Belkin USB Flash Drive

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Published by: Belkin Corporation, go to the web site
Requires: Windows Me, 2000 or XP, MacOS 8.6 or higher, or Linux 2.4.0 or higher; Windows 98/98SE requires supplied driver; available USB I or II port
MSRP: US$59.99 (16MB) to $139.99 (128MB)

Everybody these days it seems has a picture you need to see (or at least one they want to show you - there's a difference). Frivolous but fun. On the other hand, there are musicians, writers, artists, lecturers, speakers and lots of other people who need to transport files for more serious needs. While lots of portable storage devices abound (ZIP, Jaz, CD-ROM, recordable DVD, lowly floppy disks, MMC, Memory Sticks, Flash Media, Microdrives, etc.), there's nothing quite as convenient as a storage device which only needs a port built into every computer made in the past 5 years - the USB port. Belkin Corporation (formerly Belkin Components - for the record, I liked the old name better), manufactures and sells a full line of USB Flash Drives.

The Belkin USB Flash Drive is a small, torpedo-shaped device approximately 3"L x 1"W x .75"H (75mm x 25mm x 18mm). It has a pocket clip on one end which is attached to the snap-on cap which covers the USB end of the unit. Belkin sent us a 16MB unit for review. The device is also supplied with a quick connect carrying tether which is long enough to wear around your neck.

If you have a regular need for one of these USB drives, for the most part this one is as good as any of its competitors. One of the delightful things about USB is that it's almost transparent under Windows Me, 2000 or XP, MacOS 8.6 or higher and Linux 2.4.0 or higher. What that means is you just plug the drive into an open USB port and the drive immediately appears in the file selector as a removable device. Copy files to and from the device as you would with any other storage medium. We used the drive to transfer files all over our research offices and to & from meetings. A bunch of us took turns using the drive and it proved quite useful. It's more secure than network file transfer, a lot faster and more secure than e-mail file attachment and CD-ROM burning. I spent a week using the drive to transfer files between home and office laptop computers.

Cons: The shoulders on either side of the USB Flash Drive's connector required removal of the AC power cable on a Sony Vaio PictureBook in order to provide clearance - partly a Sony design problem. However, the drive also would not fit into a free port on our 2 year old, 4-port Belkin USB hub - the drive's body is too wide to clear adjacent USB cables. It would not fit into the USB ports on the rear of our generic ATX PIII/550 case - again because of clearance issues. Ditto for an over/under front USB 2 port on our HP Pavilion. The only USB ports we could use were mostly singles on several different laptops. Most USB flash drives are the same though - the bodies have to be large enough to protect the fragile electronics inside. The Write Protect slider switch is recessed too deeply into the side of the side of the drive and the opening to get at it is small enough to make flipping the switch very fiddly. We're wondering if Belkin did any usability or human factors testing.

Pros: As long as you're using Windows Me, 2000 or XP, MacOS 8.6 or higher, or Linux 2.4.0 or higher the Flash USB Drive requires no special driver, is fast, absurdly simple to use and useful for transporting and exchanging all manner of files. Even under Windows 98, a simple driver installation required less than a minute. The Belkin Flash USB Drive works as advertised in almost any laptop equipped with USB ports, and in a somewhat limited number of desktop PC configurations due to its case design . It's useful and available in a variety of capacities.

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