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It was some time ago that Sandra sang the praises of the concept of the U3 drive, so when I was recently I offered a chance to look at a 2GB U3 drive from SanDisk, I was happy to accept.
The U3 drive concept is thus: instead of your USB memory key merely being dumb storage a U3 drive contains preinstalled software applications. The idea is that all your major applications run from your USB key rather than from the hard disk of the PC you plug it into. This gives you the advantage of being more easily able to transport your work around with you and increase security by protecting you from viruses that can lurk on PCs.
When you first plug in your drive a U3 icon appears in the system tray. From here you fire up the U3 Launchpad, which looks very much like the Windows XP launcher but pops up from the system tray. From here you can launch the preinstalled applications, which on the SanDisk Titanium are essentially just Skype and Avast antivirus. The former is offered with a special offer of one month of voicemail included. This start-up process can be slightly annoying as it takes a few seconds before this start up tray loads but you can prevent it from running by holding down shift as you plug in the drive.
You can’t make any application run from ‘U3 Smart’ applications are ones that have been adapted to run directly from the drive, and remove themselves totally from the system after you remove the drive. This is why you are always prompted to eject the U3 drive from your PC, rather than just pull it out as you would with a regular USB key. If you want to add applications, you can just download them from the U3 homepage or from a Sandisk portal and there are a whole range to choose from, including obvious essentials such as Firefox and Thunderbird.
The drive it’s small and sleek. It’s encased in metal shell, which seems rugged enough – the packaging claims it can withstand 2,000lbs worth of force, but I wasn’t in a position to be able to test that, but it does inspire confidence. I always dislike USB keys with removable lids as they’re too easy to lose. Frankly, I’m amazed that I’ve still got the little plastic top of my current 1GB USB key workhorse that I’ve had for nearly a year.