Archive for the ‘Hardware’ Category

30 Days of Apple’s MacBook Air

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Living with the MacBook Air is not only possible, even for a power user, it changes the way you work and play in a positive way.

For the last month I’ve been living with Apple’s diminutive MacBook Air as my sole production computer for all professional and personal use. My previous main Mac was a 2007 2.4GHz 4GB RAM MacBook Pro 17 with the highest resolution Apple offers in a notebook. So I went from one Apple portable extreme (highest resolution, most power, heaviest) to the other (smallest, lightest, least powerful, least memory, weakest video). There are a number of trade-offs, but the positive outweighs the negative.

It happened that late April through May is a slow travel period for me, so while I’ve attended local events offsite, I haven’t hit the road yet. But in a couple of weeks, I’ll be on a tour that includes D.C., NYC, Boston, and Miami. The east coast thang. I’ll give the MacBook Air a thorough travel test then. Once that’s complete, I’ll write a full long-term review of the MacBook Air on


USB Drive Wrap-Up: The IronKey Rocks for Security

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Back in November I named Lexar’s 4GB JumpDrive Lightning a Scot’s Newsletter Blog Top Product! and I’ve been using it ever since. To give you a sense of how valuable a tool this is for me, I spent a day recently believing I had lost it (the biggest problem with USB memory devices), and just the thought made me feel clammy.

In the same article (scroll down to find it), I also presented the results of my performance testing of four USB devices, including the 4GB IronKey Secure Flash Drive. In my tests, the IronKey was not very fast. In a March 2008 secure USB drive comparison review in Computerworld, the same model IronKey (although, about six months newer than the evaluation unit that I tested), turned in excellent performance.

The Computerworld review tested a much slower Lexar device than the one I’ve recommended. It didn’t compare the JumpDrive Lightning, which has decent software-encryption security. Instead it compared the results of Lexar’s JumpDrive Secure II, a model I rejected because it was much slower and I didn’t believe the security it added was critical to my needs. As the Computerworld article states, “The Lexar JumpDrive Secure II offers three ways to protect data, but two of its methods [are] so awkward that the reviewer found them to be being more trouble than they were worth.”


Lexar’s 4GB JumpDrive Lightning USB Drive Excels | Top Product!

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

After six weeks of everyday usage, I’m decidedly impressed with Lexar’s JumpDrive Lightning USB drive. Back in October I mentioned that I was in the process of evaluating the JumpDrive Lightning among others. But this one really stands out from the pack. It’s fast and rugged, and its software-encrypted vault is easy to use and accessible from both Mac and Windows. It offers better security than the Corsair’s Flash Padlock product I reviewed earlier, and it was literally more than 11 times faster than the Flash Padlock in my real-world tests. I like the idea of hardware-based security, but the Lightning’s ease of use and incredible speed leave the Flash Padlock in the dust.

Shame on both me and Lexar, though, because I looked at the Lightning’s product pages for multi-platform security support before I tested and selected Corsair’s Flash Padlock. In fact, I looked at all the major USB drive products for the ability to support Windows, Mac, and Linux, and also provide security across all three platforms. Very few offer that flexibility (in fact, the Flash Padlock is the only one I’m aware of that does all three OSes).

Initially, I crossed the Lexar off the list because its JumpDrive Lightning product page lists only Windows XP and Vista support; nowhere does it say it supports the Mac. It wasn’t until I went back to Lexar a second time that I learned that the Lightning does support the Mac (though not Linux). I had to resort to contacting the company’s live chat tech support to get that information. I never did receive a response to my inquiry through Lexar’s public relations. Mind you, I’m not beating myself up too much about this, since Lexar’s support area doesn’t list any downloadable software for the JumpDrive Lightning. The software is apparently available only on the USB stick itself, or behind closed doors somewhere on the Lexar website, once you’ve registered your purchased product. It’s almost like Lexar is intentionally hiding the Mac support.

That is, though, the sum total of my criticism about the Lexar JumpDrive Lightning. The product is ideal for my purpose: casual but effective security for a user-selectable portion of the disk, fast performance, and enough GBs you won’t be pressed all the time for storage space. At about $75 including delivery, this drive costs a bit more than some others, but it makes up for that with its smart design (including built-in keychain loop), the ability to store its cap on the other end when its in use (so you don’t lose the cap), and incredible performance.

The JumpDrive Lightning’s superior performance is noticeable in everyday operation compared with some of its competition. To quantify the difference, I set up a collection of 13,500 files displacing 1GB. I timed the process of copying that set of files from my testbed Windows XP PC to each of four USB drives in turn: the Lexar 4GB JumpDrive Lightning, the Corsair 2GB Flash Padlock, the IronKey 4GB Secure Flash Drive, and the Kingston 4GB Data Traveler Secure. The Lexar and Kingston devices were speedy, while the Corsair and IronKey USB drives were markedly slower:

Product 1GB Data-Transfer Time (mins:secs)
Lexar 4GB JumpDrive Lightning   5:38
Kingston 4GB Data Traveler Secure   6:07
IronKey 4GB Secure Flash Drive 46:08
Corsair 2GB Flash Padlock 58:46

You’ll be hearing more about the IronKey from me in the near future. This product may not be that fast, but it’s an incredibly cool device with serious security. It’s the best USB drive I’ve seen for security-conscious enterprises. So don’t cross that one off your list. Currently, though, it supports only Windows XP and Vista, so it’s not ideal for me.

