that deserves a blogger's attention. However, LaCie has introduced the XtremKey USB 3.0 flash drive in 32 GB (US$84.99) and 64 GB ($139.99) versions, and it's definitely worth your time to read about this ruggedized flash drive.

Design and Functionality

The XtremKey can handle just about anything you throw at it. In the video embedded at the bottom of this post, LaCie puts one to the test in a deep-fat fryer (along with some tasty sweet potato fries!), dipped in a bottle of liquid nitrogen, immersed in burning alcohol, placed under a steamroller on asphalt, and hacked with a machete. If it can put up with this and still keep your data safe with AES 256-bit encryption, it's definitely going to survive a ride in your pocket with your keys. You can take the XtremKey scuba diving down to 200 meters (656 feet), and it's designed to take a 10 meter (32.8 feet) drop without a problem.

The XtremKey gets its stark good looks from French designer Constance Guisset, who placed the brains of the flash drive inside a steel truncated cone with a threaded and o-ring sealed opening on one end. At the top of the cone is a hole for a key ring, and the rest of the device is unadorned except for some markings on the slightly rounded bottom end. Note: if you don't like things to move on your desk, you're probably going to dislike what Guisset did here -- when you place the XtremKey in an upright position, it wobbles a bit and finally settles down. To quote LaCie, "While it's standing on its end, its equilibrium is fragile and awkward. It dances on the tables and always finds a non-straight position."

Of course, a flash drive is only as good as the speed and storage that it provides. Upon connecting it to my MacBook Pro, the XtremKey initially didn't show up, so I popped into Disk Utility and formatted it. At that point it mounted properly, and I was able to test the read/write speeds using AJA System Test. The average write speed over a number of tests was 83.3 MB/s, while the read speed was a blindingly fast 194.1 MB/s. That's the fastest USB 3.0 drive read speed we've benchmarked, although the write speeds are about half of those of a Seagate USB 3.0 drive we tested last year.

LaCie provides some free software downloads with the purchase of an XtremKey. First, you get a free 32 or 64 GB of storage over at LaCie's Wuala cloud service, enough to back up your XtremKey online. Next, there's the LaCie Keys Software; a version written especially for the XtremKey. It contains Intego Backup Assistant, LaCie Private Public (encryption software), an XtremKey icon for the Finder, and the Wuala Link software for connecting your computer to the Wuala service. If you already use Time Machine for backups, decide to use Apple's encryption, and have a Dropbox account, just can forget about downloading this software.

As for testing, I did verify that the XtremKey had no problems sitting in the bottom of my sink for two hours. A trip to the bottom of a swimming pool should be no problem either. I don't own a machete, so whacking it with one was out of the question.

If I have one complaint about the XtremKey USB 3.0, it's that the bottom (removable) part should have some knurling on it so that your fingers can actually get a grip to tighten or loosen the key. As it is, it's sometimes almost impossible to get the XtremKey open, especially if your fingers are moist. My wife suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and it was impossible for her to get enough of a grip on the XtremKey's bottom to get it open. Note to LaCie: sometimes it's more important to make a product functional than it is to give it a unique design.

Conclusion

Now that USB 3.0 is the mainstream for new Macs, portable high-capacity storage devices like the LaCie XtremKey USB 3.0 are perfect for transferring files or creating encrypted backups. The XtremKey provides fast, portable, and durable storage that can take a hell of a beating and still keep your files safe, at a cost.

Pros

  • One of the fastest read times we've seen on any USB 3.0 drive
  • Waterproof, heat proof, cold proof, and able to take shocks and pressure that would destroy other flash drives
  • Very unique design for a flash drive

Cons

  • Bottom needs some knurling or ridges to make it easier to unscrew
  • Quite expensive; many other USB 3.0 flash drives are available at less than a quarter of the price of the XtremKey

Who is it for?

  • Anyone who needs the portable storage of a flash drive in a virtually indestructible casing

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