First Look: Imation Pro WX Wireless USB Hard Drive

Imation (IMN) has shipped the world’s first wireless USB hard drive, the Pro WX Wireless USB Hard Drive, finally implementing a technology that’s been in development for several years. had the opportunity to take the new device for a spin.

First, a few terms to know

Wireless USB is a new standard for USB. It promises theoretical speeds of up to 60MB/s. Its actual transfer rate will vary but typically goes up to 38MB/s. It has a maximum range of 10 meters.

801.11n is the most recent standard for Wi-Fi networks. Its theoretical cap is 38MB/s, but in real-world situations runs at 9MB/s. Meant to be used as a network connection, 802.11n is designed to reach up to 100 meters.

USB 2.0’s theoretical maximum speed is 60MB/s but typically performs at around 30MB/s. This is a wired connection, however, and can only go as far as the cable extends (usually 5 meters at most).

Appearance and physical function of the Pro WX

Imation’s WUSB drive is definitely a looker. It has an Apple-esque white front with a glowing Imation logo.  On the sides, it’s black giving it more of a professional look.

The device is the size of most external hard drives but can stand vertically to save space with two chrome legs that flip out from the bottom, making it ideal for placement on a bookshelf or a desktop.

The Wireless USB adapter is slightly larger than a USB thumb drive and includes a swivel adapter to keep it out of the way. Imation also includes a USB cable for backing up the largest files.

The drive, which holds a massive 1.5TB, features plug and play functionality in Windows XP, Vista, 7 and Mac OS X (10.4 and above).

Although Wireless USB supports faster speeds, the Pro WX offers up to 15 MB/s in real-world speeds, according to Imation.

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Setup and Use on Windows 7

The USB adapter was quickly recognized and installed automatically after being plugged into a Windows 7 laptop. The drive immediately popped up in Windows Explorer and was ready for use.

A quick test revealed that the speed is certainly there. At a distance of just under 7 feet from the hard drive, copying 100MB of music files to the drive took just 18 seconds.

Engadget did much more extensive speed tests than I was able to and found that the drive lives up to its said maximum speed of 15MB/s.

The Pro WX includes backup software from Memeo that is simple to install and use. No CD is even necessary, as the software’s setup files are on the drive.

The software has presets to back up typical personal files and settings but is not designed to perform a full system backup.

Using Memeo, I backed up and verified 2GB of data in about 7 minutes, and the system was completely useable during the process. In the case of slowdown, Memeo can also be minimized to run in the background and allow more system resources to other tasks.

It’s worth pointing out that the software stores multiple versions of files, so they can be restored to former states at a later time, much like OS X’s Time Machine feature, which the Imation Pro WX is fully compatible with. More on that later.

I had some connectivity issues with the drive using Windows 7. At one point it appeared to disconnect after a few minutes into a backup using the Memeo software. Fixing this required powering off the hard drive and disconnecting the USB dongle, then reattaching the USB adapter and turning the drive back on.  I found that keeping the drive closer to the computer prevented this from happening. Interference might be to blame.

In terms of range, the hard drive performed at its best in a range of less than 10 feet. Moving farther away slowed its speed markedly and eventually the connection was lost. The signal was not able to penetrate a wall to allow for backing up from another room. But, to the Pro WX’s credit, wireless USB was not designed to be used at large distances. According to Imation, the drive can be up to 30 feet from the host computer.

Setup and Use on Mac OS X Snow Leopard

In order to use the Pro WX on a Macintosh, setup files for the Mac version of the Memeo software had to be copied onto the computer. Then the drive itself needed to be formatted for use on a Mac. Using OS X’s Disk Utility can accomplish this, but the process could be intimidating for an inexperienced user.

The drive worked at similar speeds on a Mac when copying and backing up personal files with the Memeo software.

Imation’s Wireless USB drive is also fully compatible with OS X’s Time Machine application, which is a full system image backup. Time Machine’s heavy level of integration with OS X makes it a preferable option for backing up a hard drive than using the Memeo software on a Mac.

Imation Pro WX compared to other backup solutions

A typical USB 2.0 external hard drive will work at much faster speeds than any wireless solution. But that speed comes at a cost of less convenience. While we’re supposed to frequently back up our data, if a user always needs to manually connect a drive to his laptop, how often will he or she go through the hassle? With a wireless connection, the user doesn’t even need to think to backup the drive with the appropriate automatic backup software.

What about a Wi-Fi-based solution like Apple’s (AAPL) Time Capsule? While this wireless network drive makes backing require little user intervention beyond its initial setup, the real-world 802.11n transfer rate of 9MB/s leaves something to be desired, especially when copying large files, which is clearly the case with backing up a computer. However, one huge benefit to using Wi-Fi technology is its range and ability to penetrate through walls.

Imation’s implementation of wireless USB technology provides speeds that are faster than those of Wi-Fi, which is clearly beneficial for transferring larger files within a short range. This is more convenient than having to physically plug a USB hard drive to a laptop or desktop computer and makes backing up a computer much easier.

However, there are some drawbacks, depending on a user’s individual preferences. The Pro WX does not have a huge range due to limitations in wireless USB technology. It also probably won’t be backing up your laptop if you take it into another room. And finally, the USB dongle used to connect to the drive can sometimes get in the way, despite the swivel adapter.

As wireless USB technology becomes mainstream, there will be less need for a USB adapter. Indeed, Imation says the Pro WX can work with computers that have built-in wireless USB capabilities.

In the end, whether this drive is for you depends on individual needs and preferences.  If range and mobility are top concerns, Wi-Fi technology might be a better bet. But for the top wireless transfer speeds currently available in a backup solution, the Imation Pro WX Wireless USB Hard Drive is just what you need.