USB memory keys, or thumbdrives, are becoming so widespread and increasingly inexpensive, it wouldn't surprise us if one day, they were included in boxes of cereal. It was only a matter of time before someone hit on the idea of making a FireWire thumbdrive, and Kanguru has done just that with its Fire Flash drive. While the Kanguru Fire Flash delivers reasonable throughput, it's no speed demon, and it requires either a six-pin desktop FireWire port or a bulky adapter and USB port for power. And at $50 (as of June 2005) for a 128MB drive and $480 for a 4GB model, the cost of Fire Flash is about double that of comparable USB keys. But some people may find the FireWire interface a useful alternative, especially if their USB ports are all occupied.
The plastic-encased gray-silver Kanguru Fire Flash looks like a rounded version of its cousin, the snub-nose Mini Drive, but it's longer and has a six-pin FireWire plug at one end and a large LED at the other end that glows blue when reading and red when writing data. Measuring 3.2 by 1.1 by 0.6 inches, it's bigger than the typical USB thumbdrive, and at 1 ounce, it's twice as heavy, too. It's still small enough to slip into a pocket or a briefcase pouch, and it has a handy clip on it for a shirt pocket. The rounded cap isn't attached to the body of the drive by a leash, so it's prone to getting lost. Like other thumbdrives, Fire Flash stores its data on solid-state flash memory chips and can take a 1,000-g shock without damage. The Fire Flash comes in six capacities: 128MB, 256MB, 512MB, 1GB, 2GB, and a generous 4GB.
Kanguru includes a mini CD with a detailed 10-page manual. You also get a bulky FireWire extension cable/minibrick (though at just more than five inches long, it won't extend much of anything) and a USB power adapter cord that plugs into the brick on the extension cable. An optional desktop docking station sells for $13 and is great for desktop PCs with hard-to-reach ports in the back. The Fire Flash works with recent versions of Windows, Mac, and Linux, and it's a snap to use if your computer has a sux-pin FireWire port (which provides bus power). Unfortunately, most notebooks have unpowered four-pin miniports, which means you'll have to use the included power adapter that pulls its power from a USB bus. The USB power cord plugs into the extension cord/brick only, not into the drive, which makes for an awkward setup. This is also problematic if you're using the Fire Flash, because your USB ports are occupied.
Once you figure out the proper configuration of the cords and the drive for your computer, just plug in the Kanguru Fire Flash, let the OS recognize the drive, and it's ready for use. The Fire Flash worked fine on six computers, old and new. Based on the 400Mbps FireWire specification, Fire Flash ignores the 800Mbps FireWire spec that some newer Apple computers and workstations use, and it's slower than the 480Mbps USB 2.0 spec. The drive comes with FAT formatting and works just as well with FAT32 and Mac's OS Standard and Extended, but the latter two formats can't be read by PCs. In our informal data-transfer speed tests, the Fire Flash moved a variety of data at about 32.1Mbps, putting it midway between IBM's USB Memory Key and Kanguru's USB-based Mini Drive. Despite its plastic casing, the FireFlash gets hot with use. And without a fingerprint reader, encryption, or even a rudimentary write-protect switch, the security-minded will want to pass on it.
Kanguru covers the Fire Flash with a standard one-year warranty. Free toll-based phone support is available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET on weekdays only. The company has a special section of its support Web site for Fire Flash that includes downloads, tips, and a general FAQ, but it lacks specific information about the product.