The Kingston product is interesting because it’s nearly as fast as the Lexar product and has similar security. Like most USB devices, Windows, Mac, and Linux can mount them. But the Kingston device offers encryption security software only for Windows. So you won’t be able to access the encrypted space from Mac or Linux.

With it’s multiplatform security support, it’s fast data-transfer rates, and smart design, the Lexar 4GB JumpDrive Lightning is ideal for my needs. It’s clearly a Scot’s Newsletter Top Product! And it’s knocking the Corsair Flash Padlock off that perch.

Apple Acknowledges Its Enterprise Division

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

In early September I wrote a column titled Apple’s Taking a Pass on the Enterprise Prize. It appeared in Scot’s Newsletter and also on the Computerworld site. I was attempting to take Apple to task for its lack of an apparent big business strategy. Many Computerworld and Scot’s Newsletter IT pro readers have written me over the past year to say they prefer Macs but don’t feel that Apple supports business buyers as well as their Windows-related vendors. Many readers also feel the existing Macs are more consumer-oriented than business-oriented. So I wrote about that. And I wrote that I had contacted Apple weeks earlier and hadn’t gotten any real response from it about the company’s enterprise strategy.

The week after the column appeared (after I returned from a vacation), I received a call from Apple acknowledging for the first time that, yes, it has an enterprise division headed by Al Shipp, senior vice president of enterprise sales. Only hitch was, Apple’s PR department wasn’t authorized to let me talk to Mr. Shipp or, in fact, anyone in Apple Enterprise.


Corsair Flash Padlock Redux, Lexar, and IronKey

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Earlier this month I wrote a review of Corsair’s 2GB Flash Padlock USB stick. The USB drive is unique to my knowledge in that it has push-buttons that create a padlock, so the casual data protection it offers comes with a very fast and convenient way to lock and unlock the drive. In fact, it locks automatically whenever it is removed from your computer.

I still like the thinking behind the Flash Padlock, but there are a couple of issues with it. Thanks to SNB (Scot’s Newsletter Blog) reader Jonathan March for writing with his concerns about it, which prompted me to go back to Corsair for more answers.


Review: Corsair 2GB Flash Padlock USB Stick

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Editor’s Note: In a later review of Lexar’s JumpDrive Lightning USB stick, I updated my USB stick recommendation in favor of that product. I also ran into some issues with the Corsair Flash Padlock that caused me to rethink it entirely. From a pure hardware-security standpoint, I now recommend the IronKey Secure Flash Drive.

I’ve been searching for a USB stick with large storage that I can use as my everyday portable storage. I require this device to have security protection. USB sticks are too easy to lose, and I might have sensitive personal or corporate data on it from time to time. I don’t want to worry about prying eyes should the darn thing fall out of my pocket.

For the past few years I’ve been using a highly portable 5GB Seagate USB 2.0 Pocket Hard Drive, which contains a 1-inch mini-drive.

It works with Macs and PCs, but unfortunately the built-in security is software-based, and it requires Windows to run. While almost every USB storage device works on the Mac, most of them are using Windows-based software — not hardware — to encrypt or lock up your data.


Mac vs. PC Cost Analysis – Round 2

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

There’s no question about it. Last month’s Mac vs. PC Cost Analysis article struck a chord. I was praised and lambasted around the Internet for it. It was also republished by Computerworld, where it pulled in a lot of traffic. If you didn’t catch it, I recommend the Computerworld version of the story, which was lightly updated because of Apple’s release of its new MacBook Pro model line on June 5.

It seemed to me that people who criticized this story missed the key points I was trying to get across:

1. This was a pure, hardware-based, speeds-and-feeds kind of comparison. I was comparing the hardware goods only, including CPU, chipset, RAM, video, display, hard-drive capacity and specs, ports and upgradeability, dimensions and weight, and so on. In other words, I was attempting to make an objective comparison that did not inject any evaluation about the hardware, anything at all about the software, or my personal experience with the operating systems and hardware involved. It was an on-paper comparison.


The New ‘Santa Rosa’ MacBook Pro 17

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Just as I was sending last month’s newsletter, Apple released a significant update to its MacBook Pro line. Among other things, the 15-inch model got an LED screen, which I’ve examined closely. It’s very bright, and consistently so across the entire screen. The MacBook Pro LCDs are almost as bright, but like all LCDs, they have minor anomalies, and they tend to fade a bit with age. The expectation is that the LEDs will be more consistent and won’t fade so much. I couldn’t find any downsides to 15-inch LED screen, but I’m interested to hear from readers who have it. If you do, please send me a note and let me know what you think of it.

The new 17-inch MacBook Pro also came with a surprising set of upgrades. Finally, the 17-inch model offers 1,920-by-1,200-pixel resolution. That had been a glaring omission in the previous MBP line. The new higher-resolution display is a $100 option. I vastly prefer this resolution for this size screen. It gives you a lot more screen real estate. Some people may find that some things are too tiny for comfort, but Apple does a much better job than Microsoft at creating UI structures that work well in multiple resolutions. So, for example, the tiny colored dots that let you close, minimize, and expand Finder and program windows appear to be the same size no matter what resolution you’re in. The only issue you may have is with the text of some Web pages. Safari has an optional toolbar button pair that lets you increase the font size of the current Web page up or down one notch. (The Command+ and Command- keyboard combos also handle this.) That was only the only adjustment I needed to make for my aging eyes.