The Lightning is difficult to miss due to its attractive chrome body and blue LED status light. It's constructed from stainless steel, so the chances of the drive being crushed are slim, but unfortunately it's tediously prone to scratching and smudging. After just two weeks of use our review sample had hundreds of tiny scratches all over it. Making matters worse, the cap that's used to protect the USB connector broke during testing. It was still usable, but sat so loosely that it would fall off with little convincing.
This issue is likely limited to our particular review sample, but it's certainly worth nothing nonetheless.
Like the Lexar JumpDrive Mercury, the Lightning features PowerToGo, which is similar to SanDisk's U3 in that it transforms your USB key into a device that does much more than simply carrying data. With PowerToGo, you're able to store your favourite software applications (e-mail, Web browser, word processor, music playback software, etc) -- including all software and Windows preferences -- and launch them directly from the drive, on any Windows 2000, XP or Vista machine. This is done without modifying any files on the host PC whatsoever, and once you remove the USB key from the machine, all of your data leaves with you.
PowerToGo is bound to come in super-handy for those that use more than one computer on a regular basis, share a computer with other people or are using a machine without access to admin privileges. The last case is particularly poignant, as when you're on a machine without admin access you're unable to install any software whatsoever.
The range of applications that support PowerToGo is similar to the U3 list. Some are freeware, while others must be purchased after the trial period. There's quite an extensive list there, including Skype, Firefox, Thunderbird, Winamp, and a huge variety of other apps such as RSS readers and password keepers. Once installed, the applications are accessed through the PowerToGo dashboard, which uses the familiar design of the Windows start menu.
Another cool feature offered by the Lightning is the ability to save data into two different areas -- a public area and a password protected private area. Further, all data can be encrypted with 256bit AES encryption, which is handy for those that work with highly sensitive data.
The drive we tested was a 1GB model (AU$119.95), but the Lightning is also available in 512MB (AU$75.95) and 2GB (AU$209.95) varieties. This makes it one of the most expensive USB keys on the market, which may deter budget-conscious users. That said, as will be detailed below, the added cost is justified by its superb performance.
Our performance tests involved recording read and write speeds using 32KB, 256KB, 2MB and 64MB files, which are typical of file sizes that are most often copied to flash drives. We recorded read/write speeds of 21068/436KBps, 26432/2842KBps, 26658/8636KB/sec and 26214/10923KB/sec respectively.
This makes it the fastest out of the four drives we tested (the Lexar JumpDrive Mercury, Lexar JumpDrive Lightning, SanDisk Cruzer Crossfire and SanDisk Cruzer Micro), both in terms of read and write speeds. The difference is certainly noticeable, with the Lightning in many cases doubling the speed of the other drives.
Finally, even though PowerToGo has applications running off the flash disk as opposed to the computer's hard disk, we didn't notice any tangible increase in latency.