Click here to print this article.

Re-Printed From SLCentral

M-Systems DiskOnKey
Author: Chris Oh
Date Posted: August 17th, 2001
URL: http://www.slcentral.com/reviews/hardware/storage/msystems/diskonkey

Introduction

There is something terribly sexy about something so big in something so small. Look at the Porsche 911 Turbo, all that power in a small package. Same with a supermodel and even a good pair of shades. They are small things that give you tons of power and usability (especially the supermodel). There's something about the world today that I can't explain… companies are going the wireless route of course, but they're already making things so small that were prone to lose them. Look at Sanyo's new SCP-6000 cell phone; it's 3 credit cards thick! Personally, I think it's a business ploy that makes everyone think "wow, that's so small and convenient and I need to have it" and they buy it, spend big bucks, and they lose it because they're so small. Shucks, now they have to buy another one. Yes, it's a marketing ploy, the smaller they are, and the more they'll sell. That's just me of course; it could always just be a trend to make everything smaller and more convenient… the losing part is just a bonus that comes with small things and out impeccable ability to misplace things. Were you ever in a situation where you had to move a lot of small files between 2 computers but one floppy wont do it and a CD seems like an awful waste of space for a few medium sized files? Had that happen to me, I'd usually just take a bunch of floppies but that's becoming more of a pastime with my floppy drive collecting more dust than my intake fans. Fans of power in the palm of your hands would appreciate the product we have on our meatchopper today in the labs. A new, versatile product from a little known company known as the Disk On Key, should give you port useful portability than I'd care to say.

The Product

What's this DiskOnKey gadget you're talking about Chris? The DiskOnKey is a pen-sized device solid-state hard drive that goes on your keychain (like the name implies) and holds 8, 16, or 32MB of data (larger capacities coming soon). That's not the nifty thing though. The niftiest thing about this device is that it has it's own onboard processor and flash memory so that it basically is it's own little storage medium outside your computer. A Hard Drive away from home you might say. M-Systems describes it as a hard drive you can fit on your keychain and to a point that's a very accurate description. It doesn't even need to have drivers installed for you to use it, this is true plug and play. I'm really at a lost for words right now staring at the DiskOnKey so I'm just going to name off some good features in my opinion.

First off, it doesn't need a battery or anything to add onto the lightweight body of the DiskOnKey, thankfully USB ports are powered. It's easily plugged and doesn't require drivers to be installed in Win2k, WinME: it works right off the bat after it's recognized thanks to it's onboard CPU. The disk has both a clip and a keyring so you can either be a nerd or be hip! It's a really durable piece of work; the plastic is high grade and pretty thick. I'm guessing it's also impact resistant so we'll test that later. One more thing I like, the LED. The DiskOnKey has a flashing LED that tells you when it's safe to unplug it without losing data and stuff like that, great for people that are hasty like me.

Usage

The uses for this device are incredible. Everyone's needed to move some data at some point in their life and floppy disks don't cut it anymore for things like PowerPoint presentations and large images. Having projects uploaded to the DiskOnKey is a great idea because you know you can take it to almost every computer and it will be compatible with it. Think of it as an enhanced floppy that people will drool over. I've been using it for the past couple of days shuttling files to and forth from my Win2k machine and an iMac and to my surprise, it's very easy to do that. Just plug it in and wait for it to be recognized for the first time and you're all set. Since this is a solid-state device, there are no moving parts and therefore no risk of damaging it b shaking it and according to my torture test scores (below), it's very hard to break.

Transfer Speeds

Since this is like any removable drive, you can read and write to it on the fly, just as you would any hard disk. For that reason, I treated it as such and benchmarked it with Sandra. At first I thought it would be bus speed limited seeing as how slow USB really is, then I tried some real world testing.

A non-blistering 773: impressive in my opinion for such a small device. Faster than a zip drive, a lot slower than a Jaz drive. Perfect speed in my opinion since its capacities are much smaller than either the Jaz or the Zip. Transferring files on and off this thing probably wont be much of a problem since it can't hold that much data in the first place and there is no need to fill up 100MB or 1000MB in the first place. If you're like me, all you'd be doing is moving doc and mp3 files on and off the DOK and that's well suited for this device as it does that instantly.

