May 14, 2009, 9:30 AM — While many external drives now come with a physical push-button backup option, a new genre of backup devices is emerging: one-touch USB flash drives that combine the convenience of small size with relatively sophisticated backup applications for data protection.
The latest to arrive is the SanDisk Ultra Backup USB Flash Drive, which combines push-button backups with SanDisk's U3 smart-drive technology that allows a user to store Windows PC user preferences, profiles and settings as well as download and launch a limited number of applications from the flash drive.
The Ultra Backup USB Flash Drive (model SDCZ40-064G-A11) comes in 8GB ($49.99), 16GB ($97.99), 32GB ($166.99) and 64GB ($277.99) capacities. I tested the 32GB version and found its handy backup features quick and easy to set up. Like other SanDisk USB flash drives, this one has no cap and uses a retractable USB connector that can be drawn back into the body of the drive with the push of the thumb. I love this feature because you no longer have to worry about losing a cap and getting pocket lint in the USB connector.
I was less impressed with the flimsy feel of the drive. I couldn't figure out whether SanDisk used ultra-thin plastic for the case on purpose or if it just got a better deal from the plastic fabricator, but I was taken aback by how light this little device is. I could literally push the side of it in with pressure from my fingers. I also didn't like that the USB connector slide was slippery to the touch and a little difficult to operate.
But beyond the physical aspects of this drive, I did like its ease of use and backup functions.
The flash drive's U3 chip, manufactured by U3 LLC., in Redwood City, Calif., is compatible with Skype for VoIP, Trillian for instant messaging and Mozilla's Firefox Internet browser -- meaning that all three can be launched directly from drive itself. (SanDisk rival Lexar offers a similar application launch technology in USB drives that use its PowerToGo firmware.)
SanDisk also offers custom applications with the U3 technology for download, including YouSendIt, which allows users to send files as large as 100MB over a secure connection from any computer to any e-mail address without installing anything. If there's a network interruption, the YouSendIt U3 Application restarts a file upload where it left off once connectivity is re-established.
Set up is easy and takes under a minute. After okaying the license agreement, you click "Next" to get to an options screen that allows you to select the files you want to back up. You can select "All files" or select individual ones. By clicking on "Advanced Settings" you can select specific folders to back up by clicking on the Files tab. The Settings tab allows you to configure back-ups based on frequency (from every day to every 30 days), by date or by file size. You can back up as many as 10 versions of a file.
Under the U3 menu screen you'll find a list of any U3-enabled programs that you've downloaded as well as several management menu items, including add/delete programs, drive settings, help/support options, and the security setup menu for enabling encryption and setting up your password. You'll also find the SanDisk Backup application, which enables the "one-touch" back-up feature on the drive.
Each time it's pressed, the one-touch button backs up all your pre-selected files and folders.
While the back-up settings are self-explanatory, I liked the help screen; it's automatically populated with information about backup settings as you mouse over the icons. If you're not familiar with backup options, this will be a handy tool.
The drive backs up remarkably fast. I first backed up 1,991 files, -- a mixture of text documents, photos and videos -- in about 45 seconds. Obviously, backups are pointless without the ability to retrieve data, and this drive's restore feature works flawlessly and quickly. Restoring all of those files to a desktop folder took about five seconds.
There is also an "archive" feature that allows you to store your previous backup in a separate folder on the drive and start a backup in a folder. And with the drive's "clean up" feature, you can also permanently delete a previously archived backup and start a new backup in a new folder.
The Ultra Backup USB Drive is billed as a "high speed" device, which means nothing than that it uses USB 2.0 and should deliver data transfer rates of up to 480Mbits/sec. Since the packaging says high speed, that means benchmark testing.
I used ATTO Technology's ATTO Disk Benchmark v2.3.4, and Simpli Software's HD Tach v3.0.4 benchmarking utilities to perform my read/write performance tests. ATTO showed that the drive had an 18.4MB/sec. write rate and a burst speed of 27.4MB/sec. HD Tach showed an average write rate of 19MB/sec., an average read rate of 23.6MB/sec., and a burst speed of 27.6MB/sec. CPU utilization was 11% and random access time was 0.6 milliseconds.
By comparison, the IronKey Secure USB flash drive -- the fastest I've yet tested -- offers 31MB/sec. burst speed, 29.6MB/sec. average write speed and 22% CPU utilization. Another good-performing drive is the Corsair Survivor, which offers 25.1MB/sec burst speeds, 23.6MB/sec average read speed and 4% CPU utilization.
Overall, this is a very cool little drive with respectable speed and plenty of conveniences, though at about $6.25 per gigabyte of capacity, you're paying a premium for those creature comforts. But if you like the idea of backing up data on a device the size of a pack of gum with the press of a finger, I can recommend the SanDisk.