IronKey Workspace W500 review

Pros

  • Use Windows 8 workspace on almost any PC
  • Supports Windows 8.1 To Go
  • Great hardware-based security
  • Rugged build

Cons

  • Runs hot

Far more than a flash drive, the IronKey Workspace W500 is Microsoft-certified for Windows To Go, a complete bootable version of Windows that can be run on almost any PC. With the Workspace W500 in your pocket, you can travel from one desk to another – or one country to another – and still have your same operating system, programs, and files. With a durable design, support for Windows 8.1 To Go, and stronger encryption than the previous IronKey Workspace W300, the new W500 is our favourite Windows To Go (WTG) device.

Design

The Imation IronKey Workspace W500 looks like a slim and elegant flash drive, measuring 21 x 10 x 82mm (WxDxH), with a sleek aluminium exterior and built in lanyard loop. The design is very similar to the IronKey Workspace W300, with a slim rectangular design, but instead of an ABS plastic enclosure the Workspace W500 uses premium aluminium. The size is small enough to keep the WTG drive on a keychain, and unlike the bulkier Kingston DataTraveler Workspace, it won't block adjacent ports when in use.

The W500 protects your OS and data with a rugged design, which features a single-piece all-metal exterior and an epoxy-filled interior, which protects the guts of the drive against dust, moisture, and physical shock. A metal cap with a rubber seal inside covers the USB connector, further protecting the drive.

The W500 is a bootable drive which will support Windows To Go, a portable version of Microsoft's Windows 8 Enterprise. As with other Windows To Go drives, the W500 does not come with Windows preinstalled, but requires the end user to install Windows onto the drive after purchase. The drive supports both Windows 8 Enterprise and the newer Windows 8.1 version, but still has the drawback of not supporting standard Windows 8 Apps; any software will need to be installed from a disc or flash drive, and there is no access to the Windows Store.

You can plug the drive into any PC capable of running Windows 7 or Windows 8 – minimum system requirements include a processor with a clock speed of 1GHz or more, at least 2GB of RAM, and DirectX 9-capable graphics. In other words, this device is pretty much compatible with nearly all current Windows PCs. However, Macs are not supported. You power up the machine and boot from the drive, but be aware that this may require changing the boot options in the BIOS. As you boot from the drive, you will be prompted for a password, and will then boot into Windows 8.1 Enterprise, where you can log in with your Windows ID.

The drive is formatted in NTFS, and reads as a fixed drive. During use, the PC will have the same processing and networking capability it has under normal circumstances, but the bootable OS is isolated from the host PC's hard drive. This adds a layer of security for both the owner of the host PC and the visiting user with the Workspace W500, as this prevents access to files stored on the machine while also preventing the transmission of malware and viruses to the USB drive.

The portable Windows OS also gives you access to other devices on the PC and the attached network, so you can use the host PC’s optical drive or webcam, or print from a shared printer. When plugged in, the drive does offer some local storage – our 32GB review unit had 16.8GB available for storage – but you can also connect a flash drive or external hard drive for larger amounts of storage. Also, you can buy a 64GB variant of the W500, although that runs to £198 (£60 more than the 32GB model). The W500 leaves no footprint behind on the host PC; simply eject the drive, and it's like you were never there.

The Workspace W500 is protected by IronKey's 256-bit AES hardware encryption (FIPS 140-2 Level 3), with built-in password protection. For additional protection, the drive will save and protect data that is in use if the drive is unexpectedly removed. Imation (owners of the IronKey brand) covers the Workspace W500 with a one year warranty.

Performance

The IronKey Workspace W500 offers decent read and write speeds when connected via USB 3.0 – Imation claims speeds of up to 400 MBps (read) and 316 MBps (write) – which translates into fast and seamless performance in regular use. You may notice slower performance when connected via USB 2.0, but the overall function of the device remains the same.

In actual use, the only real complaint or concern we had was that the drive runs hot. After only 20 minutes of use, the drive warmed up to 101-degrees Fahrenheit (as measured by a Fluke IR thermometer).

Verdict

While there are a few excellent Windows To Go drives on the market right now, the Imation IronKey Workspace W500 is an excellent option. The aluminium enclosure makes the W500 look and feel more stylish than the previous Workspace W300, as well as enhancing the rugged features. Combine this with the updated 256-bit AES encryption and support for Windows 8.1 To Go, and the IronKey Workspace W500 is our top choice for Windows To Go drives.