About the size of a large thumb drive, the LaCie FastKey USB flash drive is one of a kind. The drive is essentially a USB 3.0 portable drive that's based on solid-state storage. For this reason, it offers superfast performance and, unfortunately, also comes with a superhefty price tag of $475 for the 120GB version ($250 for the 60GB version, $150 for the 30GB versions).
If you can afford it, however, it will be worth it. Apart from the stellar performance, it also comes with a sturdy, compact design and AES 256-bit encryption to keep your data safe.
Design and features
|Drive type||Compact external USB portable drive|
|Connector options||USB 3.0, USB 2.0|
|Size (WHD)||1.1x0.4x4.1 inches|
|Available capacities||30GB, 60GB, 120GB|
|Capacity of test unit||120GB|
|OSes supported||Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 / Mac OS X 10.5 or later (Mac Intel only software)|
|Software included||LaCie Private-Public; LaCie Setup Assistant; 4GB Wuala Secure Online Storage (2-year subscription)|
It's a little hard to categorize the LaCie FastKey USB flash drive. This is because it's way too small to be a portable drive, like the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex or the WD My Passport, and at the same time slightly too big, both in terms of physical size and capacity, to be a thumbdrive. Nonetheless, it sure makes one of the coolest portable storage devices you've seen.
The device has a sturdy aluminum casing with one end that can be pulled out to reveal the USB 3.0 head. While this USB head's lid can stay secure when snapped on, it's completely detached when the drive is in use and therefore can go missing easily. Though you can snap it on the other end of the drive while it's connected to a computer, this is only possible when you don't use the included security key string that's designed to be hooked a little hole also at that end.
The FastKey works with both USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports, just like any thumbdrive or portable drive. All you have to do is plug it in and the port will provide both power and data connectivity. We noticed, however, as the drive is rather bulky and long compared with other thumbdrives, you might have trouble plugging it into an obscure USB port.
Unlike other portable drives that are normally preformatted in NTFS (Windows), HFS+ (Mac), or FAT32 (for both Windows and Mac, with file size limited to 4GB or less), out of the box the FastKey comes with a temporary partition that contains the LaCie Setup Assistant software. The software prompts you to run it the first time you plug the drive into a computer and offers to format the drive into either NTFS or HFS+.
Once you have picked, the software quickly formats the drive and makes all of its capacity available to the platform of your choice. Note that you'll need to make sure you pick the right one, as the formatting process will erase the temporary partition, along with the LaCie Setup Assistant. If you do change your mind later, you'll need to do the formatting manually, but that's relatively easy.
Once the initial formatting is done--it took just a few seconds in our case--a new partition (or drive) called "La-Public" is created for you to use. This partition contains all the software applications that LaCie bundles with the device.
One of these applications is LaCie Private-Public, which allows you to pick a password and format part of the FastKey's existing storage space into a separate partition that's protected with AES 256-bit encryption. You can choose how large this new partition is as long as it's smaller than the existing La-Public partition. This process takes a much longer time than the initial setup, about an hour for a partition of 100GB. After that, a new partition with the default name "La-Private" is created. You now can use both the "La-Public" and "La-Private" partitions at the same time, with the latter requiring the password you created earlier before you can access it.
The FastKey's setup and encryption applications work with both Macs and PCs. It also comes with LaCie Turbo USB 3.0 Utilities for Windows only, which is supposed to boost the drive's USB 3.0 performance. However, in our trials the software made no noticeable difference.
Apart from that, the FastKey includes a two-year, 4GB subscription to Wuala online backup.
The LaCie FastKey USB flash drive performed well in our testing, though it's not the fastest drive we've seen among external portable drives, both with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0.
In tests with USB 3.0, the drive scored 87.1MBps in writing and 115.5MBps in reading. The former is about the average on our charts of USB 3.0 external hard drives while the latter is the fastest we've seen.
When used with USB 2.0, the FastKey registered 28.8MBps in writing, putting it in the top three of the external hard drives we've reviewed. In reading, it did a little worse comparatively at 36.6MBps, which is slightly lower than the average.
All in all, we were happy with the FastKey's performance, especially considering its compact size. Viewed as a thumbdrive, it would be by far the fastest we've ever seen.
Service and support
As with other LaCie storage devices, such as the Network Space 2 or the Minimus USB 3.0, LaCie backs the FastKey with a two-year warranty, which is shorter than the three- or five-year warranties that other hard-drive vendors offer. And for external hard drives, the warranty time is the most important factor in service and support, as you likely won't need much of other types of help. LaCie's telephone support is available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT. At LaCie's Web site, you can download software that accompanies the device. There you'll also find its GPL source code, and you can access documentation, a knowledge base, FAQs, and other ways to contact LaCie.