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IronKey Workspace for Windows To Go Review

Now that it has been certified by Microsoft, I was very excited to get my hot little hands on the IronKey Workspace W500 — the new platform from Imation for Windows To Go — and try it out for myself.

Imation's IronKey Workspace

Windows To Go is an enterprise feature of Windows 8. The implementation on the IronKey drive essentially lets you create an IT provisioned and managed PC on a Stick(tm) for work. You can use it securely on the work PC, then lock it down, unplug it, and then use it securely at home. The cool part is that when you’re using Windows To Go on an IronKey Workspace drive, everything from a data stand point is happening on the IronKey Workspace — the hard drive in the host computer is locked away from your workspace-on-a-stick.

As you can see, the IronKey Workspace looks great… a slick, simple, iconic design. The hard metal case is designed to resist damage and water, and to prevent unwanted tampering. Inside, AES 256 hardware encryption makes the data unreadable without a password, and the IronKey Cryptochip makes the encryption keys unreachable by even sophisticated bad guys.

But enough about the specs.  How does this thing work? Let’s get started.

The IronKey Workspace W500 is based on the iconic IronKey design.

In your typical enterprise, IT would use Windows To Go to either provision the drive for users, or to allow individuals to make their own Windows To Go devices on certified drives. The result is a corporate OS image on each IronKey Workspace. For this review, the IronKey Workspace had already been provisioned with a trial copy of Windows 8.0.

To get started, I plugged the drive into the USB port and pressed the power button. We immediately see something new — a Windows 8 symbol on my laptop PC — which normally runs Windows 7. If my PC hadn’t already been configured to boot from USB, I would have needed to make a quick adjustment to the Boot Options by hitting F12 during the initial boot up process.

Booting up Windows To Go

The drive opened up a preboot environment and asked for an admin password.

Entering the IronKey Workspace's preboot environment.

The IronKey unlocker explained that the drive needs to reboot. This is a security feature for the hardware encrypted drive. It ensures that no one can get near Windows or the data on the drive until they have proved who they are to the Cryptochip.  The preboot process also ensures that the IronKey Workspace connects to and accounts for the hardware configuration on the host PC — network connection, camera, sound, and more.

The IronKey Workspace reboots for extra security in Windows To Go.

And, after about 2 minutes, it was up and running on Windows 8. I spent a minute or so in the Windows 8 control panel to align the PC screen and the monitor, and I was ready to go! By the way, the next time I booted up the IronKey Workspace, because the device had already profiled the hardware on this machine, the boot process took about half the time.

Windows To Go runs the OS from the IronKey USB stick, but it let's you take advantage of the PC's hardware.

Another first time process — Windows 8 noted necessary updates to the anti-spyware and anti-virus programs. These were handled seamlessly. It also asked for a product key; as a trial copy, we didn’t need to do this.

A quick Windows 8 software update.

Now let’s put this PC on a Stick through its paces. The camera worked….

Windows To Go working seamlessly.

…as did the speakers, and the network connection. Tip: If you’re in an office don’t forget to turn down the volume before clicking on the latest from Macklemore & Lewis!

That's "Can't Hold Us" by Macklemore & Lewis on Windows To Go.

One point to note: The Windows Store is not available on Windows To Go workspaces in Windows 8.0. The Store will be available on Windows To Go workspaces made with Windows 8.1 when it ships in a month or so.

Windows Store comes to Windows To Go in Windows 8.1.

Web conferencing was seamless.

Discussing our next trade show via web conference.

We don’t have Office on the Windows 8 trial, so I downloaded and installed Evernote for Windows onto the IronKey Workspace to write this review. Installation was as quick and easy as it would have been on the hard drive. In fact everything I did was fast.  Even though I was running off of the external IronKey Workspace drive, the PC performed every bit as well (and maybe even a little better) as it would if it had been running off the internal hard drive.

Working on Evernote for Windows on the IronKey Workspace for Windows To Go.

In Evernote, I was able to type at top speed with zero latency. This ability to work productively offline is a key advantage of Windows To Go over online-only solutions like VDI.

Conclusion:

Overall, as I wrote this review, checked email, participated in a web conference, listened to music and took pictures, it was easy to forget that I was running the OS and applications on a USB drive instead of the hard drive.

And for Windows To Go and the IronKey Workspace, that’s exactly what you want.

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