The idea behind Infinitec's Infinite USB Memory Drive is actually quite straightforward, but we've found that when we tell friends and acquaintances about the unit, it often boggles their minds. So, we'll try to keep it real simple: This red plastic stick is a 802.11b/g/n WiFi radio disguised as a USB flash drive. And when we say "disguised", we're not just talking about the stick's size, but its functionality as well -- it lets you wirelessly transfer files direct from your WiFi-equipped laptop's hard drive to just about anything with a USB port. Stick it into an Xbox 360 or set-top-box, for instance, and it pretends to be your average thumbdrive, but with access to theoretically anything you choose. Sounds like a fantastic idea, but does it really work? Find out after the break in our full review.

Infinitec Infinite USB Memory Drive, hands-on

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Hardware

There's never much to say about the outside of a USB thumbdrive, but the IUM could certainly be a conversation piece for some, given the way it sticks out of anything you insert it in like a... well, like a big sore thumb. The dongle is red and proud of it, with curves and vents no doubt designed to evoke a flashy Ferrari, but held back by the quality of its construction -- the USB board floats (and rattles slightly) in a hollow plastic shell that gives slightly when squeezed, albeit covered with a soft-touch rubber coating that makes it comfortable to hold. There's a three-color LED on top for reporting connection status, a lanyard (and cap storage) slot sticking out of the back, and a flimsy switch on the right side for swapping the IUM in-between "infinite" and pairing modes -- more on that in a sec.

Setup

Since the IUM itself is a 802.11b/g/n radio, you can stick it into practically anything with a USB port, whether it has WiFi or not, but you do have to pair the stick with a WiFi-ready host computer. That requires installing drivers and software, and that's where our frustrations with the IUM began, because the device's software is unbelievably convoluted, unresponsive and buggy for a product that's not clearly labeled "beta." There are several critical failure points during the supposedly automated install process that can make the drive fail to work, and no clear step-by-step guide to the setup procedure after that, so we'll walk you through them right here in case you feel the overwhelming urge to test software on Infinitec's behalf.

First, you place the drive in pair mode, and connect it to your Windows PC, at which point it gives you access to the install files on the internal flash. After installing the software, you still need to actually pair the device with your PC, so you have to assign it an SSID, password, choose your WiFi encryption settings and pick an "upload" folder for any items you might have copy onto the drive. After syncing that information with the IUM, it's ready to be unplugged, but you can't use it quite yet, because you also have to choose how large the drive should appear to be to devices that you plug it into -- and the larger you choose, the longer the drive will take to connect. Once that's complete, you then have to click on a different tab, manually pick files and folders on your drive to share and process them for a little bit, because you have to create a virtual filesystem that you can beam over to the drive -- and we couldn't just say "process the entire hard drive" and be done with it, because the software choked on that request. Got your files lined up? Then you're ready to switch the IUM into infinite mode, plug it into your device of choice and wait a tedious couple of minutes for it to automatically connect... assuming that both you and the installer software did everything correctly.

The installer is supposed to do a pair of fairly important things in the background without even letting you know -- create a pair of firewall exceptions for the IUM, and install Adobe AIR. Of course, if either of these things fail for any reason -- it did repeatedly with us -- you're going to have to do some troubleshooting yourself, and not the easy stuff. On all three of the host computers we tested the IUM with, it failed to play nice with our standard Windows Firewall (two out of three didn't work with AIR) and we ended up having to manually open ports on one machine and manually connect our WiFi to the IUM to get things paired. The third computer, inexplicably, wouldn't work with the IUM at all -- it kept complaining about firewall issues even with the firewall completely turned off.

Performance

Assuming you've still hair left on your head by this point and the IUM is lit up green, it's actually mildly impressive what the little stick can do. We clocked sequential speeds of up to 43 megabits per second through the drive, and got burst transfer rates of a little over 6MB / sec, which was quite sufficient to stream high-definition video over the air. Sadly, we're not out of caveats yet, and the steroid-packed elephant in the room is this: we only found those speeds possible with a host laptop sitting right next to the IUM, and they weren't reliable even then. At three feet out, we saw transfer speeds cut in half, and they seemed to be capped to 2 megabits per second at six feet away. When we crossed to the other side of a fifteen-foot room -- maintaining a direct line-of-sight between the computers the entire time -- the connection petered out completely, leaving the IUM paralyzed. Infinitec didn't have an explanation for this, saying the company would run some range tests soon, but as it stands you're not going to be transferring files across a house, and perhaps not even a sufficiently large room.

As we alluded to above, the connection also wasn't completely reliable even up close, and displayed erratic behavior of various kinds -- sometimes it would drop speed suddenly to a few hundred kilobytes per second, only to shoot up to several megabytes per second and then back down again when transferring large files. It also occasionally disconnected completely in the middle of transfers or when browsing files, and when that happened there was no waiting it out -- the only solutions were to manually stop the IUM service, or unplug the drive. Last but not least, it's important to note that the IUM uses up your host computer's WiFi connection, so you're not getting any internet access from that computer while you're sharing files, and though there's a theoretically impressive "dual-WiFi" workaround for this particular issue which uses the IUM itself as a wireless bridge, it's subject to the same range problems as the IUM itself, and couldn't even see, let alone connect to an access point located only a couple of rooms away.

Wrap-up

Despite every issue we had with the Infinite USB Memory Drive, we still think the basic idea would make for a pretty potent peripheral if done well, but it needs to take a stab at being user friendly, if not entirely plug-and-play -- and Infinitec's product is about as far as you can get. We could have transferred the same files with much less hassle using a flash drive or external hard drive instead, and you can get a wicked-quick USB 3.0 drive these days for the $129 Infinitec is asking for theirs. We'd like to end on a positive note here, and that's to say that Infinitec's now aware of all these issues and pledged to make them right with updates later on. We'll be happy to test again then, but as it stands we can't recommend the IUM unless you're fond of pain.
Infinitec

Infinite USB Memory Drive

Pros

  • Fantastic concept
  • Wirelessly transfers data to most any USB port
  • Fast enough to stream HD video

Cons

  • Often inexplicably fails
  • Poor wireless range
  • Buggy, convoluted software
Conclusion

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