Review: Maxtor Blackarmor 320GB, a USB drive with US-grade military encryption

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Review: Maxtor Blackarmor 320GB, a USB drive with US-grade military encryption

The Maxtor Blackarmor has one thing that other USB hard drives don’t - military grade data security in a very stylish package

Transporting data around on removable media can be a risky business for companies — in the event that the device is lost or stolen, anything from financial records to trade secrets are available for anyone to read. Enter the Maxtor Blackarmor.

The Blackarmor is special. It’s not the smallest portable drive, nor the fastest, lightest, most spacious or even cheapest, but it has one thing that other drives don’t: government grade hardware encryption.

The device is running a layer of 128-bit AES encyption — as used by US military — which, after initially unlocking the drive, works completely transparently to the end user. On first connection a wizard will appear to install the Maxtor software. Once this is installed, all you will see of it is a password prompt when connecting the drive.

Unlike software-only solutions, where generally only the data contained within files are encrypted, every bit stored on the disk is encrypted with the unique key of the drive. Any attempt to read the data manually without the password is futile — all that could be retrieved would be random data.

The downside of such strong encryption is that forgetting the password is fatal for your data. The drive does store a password hint, however, and in the worst case scenario it’s possible to erase the drive and start again, but no amount of time, money or skill can recover data from this drive.

Currently, the software is Windows only, so Mac and Linux users will have to look elsewhere or use the tools included with the operating system. While this won’t affect most users, it would be nice to see support for these OSs in such a product.

The performance of the drive is quite good, with read and write speeds equivalent to other USB-based drives. The drive was slowed down a little by lots of small files, but this was to be expected, and was similar to other USB portables.

The drive is entirely bus-powered, and a Y-cable isn’t included, so you will need a powered port. That said, we didn’t have any trouble powering it from a traditionally troublesome laptop.

Surprisingly and defying expectations, it looks great too. The black and silver design with blue LEDs is one of the most striking designs we’ve ever seen in a hard drive. We have grown used to security products that are clunky, oversized or just plain inconvenient and painful to use. While it is a little larger and heavier than some portable drives, we’ve seen much worse.

The Blackarmor has dealt with the issue of data security, and has done it with style. With only a small price premium over other portable drives without encryption, if data security is relevant, the Blackarmour is a must.

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