Imation Personal S250 16GB Secure Drive review

The Imation Personal S250 is the latest USB drive to feature IronKey's industry leading encryption, but the best security comes at a steep price.

When it comes to securing data, few names carry as much weight as IronKey. Developed in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, and the first choice of actual government agencies, IronKey’s reputation is well-earned. It’s also now owned by Imation, so there’s a slight change of name. That government-grade encryption is available to citizens as well, with the Imation Personal S250, the follow-up to the IronKey Personal S200.

Design
The S250 offers some of the strongest encryption available, with FIPS 140-2 level 3 certification meeting all requirements for use by civilian and military U.S. federal agencies. The construction is extremely rugged and ultra-secure. A solid, seamless metal enclosure is then filled in with epoxy, protecting it against both the elements and from attackers—moisture and dust are sealed out, while the epoxy filling makes it impossible to attack the internal electronic directly. The cap is also metal, with a rubber liner and gasket that extends the environmental protection to the USB plug, and keeps the cap securely attached.

The whole thing is ruggedized inside and out, made to military specifications and able to handle submersion in liquid, extremes in temperature and altitude, drops and bangs from absurd heights, and even handle 16Gs of force. For an extra dose of security, each drive is also laser engraved with a unique serial number, making it that much harder to swap out the key for an identical fake.

The hardware inside protects your data with as much—if not more—robust protection. The memory itself uses dual-channel SLC NAND Flash memory, which offers faster performance than the MLC flash modules found in most consumer grade drives, and lasts longer as well.

But the real protection lies in the encryption, which uses the renowned IronKey Cryptochip hardware encryption, certified for government and military-grade use as defined by Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS 140-2 Level 3). The chip is separate from the memory module and is a true-random number generator, creating all-but-theoretically-uncrackable encryption keys and using AES Cipher-Block Chaining. Without the correct password, there’s no getting the data on this drive. Even trying to brute-force the password will end in failure—the drive data essentially self-destructs after 10 incorrect password entries.

The S250—including the encryption and onboard apps—is compatible with all major operating systems, including Windows (8/7/Vista/XP), Mac (OS X 10.5 and up), and Linux (2.6 and up). Imation covers the S250 with a one-year warranty, but given the rugged construction, it’s unlikely you’ll ever need it.

Features and Performance
Setting up the drive is simple, done by first opening the drive with the included IronKey Unlocker program—without it, the drive won’t even register as a readable drive. It will prompt you to enter a password, and walks you through the process, including setting up a recovery email address to retrieve a lost password and prevent accidentally triggering a data wipe with too many incorrect guesses.

On the drive is a control panel, which offers a user’s guide for detailed instructions, a secure backup program, and an identity management app for safely storing login and password data for online apps and accounts. It also offers a portable secure browser, a locked down version of Firefox that lets you browse the web with total peace of mind—each secure session creates an encrypted tunnel to a secure server maintained by Imation, and your local computer will be unable to store your cookies, browser history, or passwords.

In timed data transfer tests, the S250 demonstrated write speeds of 21MBps—a touch slower than the 24MBps claimed by Imation—and read speeds of 35MBps—exceeding Imation’s claims of 31MBps. That puts it on slightly better footing than the Kingston DataTraveler Vault Privacy, which tested at 35 MBps (write) and 10 MBps (read), and notably faster than the consumer-oriented Editors’ Choice, the Kingston DataTraveler Locker+ G2 (16GB), which had an average of 21MBps read and 12MBps write speed.

One area where the S250 stands apart is price—at $329 for 16GB, it’s by far the most expensive encrypted drive we’ve reviewed in recent months, coming out to more than $20 per GB. In stark contrast, the 16GB Kingston DataTraveler Locker+ G2 has a list price of $25 for the entire drive. But if data protection is your primary concern, the Imation Personal S250 is far and away the best option available, and it’s actually cheaper now than it has ever been—the previous iteration, the IronKey S200 sold for $79, for only 1GB of memory.

If you want to best security available, safeguarding you against hackers, thieves, and the elements with equal zeal, the Imation Personal S250 is Fort Knox. It will keep your data as safe as it can be, but that security and rugged construction comes at a steep price. If price is a concern, stick to our Editors’ Choice Kingston DataTraveler Locker+ G2 (16GB)—but if you want the most secure drive you can buy, there’s no choice better than the Imation Personal S250.

Specifications
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 16 GB

Verdict
The Imation Personal S250 is the latest USB drive to feature IronKey's industry leading encryption, but the best security comes at a steep price.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc