What is a Portable Key Drive?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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A portable key drive is a memory stick with an application platform to incorporate a suite of programs. The portable key drive platform makes it possible to work on non-resident PCs by taking applications and files with you, operating them from the portable key drive itself. This eliminates the need to install the applications on the host PC. A portable key drive is essentially a portable work drive.

All versions of Windows XP automatically recognize a portable key drive as soon as it is plugged in, while later versions of Windows 2000 might also be compatible. Windows assigns the drive two drive letters. The first drive letter is for a read-only portion of the drive while the second is for the remainder of the drive. The platform code tells Windows to treat the read-only portion as a CD-ROM, allowing the portable key drive to use AutoPlay to execute an embedded access menu similar to the Windows Start menu. From here, an icon is placed in the system tray. The user clicks on the icon to access the portable key drive menu of applications and utilities.

One key utility is the ability to easily download portable-enabled software programs to the drive. There are many freeware portable programs designed to work on these non-proprietary drives. Many of these can be found at the Portable Freeware Collection.


Some portable key drive models are proprietary. For example, the U3 line of memory sticks, available from several different top manufacturers, require U3-enabled software. While online with a U3 portable key drive, one can click to an online library of over one hundred U3 applications. Most of these applications are shareware or fee-based. While a portable drive is highly attractive, one of the downsides of a proprietary product is having to buy proprietary software.

For people who need portable use of a specific program, the program may not be available as portable software, possibly defeating the purpose of buying the drive. Therefore, it is a good idea to check into the kinds of programs available before relying on the product to suit your purposes. As the portable key drive becomes more popular, more types of software will undoubtedly become available in portable format.

The portable key drive plugs into the USB (Universal Serial Bus) port and is a plug 'n' play product. Price is dependent on capacity, which can range from less than 300 megabytes to 1 gigabyte or more. These highly convenient drives can utilize chat clients, instant messaging clients, email, word processing, telephony software and much more. If you travel between computers, it might be just the thing to make your techno-arsenal complete.


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