Pros: Extremely durable; Unique design; Above average read and write speeds; 4GB cloud storage included;
Cons: Expensive for a USB storage device
Verdict: The world's toughest USB key can handle pretty much any abuse you dish out and comes with free online storage.
The Panasonic Toughbook of USB drives is here. LaCie's new XtremKey USB drive, advertised as "the most adventurous USB drive," can survive just about anything. In fact, the promotional video that LaCie released shortly after its announcement shows an XtremKey that survived getting run over by a truck, thrown in an oven, and even encased in a block of ice. Not only is this USB key apparently indestructible, it also boasts 4GB of online storage (in addition to the 16GB on the drive) and fast read/write speeds. But does this ruggedness and performance justify its price?
The first thing that struck us about the XtremKey is its unusual design: a tapered metal cylindrical shape with a slightly rounded bottom that makes it intentionally wobble when standing upright. Created by French sculptor Constance Guisset, the post-modern appearance is certainly unique, though we don't tend to put much stock in a flash drive's given fashion statement.
The case is constructed of a metal alloy called zamac--a combination of zinc, aluminum, and copper. This, of course, makes the XtremKey slightly bigger and heavier (2.2 ounces) than a standard USB drive, but you should have no trouble fitting it in your pocket.
Our $79 review unit had a 16GB capacity, but LaCie also offers an 8GB model for $49.99, 32GB for $139, and 64GB for $249.
The 16GB drive we tested came with a free year of 4GB of online space on Wuala, LaCie's cloud storage service. Wuala runs in a Java applet that can be started in a browser without having to install the program directly to the hard drive. The interface is designed to closely resemble Windows Explorer, and as a result we found it easy to navigate. It is also worth noting that the cloud storage is completely separate from the data on the actual XtremKey, so you can organize both types of storage however you want.
Performance and Durability
LaCie claims the XtremKey reaches read speeds of up to 40 MBps and write speeds up to 30 MBps. In our tests, the read speeds were quite fast, averaging about 29.6 MBps when transferring a 5GB folder of mixed media from the drive as well as a 1.66GB video. However, during our write speed test, the video transferred at 19.1 MBps and the 5GB file took considerably longer, moving at only 11.8 MBps. While this speed is by no means slow (the average for flash drives is about 9 MBps), it's considerably less than advertised.
The company says that the XtremKey has been tested to MIL-STD 810F standards, and can withstand the pressure of a 10-ton truck, water submersion up to 328 feet, drops from 16 feet, and temperatures from -58 to 392 degrees Fahrenheit. We ran some tests of our own to see how it would fare, dropping the drive from various distances on a stairwell, up to about 15 feet. As expected, it survived without even one scratch or ding on its casing. We then submerged the device in a cup of water and put it in a freezer for 8 hours. When we took the cup out, the key was fully covered in ice. Once the ice melted, we plugged the XtremKey into a notebook and it still worked. We then put it in the office toaster for about 10 minutes to see how it could handle extreme heat: it reached temperatures up to a scorching 389 degrees Fahrenheit. Once again, the XtremKey survived the harrowing ordeal, and we were able to retrieve our data.
While $79.99 is a high asking price for 16GB of USB storage--you can get other flash drives for about $35--the LaCie XtremKey greatly impressed us. Not only did it shrug off a variety of extreme conditions, but file transfer speeds are solid. The bonus cloud storage adds even more convenience. If you're willing to pay a premium for durability, the XtremKey is a worthwhile buy.