The Kingston DataTraveler Workspace looks like a high capacity USB 3.0 flash drive, but it's more than mere storage. It offers Windows To Go, a portable, bootable version of Windows 8 that lets you use an IT certified operating system on one or many systems. This gives employees the freedom to work on the PC of their choice, or to move from one PC to another and back again, without missing a beat.
Plus, it's all safe and secure, letting your people work wherever they happen to be, on whatever PC they happen to have access to. Essentially, it's your go-to solution for taking Windows on the road without the bulk of a laptop.
Design and features
The DataTraveler Workspace looks like any other high capacity flash drive, with a USB 3.0 connector and a chunky, rugged design similar to the Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 Generation 2. We looked at the 32GB DataTraveler Workspace here, which is priced at £61, but you can also get larger variants – a 64GB stick costs £105, and there’s a 128GB version available for custom order (pricing varies by order).
Like the Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 Generation 2, the DataTraveler Workspace has a fairly secure cap to protect the USB plug from being damaged or dirtied, and it clips to the back end of the drive during use. There is also a lanyard loop for the drive, letting you attach it to a lanyard or keychain. Measuring 23 x 74 x 16mm (WxDxH), you do run the risk of blocking off adjacent USB ports when it's plugged in, but this 225 gram drive is exponentially more pocketable than any Ultrabook or tablet.
Unlike other flash drives, the DataTraveler Workspace isn't pure storage, but a portable operating system, and reads as a fixed NTFS drive. In practice, it's a small solid-state drive (SSD), complete with an integrated Sandforce SSD Controller and support for TRIM and S.M.A.R.T commands.
It's also secure, offering support for BitLocker encryption and Trusted Boot anti-malware and boot protection software. We’d have liked to see some hardware based access protection as well, as seen on the likes of the LOK-IT Secure Flash Drive or the Aegis Secure Key, but the security available should still be sufficient.
There is some storage space available for installing programs and saving files – 17.5GB on our 32GB review unit – but for real storage, you'll want to pack another flash drive or portable hard drive. Designed for corporate use, the drive came with a 64-bit version of Windows 8 Enterprise, and this can be used on any machine running Windows 7 or Windows 8.
There’s also an added touch to make the removable drive a bit more resilient – if accidentally removed, you have 60 seconds to plug the drive back in without losing any data or disrupting your work session. In the longer term, Kingston also protects the drive with a two year warranty.
It's worth noting, however, that if a full operating system isn't necessary, other drives offer private zero-footprint web browsing, and plenty of drives offer password protection and a secure partition for keeping private data private, such as the SanDisk Extreme 3.0. This is a more specific tool, designed for administrators who need to deploy a fully bootable corporate workspace without the necessity of a corporate issued PC.
The drive itself uses USB 3.0 in order to offer the best possible performance while also being broadly compatible. When connected via USB 3.0, the drive offers a top sequential speed of 250MBps (for both read and write). It's slower when connected via USB 2.0, of course, but it will still work, meaning that you can plug it into most PCs in use today and fire up your portable OS wherever you happen to be. The only issue to be wary of is heat. When in use, our review unit ran hot, reaching temperatures of 99 degrees Fahrenheit (as measured with a Fluke IR thermometer).
Using the drive is fairly straightforward. The drive plugs into the USB port of the PC – most current PCs will do (more on that below) – and it's a simple matter of booting from the drive, which usually involves only a keystroke or two during the boot sequence. Instead of accessing the PC's regular operating system from the hard drive, it fires up the copy of Windows To Go stored on the drive.
Once the drive begins booting, you'll see the Windows 8 logo come up on the loading screen. Log in with a Windows ID, and you'll be greeted by the Windows 8 Start screen. The initial boot to a host PC may be slow as drivers are loaded, but afterwards, Windows To Go should be up and running in 6 to 8 seconds.
Once you've booted into Windows To Go, you'll be utilising the same hardware as when booting up the target PC normally, with the exception of the hard drive. You'll get full-powered processing and graphics without accessing the host PC's files, or it accessing yours – all of the host PC's drives and the files on them will be inaccessible, and won't even show up in Explorer – but you will have access to the storage on the DataTraveler Workspace, as well as any external storage (like a second flash drive) that might be connected.
As a result, you're safe from any viruses or malware on the host system, and can rest easy knowing that your own files are safe from prying eyes. Microsoft also recommends using Windows To Go in conjunction with either a VPN connection or DirectAccess, and storing larger files and resources on the corporate network.
During use, you'll be able to install and run programs as you normally would on the Kingston drive. For instance, you can pre-install Microsoft Office onto the remaining space on the DataTraveler WorkSpace, and use that to launch your Word, Excel, or Powerpoint files and work on them. Because it reads as a fixed drive, rather than a removable drive, you don't have to install a special bootable version of the programs.
A couple of caveats: You won't be able to access the Windows Store or any of the Windows 8 Apps available through it. Also, the size of your primary drive is limited to the remaining capacity of the flash drive. Aside from the differences in storage, the user experience is exactly like using Windows 8 on any other PC, though you may notice the occasional spot of lag when connected via USB 2.0. Once you're done, you simply unplug the drive, and it's like you were never there.
In order to run the portable version of Windows 8, the PC used will need to meet the minimum specifications required of any Windows 8 machine, namely a processor with a clock speed of 1GHz or more, at least 2GB of RAM for 64-bit systems (or 1GB for 32-bit), and DirectX 9-capable graphics. Most – but not all – PCs running Windows 7 will meet these requirements. Linux machines that meet these hardware requirements, and are capable of booting from the USB drive, will also work, but Macs are not supported.
If you need the flexibility of Windows To Go, the Kingston DataTraveler Workspace is a simple and straightforward option. It slips in your pocket and goes anywhere, running on most current PCs, and offers a level of security that half-measures won't match.
If all you want is secure data storage or web browsing, consider the SanDisk Extreme 3.0 instead. Other manufacturers have also received Microsoft's Windows To Go certification, and you can expect to see similar devices from Imation and Western Digital reviewed in the near future. But for an OS that's good to go anywhere, the Kingston DataTraveler Workspace is an excellent option, and it picks up our Best Buy award.