Now for some real world testing: I transferred a 6.3MB mp3 file to the DOK in about a second and erased it in a second, this is fast enough for anything you'd want to move onto the DiskOnKey. It's good to know that productivity with the DOK isn't hindered by transfer speeds. The strange thing is that transferring the file this fast means it has to have surpassed the rated 12 Mbits/sec. The speeds I got during benching were far faster than the rated speeds of this device.

Specs

DiskOnKey Specs
DiskOnKey host interface Universal Serial Bus (USB) ver 1.1 compliant
Power supply USB Bus-powered (low-power device) No external power required; No batteries needed
Power Consumption Standby: 30µ (Typ) 500µ (Max)Read/Write: 80mA (Typ) 95 mA (Max)
Performance(read/write) 12 MBits/sec
READ/WRITE PROTECT via software
Supported Operating Systems Windows 98 (1), Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows CE 3.0 MacOS 9.0 & higher, Linux 2.4.0
STORAGE Capacity 8, 16 and 32 Mbyte (2)
LED indication LED beating slowly: DiskOnKey connected and inactive LED in fast flashing mode: Transmitting/receiving data LED off: low power suspend mode
Operating temperature 32° F to 113 ° F (0 °C to +45 °C)
Storage temperature -4° F to 140° F(-20 °C to +60 °C)
Environmental conditions Relative humidity during operation (Non-condensing): 10% to 90% Relative humidity during storage: 5% to 90%. Maximum wet bulb temperature: +38.7 °C (101.6 °F)
Vibration Operating: 0.5 G, 10 to 500 Hz, 0.5 Oct/Min sweep rate. Non-operating: 1.0 G, 10 to 500 Hz, 0.5 Oct/Min sweep rate
Shock Operating: 10 G, 11 ms, half-sine.Non-operating: 60 G, 11 ms, half-sine
Dimensions Length: 82 mm
Width: 15 mm
Height: 23 mm
Maximum Altitude Operating: 3,048m (0 to 10,000 ft.) (14.7 to 10.1 PSIA)
Non-operating: 9,144 m (0 to 30,000 ft.) (14.7 to 4.4 PSIA)
Reliability and Service (3) 1,000,000 Read/Write Operations 5 years full warranty
Certifications FCC, CE, ICES, VCCI, C-Tick, MIC, BSMI USB certification Microsoft WHQL testing (WIN 98 driver)

(1) Driver required for Windows 98
WIN98 (1st/ SE) driver can be downloaded from DiskOnKey site or may be included with product

(2) Larger capacities of 64, 128, 256, and 512 expected in 2001

(3) Internal requirement, not public specification

Real World Testing/Torture Testing

I don't know about you folks, but everything on my keychain is at risk of getting broken. People throw their keys on the table; drop them all the time, that kind of stuff. So I put the DiskOnKey through a rigorous set of tests to make sure it held up during real world usage. First off, I attached it to my keychain with 4 keys and a belt clip.

First test: Drop from 10ft. I usually don't drop my keys from ten feet in the air but I thought it'd be more dramatic than a 3 ft drop and besides, I'm pretty confident one of these days I'll drop my keys from higher than ten feet. The drop will be from the upper outer stairwell to the concrete floor.

Results: After a sickening crack, the DiskOnKey came out of it with only a couple of scratches. I seriously thought the casing would have been compromised but that wasn't the case. The thick plastic they used really helped. I then tested it out to see if it actually worked, which it did even after that shock.

Second test: Water test! With Texas being known for it's torrential flooding and downpours, I never put any type of electronic device on my keychain for fear that I'll kill it. Not this time, if I'm keeping this on my keychain, it better stand up to some water action. For this test, I simply tossed the DiskOnKey into a cup of water for about 2 seconds until I saw that it was fully wet (this also cleaned off some of the dirt from the drop). Then I let it sit for a couple of hours in the sun until I knew the circuits were dry.

