Lenovo Thinkpad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive Review: A High-Flying Performer
At a Glance
If having to pay $7+ per gigabyte for secure flash drives makes you blanch, take a look at the Lenovo ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive. At only $200 for 750GB—which translates to about 4GB per $1—and PIN-pad security, it's a lot more affordable than secure flash drives. Plus, the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Secure Hard Drive is faster than the USB flash drives, most of which are USB 2.0. As a 2.5-inch hard drive it's not as portable or rugged as the flash drives , but it's where you go if you need the capacity.
Though the Lenovo Secure Hard Drive isn't FIPS 140-2 certified, it is sealed against intrusion and is in a chassis that's lightly ruggedized. It uses 256-bit AES encryption integrated into the drive controller, and is software-free; you unlock your data using a keypad on the top of the unit. A keypad is faster and more convenient than waiting for software to launch, and also makes the unit compatible with any operating system or device.
The keypad is wear-resistant so that as long as you keep it clean, thieves won't be able to detect which keys are most often used, at least not without resorting to advanced techniques. The physical dimensions of the Lenovo Secure Hard Drive makes it easier to use than a PIN-protected USB secure flash drive such as the Aegis Secure key—you can hold the unit in both hands and use your thumbs to enter the PIN, texting-style.
The Secure Hard Drive's security system provides an administrative PIN in addition to ten user PINs. Eight digits are required for all PINS. Accessing the drive is as simple as pressing the green unlock button and entering your PIN. Administrative mode, under which you can create PINs, is entered by pressing and holding the unlock button for 5 seconds. The device also has a lock button so you can secure the unit without detaching it from the computer. If the number of failed PIN-entry attempts exceeds the administrator-specified limit, the encryption keys for accessing the data are destroyed, but the hardware remains intact and usable, though sans its previous contents.
The Lenovo Secure Hard Drive proved quite a good performer. Not surprising given the USB 3.0 interface. In PCWorld's tests, the drive wrote a 10GB mix of small files and folders at 39.4MBps and read it at 64.3MBps. With a single large file, that write performance jumped to 89.2MBps and 99.7MBps. As there are no USB 3.0 secure flash drives available yet, the Lenovo Secure Hard Drive is currently the considerably faster option. The drive features a captive USB cable that you can't lose or leave behind, though Lenovo includes a USB Y-cable so you can use the drive with underpowered USB 2.0 ports.
If you don't need the tiny form factor of a USB flash drive, the Lenovo Secure Hard Drive is a much better deal. You'll need to be a bit more careful handling it, but otherwise it has only upsides.