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'Smart' USB Drives

Iomega's Active Disk technology has been around since October, 2001, when, according to an Iomega rep, it became available as a free download to help customers who wanted to upgrade to Microsoft Windows XP. It also became a tool that enabled Iomega Zip drive users to run applications directly from their drives. In November, 2002, the software was made available to users of Iomega Mini and Micro Mini USB drives.

However, Iomega's technology is used by Iomega alone, while U3 is actively encouraging manufacturers to get on its bandwagon. In addition, U3 claims that, when you remove your drive, you'll leave no data, registry entries or other detritus behind to disturb the owner of the system. Iomega makes no such claims.

So how do these two technologies compare? I looked at two 256MB USB 2.0 drives: a pre-ship version of the U3-equipped Memorex Mini TravelDrive and an Iomega Mini. While these smart USB drives won't replace your trusty laptop, having one means that, as long as you have access to a system, you'll always have access to applications and your data. To those of us who are computer-dependent, that is a very reassuring thought.

The Memorex Mini TravelDrive is an interesting-looking device with a slight bulge in the middle that makes it look like a flattened spaceship. It comes loaded with a copy of Migo, a synchronization app, Mozilla's Thunderbird e-mail program, and a basic McAfee anti-virus applet.

The U3 LaunchPad offers access to the drive's applications. (Click on image to expand.)
When I plugged the TravelDrive into my system's USB port, it triggered a small animated welcome screen that quickly ran through some of U3's features. At the same time, it automatically generated the U3 LaunchPad, the base from which you access the applications and data stored on the drive.

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