Why change something that works? That old adage was clearly on Lenovo's mind when it launched the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive. While the drive retains the classic ThinkPad look and many of the same security features of its USB 2.0 predecessor, the real draw is the speed of USB 3.0. Does the $169 ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive have the speed and security chops to compete against the best? Read on to find out.
Physically, the Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive remains unchanged from its USB 2.0 incarnation. The drive features the same soft-touch plastic chassis as well as a small ThinkPad logo in the lower right corner. A numbered keypad dominates the front face of the drive.
Like the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme, the ThinkPad features an integrated USB 3.0 cable, making it easy to carry the drive around without needing to bring a cable as well. We also appreciated that Lenovo thoughtfully provides an extension cable, just in case the integrated cable isn't long enough. While you can't remove the cable if it breaks, Lenovo will replace any broken parts if the device is still under warranty (three years on parts and one year on labor).
At 4.8 x 3.4 x 0.7 inches and 6.5 ounces, the ThinkPad is identical in size and weight to the Iomega eGo, and slightly larger than the svelte Seagate GoFlex Turbo (4.4 x 3.3 x 0.5 inches). The drive is small enough to fit in a pants pocket and comes with an attractive black fabric case with red interior lining.
Although the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive lacks the semi-rugged features of portable hard drives such as the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme or LaCie Rugged Mini, it features a 16-point omni-directional shock-mounting to protect it from accidental drops.
Setup and Utilities
We love the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive's software-free design -- simply connect the drive to your computer, enter the Personal Identification Number, and start transferring files. Lenovo suggests changing the default PIN the first time you use the drive, but this is a simple matter of entering administrator mode, typing in a new PIN (between eight and 16 digits) and pressing the green unlock button.
Like the Aegis drive, the ThinkPad disappointingly lacks any bundled utilities such as automatic backup, online storage or sync tools, which proved to be very helpful on drives such as the Seagate GoFlex Turbo and Iomega eGo.
To protect users' data, the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive features two layers of security: digital protection in the form of 256-bit encryption and electronic protection through a numbered keypad.
After plugging the drive into your laptop, a red indicator light turns on, letting you know that the drive is locked. Accessing the drive requires that you enter a PIN, at which point the light turns green. Users also have the option of entering administrator mode by holding down the green unlock key and 0 for five seconds and then entering the administrator password (at which point the indicator light turns blue).
While in administrator mode, users can create up to 10 unique user passwords, change the administrator password, clear all existing passwords or set the auto-lock function. The ability to manage multiple user passwords makes the ThinkPad that much more handy in a business setting.
Like the Apricorn Aegis Padlock DT, the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive features a self-destruct feature designed to thwart automated attempts to input PINs. The drive locks itself after six incorrect attempts to enter a PIN, requiring the user to plug the drive in again to his or her computer before attempting to re-enter the number. As an added layer of security, the drive destroys the encryption key after 50 failed PIN entries, rendering the data unreachable and requiring the user to completely format the drive.
The ThinkPad drive automatically locks itself if it has been left idle for a predetermined amount of time, and has wear-resistant keys designed to prevent hackers from determining which keys are most commonly used. While in administrator mode, users can set the auto-lock interval at 5, 10 or 20 minutes, or disable auto-lock entirely.
As a USB 3.0 drive, the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive delivers decent speeds, although it doesn't come close to the leader in any category. When transferring 5GB of mixed media files from the drive to our laptop, the ThinkPad took 1 minute and 22 seconds, a rate of 62.4 MBps. While this beats the category average of 52.3 MBps, it falls well short of the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme and its 86.8 MBps read speed.
The ThinkPad performed much more slowly when writing the same files to the hard drive, taking 1 minute and 56 seconds to complete the transfer (a rate of 44.5 MBps). This falls just below the average USB 3.0 hard drive (49.7 MBps) and almost 30 MBps behind the 74.2 MBps achieved by the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme.
Transferring a single 3GB file off the drive took just 36 seconds, a rate of 85.3 MBps. While fast, that's short of the 95.4 MBps average and far behind the Iomega eGo and its category-leading read speed of 122.9 MBps.
Writing a 3GB file to the drive took just slightly longer at 38 seconds (a rate of 80.8 MBps). Although several drives fared more poorly than the ThinkPad in this category, it still fell short of the 88.1 MBps average.
In addition to the 500GB model we reviewed, Lenovo also offers the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive with a 750GB storage capacity.
The Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive proves that a secure portable hard drive doesn't necessarily also have to be bulky. And while the $169 ThinkPad only boasts half as much storage space as similarly priced, but security-fee portable hard drives (the Buffalo MiniStation Extreme costs just $143), it more than makes up for this deficiency with its robust, easy-to-use security features.