EZ-Disk USB 2.0 Flash Drive

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, August 2004, send e-mail
Manufactured by: EZQuest, Inc., go to the web site
Requires: Available USB port, Windows 98 or higher, Mac OS 9.x or higher
MSRP: US$49 (128MB model only; other sizes available)

Hauling files from computer to computer used to mean dragging along stacks of floppy disks. When CD burning showed up on the desktop, life eased somewhat (except for all those coasters we used to burn). But then memory prices dropped through the floor, USB showed up, and some smart people decided to combine the two technologies. And that's how we ended up with little Flash Drives—re-writable, solid state storage media embedded in a stick which plugs into any available USB port on your desktop or portable computer. For this review EZQuest sent us a 128MB version of the EZ-Disk. It's a USB 2.0 Full Speed device.

The first flash drives (also called USB Keys—don't ask us where they get these names) weren't particularly useful. They had limited capacity (4MB-32MB only) and were saddled with compatibility issues mainly because of Windows 95b & 98 driver issues and Windows Me USB stability problems. But all things, technologies especially, change with time and Windows XP brought enhanced plug & play compatibility for Flash Drives. There are no drivers to install and above all else, no hassles. Copy data to and from the EZQuest flash drive at almost any computer including Macs. The other technological improvement in these drives is the fact that they are significant smaller. Older flash drives and USB keys look positively chubby compared to the slim, stylish EZQuest. The device is available in sizes up to 512MB.

In keeping with the Kickstartnews review policy of real reviews by real users, we decided to loan the EZ-Disk to a couple of office staff with instructions to periodically copy a particular set of image files to and from the drive at various computers in and out of our office. We need to mention up front that this sort of real-world use does not really allow these kinds of devices to show their fastest data transfer rates (keeping in mind as well that USB 2.0 Full Speed has the same data transfer rate as USB 1.1). Speeds are also affected by other things going on elsewhere on the USB bus, CPU speed, available RAM and so on. So to even the playing field, over a period of about two and a half weeks we used the EZ-Disk to transfer hundreds of files to and from fourteen different computers ranging from Pentium II/333MHz (USB 1.1) to Pentium 4/3.2GHz (USB 2.0 High-Speed), connecting the EZ-Disk via front panel USB connectors, rear panel (motherboard) connectors, PCI add-in card connectors and USB 2.0 hubs. We gave the EZ-Disk users specific instructions for timing and everyone who borrowed the EZ-Disk was also handed the same Casio G-Shock stopwatch.

Each data transfer included an average of eleven files consisting of Photoshop, Microsoft Word and Excel documents totaling 89MB. The average data transfer speed across USB 2.0 High Speed connections was 245 seconds, giving us a data transfer speed of 3 megabits per second, which is well below the USB 2.0 Full Speed standard of 12 megabits per second. That's a big oops actually. Never one to be daunted by initial numbers however, we carefully noted that data transfer at a 4 year old HP desktop machine (Pentium III/550) sporting USB 1.1 ports took only 128 seconds, giving us a speed of 5.7 megabits per second—almost twice as fast. The same group of files transferred across a USB 2.0 Full Speed connection at a three year old Dell workstation took even less time—71 seconds—giving us a speed of 10 megabits per second, which is very close to the USB 2.0 Full Speed maximum. Full speed loves full speed apparently, which makes perfectly good sense to us and is also acceptable even if compatibility with USB 2.0 High Speed connections causes a drop to 3 megabits. On the other hand, compatibility with older machines sporting the ubiquitous USB 1.1 ports results in more respectable speeds. For the record, the majority of desktop computers manufactured between late 1999 and early 2003 are supplied with USB 2.0 Full Speed ports. In case you were wondering, here are the rated speeds for the USB specification:

USB 1.1 — 12Mb/sec
USB 2.0 Full Speed — 12Mb/sec
USB 2.0 High Speed — 480Mb/sec.

For the sake of practical comparison, typical USB keyboards and mice require a connection speed of only 1.5Mb/sec to operate.

Obviously, changing USB standards, shifting hardware standards and hundreds of thousands of permutations and combinations of software and system resources on tens of millions of computers out there has created a situation in which specifications and reality rarely see eye to eye. But, most important of all, in most situations the EZ-Disk will securely transport and transfer your files conveniently and quickly.

Cons: Not strictly a con—the drive works as advertised—but we could hope for a USB 2.0 High Speed version that is the same size as the EZ-Disk. The connector cover is chained to the body of the EZ-Disk (definitely a good idea with devices this small), but the cover is one-sided which means it's easy to put back the wrong way, leaving the USB contacts exposed and subject to damage. We're not sure if USB flash drives are really too small, making them easier to steal, lose or misplace. In relative terms, bulkier Flash Drives, CDs, DVDs, Zip disks, floppy disks and certainly portable hard drives are all still legitimately classed as small. But this particular flash drive is really tiny and in our minds that makes keeping track of it a serious priority especially if it's being used to transport sensitive data.

Pros: Compact, compact, compact—this little drive makes other USB keys look positively chubby. The nicest in-use feature is that the EZ-Disk does not block adjacent USB ports when its plugged in, which is definitely a problem with many competing USB keys. Bye-bye Zip disks and bulky Zip drives. Bye-bye ¾ empty CDs and the time needed to set up and burn data. Bye-bye floppy disks with their tiny capacity and turtle speed. If you need a means to easily transport files, the EZQuest EZ-Disk Flash Drive is a good, broadly compatible choice.

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