Lenovo ThinkPad Secure Portable Hard Drive Review

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The Lenovo ThinkPad Portable USB hard drive offers a unique method for storing data in a 128-bit secure manner while you’re on the go.  Using a physical keypad style input, the data on this portable hard drive can only be accessed after you punch in the right number code.  If you don’t have the code, you can’t access the drive or its data.  For business users whose lost or stolen data can cost a company thousands of dollars, the ThinkPad portable hard drive is certainly an interesting device.

These days there are a lot of options for portable storage devices that can be easily carried along with your notebook.  Depending on your needs you could go with a 64GB USB flash drive, 32GB SD card, or a larger capacity portable hard drive offering upwards of 250GB in storage.  Storage capacity and form factor are certainly important decisions when it comes to selecting a portable storage format, but what is often overlooked is the data security offered for these various storage devices.  Price Waterhouse Coopers recently estimated that a single incident of lost data on average costs a company $10,000.  Consider that fact and you’ll wonder why any business user would use a flash drive for data storage — flash drives are easier to lose than a sock in the wash.  With business users in mind Lenovo designed the ThinkPad portable storage drive as a highly secure data storage device that is hardware encrypted and accessible only via password.

In the box

The ThinkPad USB Portable storage drive comes with the following items in the box:

  • ThinkPad Secure Portable hard drive with 128-bit hardware encryption (available in 160GB and 320GB)
    • Weight: 0.69lbs
    • Dimensions: 3.5 inch x 4.8 inch x 0.9inch (width x depth x thickness)
  • USB extension cable
  • Supplementary USB power cable
  • Neoprene travel case with storage pocket for cables

The ThinkPad portable hard drive is available in either a 160GB or 320GB capacity size, the 160GB version retails for $179 while the 320GB version retails for $219 at Lenovo.com.  Our review version is the 320GB size drive.

How it works

Lenovo provides two USB cables for the portable drive, one to provide power and the other for data transfer, however I found that the just plugging in one cable did both jobs.  If your PC is older two cables may be necessary.  After connecting the drive to your notebook or desktop PC you simply punch in the password number on the keypad (by default when new it is “123456”) and hit the unlock key, after which the drive is unlocked and you can access data like any other drive.  There is no special software necessary to install, the hardware is self-reliant and takes care of encrypting and securing your data.  If you disconnect the drive from your PC it automatically reverts to encrypting and locking the data.

The operation all sounds very simple until you get to changing passwords or adding user accounts.  To get into the details of how this is done is beyond the scope of this review, but suffice to say you will have to read the user guide (link to ThinkPad Secure portable drive guide) for this device.  For instance, if you want to access the admin account and change the password, a necessary action since by default it’s “123456”, you have to follow such steps as holding down a button for five seconds, watching for a flashing blue light and then also watching for a green light to flash three times.  It’s downright cumbersome performing admin related functions with this drive, and I wish there was an option for some type of software interface to make certain changes.

Design

While design is often an afterthought for portable hard drives, Lenovo actually put a lot of effort into the product design.  The ThinkPad secure hard drive has a high quality look and feel.  It weighs in at about .70lbs and is under an inch thick, small enough to easily carry in one hand.  The case feels very solid and the drive is shock mounted inside to protect from falls.  The case has the same rubberized paint finish as the ThinkPad X300 series of notebooks.  The buttons are inset to prevent accidental pushes yet domed enough that they’re easy to feel out.  Pushing a button gives a satisfying click feedback feel but it is not loud enough to be heard.

On the right side of the drive there is a cranny to tuck away the USB cable.  This works well for keeping cable clutter down, but because the resulting attached cable is so short Lenovo provided a USB extender cable.

It would have been pretty cool to have a backlight for the keys for use in the dark, but obviously that would be extra cost and power draw.

Performance

The hard drive inside the case spins at a standard 5400RPM.  It would have been nice to have a faster 7200RPM drive given the high price of this device, but again that would require more power draw so there’s downside involved there.  For most peoples needs the 5400RPM drive will be good enough, I moved a 40MB file to the drive in around 3 seconds and a 1.4GB file in 1m 20s.  Most business users are just concerned with moving documents and not enormous files, so this is more than acceptable.

Below is a screenshot of HDTune performance for those that are interested in benchmark performance results:

Conclusion

The security features of the ThinkPad portable hard drive are great.  Though it’s a pain to setup user accounts and passwords for the device, once you’re setup there the operation is simple.  The automatic 128-bit encryption of all your data via the hardware features keeps the process simple yet ensures your data is secure.  The design is pleasing, the product looks and feels very high quality.  The price of $219 for the 320GB is about twice what you’ll pay for a Western Digital My Passport portable drive of the same capacity, but for business users whose data simply has to be secure or is worth thousands of dollars the extra cost won’t be a concern for the extra peace of mind.

Pros

  • Keypad password protection provides innovative and easy way to secure data in 128-bit encryption
  • Nicely designed drive case with great fit and finish matching the ThinkPad X300
  • Travel case for drive and wires is included

Cons

  • Entering new users and changing passwords is cumbersome
  • Pricey, about twice the cost of a regular portable hard drive


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