Me and the U3

Need more out of a USB flash drive than just storage? Kingston makes it possible to carry around a mini support arsenal.
Since acquiring my first USB flash drive, I’ve come to realize how much I rely on it. Just like my remote control, cell phone and satellite radio, I don’t know how I ever lived without it. These handy little portable USB storage devices have become a must-have for any computer user, IT support person, college student or anyone saving or moving data from one computer to another.

Other than to upgrade the amount of storage size of my last flash drive, there really had not been a need for me to replace it. However feeling compelled to stay current with the latest technology I made the decision to check out the next generation of flash drives. There are now a variety of software and security features you can get with these drives. They are called Smart Drives and there are several choices. The one I decided to go with is the Kingston 1 GB U3 DataTraveler.

Smart Drive Background

To give you a little background on this technology, the U3 smart drive was co-developed by SanDisk and M-Systems. U3 is an open-standard platform that allows not only data to reside on the drive, but also applications to be stored and run off a flash drive. U3 applications are easy to download and install and can be personalized. As more and more applications are developed for this platform, and as storage sizes continue to increase, it would be expected that Smart Drives will become a “must have” technology for both techie’s and casual users alike.

Without a Trace

What’s interesting about U3 is the claim that applications can be saved, installed and run from the flash drive. In addition, the flash drive could also store profiles and other personal settings for these applications. While this might be a great tool for a college student, I started to think about how it could benefit IT support teams. The deskside support team could not only save their various drivers, files and user data on their U3 drives, but could surf the web, check their e-mail and create and edit documents from the drive, you can also carry around your ready-to-go Skype account. The possibilities are enormous!

While they can currently do all of this from the client’s system, with the Smart Drive they would have their personal settings, such as bookmarks to technical sites, their own e-mail files and folders and other personalized information.

They could also download necessary files and information to and from the flash drive eliminating the need to clean up the history, desktop and whatever other mess they may have left on the client’s machine. It would all take place on the Smart Drive. It seemed like it had the potential to save time and save money by making the team more efficient. For the cost, it was worth trying.

Playing Around

In testing the U3, I found it incredibly easy to use and setup. Windows XP pro machines found the new drive as easily as any flash drive. Moving files from the old to the new drive was as easy as it had always been. Once you plug in the U3 for the first time, the next step is to install the U3 software. The U3 launchpad ran automatically. The Kingston comes standard with several U3 software programs; a password protection application, a media reader and a picture editor.

The U3 website had a variety of additional applications from which to choose. I preferred the free, basic necessities. OpenOffice, a Mozilla browser and the Mozilla mail client, Thunderbird were among the chosen. I deleted some of the preloaded apps to save space. The add-and-delete process was simple. The download and installation process went smoothly. I set up my mail client and was receiving e-mail through the Smart Drive in no time.

The browser worked fine and I easily changed the settings to my liking and added my bookmarks. I pulled up a large, image-heavy document using the OpenOffice suite. While the application took more time to load than it would from the computers hard drive, it did run at a very usable speed. All the programs initialized as expected, I was able to load documents with ease as well as edit and save the document with no problems.

Once done with the drive, there is an eject process to follow. It’s simple, but does not offer any message to indicate whether the eject process is complete. Otherwise, the drive functioned well. This drive runs only on Windows 2000 or XP machines, though I didn’t investigate getting the U3 to work on the Linux or Mac machines, so we’ll save that for another review.

In a Nutshell

  • As easy to use as a Flash Drive
  • Applications are easy to download, install and use
  • A variety of free applications are available
  • Personalized portable applications
  • Affordable at under $100 per gig
  • Applications take up valuable storage space (to be expected)
  • Applications slow to initialize (not bad for a USB 2.0 connection)
  • No support for platforms other than Windows 2000 or XP


If your deskside support team’s priority when it comes to USB storage devices is storage capacity, then the basic high capacity flash drive will certainly fulfill that need. However, if there is a possibility that they might benefit from the added access to personalized applications, files and information that a Smart Drive can provide, it may be worth getting a couple for your team to test.

While they may be tempted to download everything (including games), have them keep it simple and customize some basic applications onto the drive and copy their necessary files. After all, storage capacity is still the real beauty of a USB storage device. If the added benefit of having a portable desktop can save your team even one trip back to the office, there should be little problem justifying the cost of one of these drives, which currently cost roughly $50 (street) for the 1 GB model and can be had for cheaper if you shop around.


Kingston U3 DataTraveler:

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