Results: Wow, still works, I expected it to work since I let it dry. Don't do this at home folks; I actually have some clue as to what I'm doing (or I'm good at pretending)

Third test: Heat! Texas is known for it's hot weather (102 degrees right now) and its amazingly cold weather (it snowed last year). So for this test, I took my car out into the middle of the parking lot when the weather was at a toasty 102 degrees and left it there fro a good 4 hours (my car is black by the way). The air temp inside the car got up to t a toasty 115 degrees and the dashboard temp was even hotter. Of course I decided to go for the hotter temperature and stick the DiskOnKey on the dashboard for a good hour or two.

Results: When I came back from the bar a couple hours later, I noticed that the DiskOnKey was still on the dashboard, fearing it had melted, I rushed in and found out that it was still intact. I actually burned my hand picking it up, that's how hot it was. I rushed home and plugged it in and amazingly it still worked.

Fourth test: Cold! What better way to test for cold conditions than the freezer? The freezer temp is about as cold as Texas gets at its worst so it was a good idea to start there. I set the timer for 2 hours and tossed the DiskOnKey into the icebox. 2 hours later, I came back and took the disk out.

Results: I honestly thought this was the only test that the DiskOnKey will have passed. This genuinely surprised me and I was pretty glad when the LED came on and it started working again (especially since I saved this review onto it to track progress).

Final test: Crushing! Did you ever realize just how many times you sit on your keys? I never realized until I started thinking about it. I had to laugh because it's more than I'd care to share. I'm one heavy dude so I should be a great candidate for an informal crush test. For this test, we put the DOK on the floor and I sat on it. Well, I never literally sat on it because by buttocks would cushion the DOK so I set the DOK on the floor and put a piece of plywood over it. Now at this point, I was sure I'd crack the sucker into 50 parts by doing this but I had to for the name of hardware. I took a break and then sat my 200lbs onto the board.

Results: I heard some cracks on the way to putting all my weight on the board. I honestly thought I'd at LEAST split the casing open and expose the insides. To my incredible surprise, when I lifted the board up after the test, the DOK was still in one piece, there was a small crack in the middle of it (where it was highest) but that was about it, you could not even notice it. I was in shock and a little disappointed by my ineffectiveness as a crusher but still happy nevertheless. I took it and plugged it in and it still worked. Amazing. I honestly believe the clip had something to do with it because it is the highest point and it most likely kept a large portion of the weight off the body of the DOK. This is good engineering on their part and good news for me, it still works and my review is intact.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Great way to keep data
  • Great way to move data
  • Great transfer speeds
  • Convenient
  • Portable
  • Cheap

Cons

  • No security

Conclusion

I might be good to mention right now that the DiskOnKey is permanently on my keychain. Anything that can survive the insane tests I did (I admit to them being insane) deserves a place on my keychain. Aside from the physical characteristics, I value the DiskOnKey for it's reliability and convenience. It's nice to move a doc file onto it that I'm working on and take it to a friend's house and finish it over there. Or If my friends needs a special TIFF file or a big graphic, I can move it on the DiskOnKey and take it to his place. It's the little things like that that make the DiskOnKey such a potentially valuable tool. Also, the fact that I'm carrying a library of my reviews on my keychain is a great feeling and a great conversation starter. I've tried throughout this review to find something negative to say about the DiskOnKey but I really am at a loss for words. At $49.95 or lower, the price is good for the 8MB and at $99 for the 32MB, that isn't bad either. The device more than makes up for the cost with it's usability, portability, convenience, and reliability. I would trust all my important data to this anytime. The only thing I wish for is a password based security feature built into it so just in case I lost it, someone wouldn't be looking through all my files. In this case, its plug and play capability is a downside. But in all other factors, this is a device everyone should be wearing. Who knows? Maybe it's a trend for the future. There's something sexy about having a lot of power in such a small package.

Re-Printed From SLCentral