Model: Imation Atom Flash Drive
Manufacturer: Imation
Provided By: Imation

Imation is one of the most widely recognized and respected names in the storage industry. Originally known as 3M Data Storage, the company was formed in the early 1950s to develop storage media for IBM tape drives. As time went on, it expanded its product lineup to include audio and video tapes as well as floppy disks. In 1996, 3M spun off its data storage and imaging divisions to become Imation. More recently, Imation has made the shift from analog to digital and has established itself as one of the world's leading providers of recordable CD and DVD media.

While best known for its data tapes and recordable media, Imation offers a wide range of storage products including portable hard drives, solid state drives (SSDs) and USB flash drives. This spring, Imation announced its new Atom Flash Drive. Roughly the size of a paperclip, the drive is less than 1.5 inches long and weighs in at less than an ounce. The Atom also includes password protection and drive partitioning software and is enhanced for Windows Vista ReadyBoost. Best of all, it comes with a 5-year limited warranty.

Packaging and Contents:

The Atom Flash Drive comes packaged as shown above. While the plastic bubble gives you a great view of the drive, it can be a little hard to get open without the help of a sharp knife or razor. Once opened though, you have access to the contents. Along with the Atom, you get a small lanyard which can be used to attach the drive to your keychain or mobile phone.

Physical Features:

The Atom is the smallest among Imation's flash drives. Embedded with a SIP (System in Package) module, the drive measures just 32mm long, 12mm wide and 4.8mm thick. At this size, the Atom is hardly noticeable when placed in a pocket or on a keychain.

The body of the Atom is constructed of a durable, but lightweight, black plastic. The drive also has a strip of aluminum showing the Imation logo as well as the capacity of the drive. Surprisingly, the Atom's USB connector is also constructed of plastic. I was a bit concerned that without a cap, the plastic connector would become damaged. However, it has stood up pretty well to every day use.  



As with most USB flash drives, the Imation Atom was very easy to install. Those running Windows ME, 2000 or XP can simply plug them into any available USB port on their computer. If the computer is already turned on, plug and play will automatically detect the drives.

According to Imation, the Atom is also compatible with Windows 98 SE. Take note that you will need to install some drivers before the drive can be used with this OS. While not included with the Atom, they can be downloaded from Imation's website.

If installed correctly, the Atom should show up in the Device Manager. Under Windows XP, the drive is identified as an "Imation Atom".


The Atom comes with Imation's LOCK software. The software, as well as a manual explaining how to use it, are located on the drive. If you delete the software or the manual by accident, they can be downloaded from Imation's support website.

The Atom comes preconfigured for use with Imation's LOCK software. Looking at the screenshot below, you can see that while a password has not been set, a small secure partition has already been created.

Before setting the password, you'll probably want to configure the size of the secure and public areas. Simply move the slider bar back and forth to choose the desired size. Keep in mind that once you make a change, the drive will be formatted and all files will be erased.

Next, you will need to set a password. The password can be a maximum of sixteen characters. Any letters, numbers or symbols can be used. If you're likely to forget your password, you can also provide a hint.

When removed, the Atom's secure partition will automatically lock. When inserted again, you will only see the public area. To access your protected files again, you will need to run the LOCK software and login using your password. A copy of the program is automatically copied to the public area so you can run it from any Windows computer.

Imation's LOCK software offers one additional security feature to prevent people from guessing your password and accessing your data. If the password has been entered incorrectly six times, the program will automatically format the drive and delete all of the data in the secure partition.

While easy to use, Imation's LOCK software does have its low points. Most annoying was the fact that you could not access both the secure and public areas at the same time. Normally, this wasn't a problem. However, when transferring files from the secure to the public area, you have to temporarily copy them to the hard drive. I'd also like to see an option to make the Atom bootable as well as a way to reconfigure the partitions without having to totally reformat the drive. Hopefully Imation can incorporate these things into future versions of the software.  


 The test system used in this review was a Dell OptiPlex 755. The computer came equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 2.66GHz CPU, 2GB of DDR2 800MHz memory, a Western Digital WD800JD 80GB SATA hard drive and an ATI Radeon HD 2400XT 256MB video card. For the operating system, I installed a fresh copy of Windows XP with Service Pack 3.

To test the performance of the Imation Atom, I ran a series of benchmarks using HD Tach RW and SiSoftware Sandra Professional Business XII.SP2c.  To get a feel for the "real world" performance, I also copied and pasted 500MB of random files and directories in Windows Explorer. For comparison, I've also included test results from Memorex's Mini TravelDrive.

HD Tach RW

Using HD Tach, we can benchmark a drive's read, write and burst speeds as well as its seek times and CPU usage.  Looking at the screenshot above, you can see that while the Atom was a little slower when writing, its read and burst speeds were faster than the TravelDrive's.

SiSoft Sandra File System Benchmark:

While I am not a big fan of SiSoftware Sandra's optical drive benchmarks, it is a great tool if you want to test a system's performance quickly and easily. One of Sandra's more useful tests is the File System benchmark. This benchmark gives each drive an overall score, or "Drive Index," based on the results of its read and write tests.

   Imation Atom Memorex Mini TravelDrive
Drive Index: 16.63 MB/s 14.47 MB/s
Buffered Read: 19.22 MB/s 15.99 MB/s
Sequential Read: 19.31 MB/s 15.87 MB/s
Random Read: 19.24 MB/s 15.74 MB/s
Buffered Write: 470 kB/s 3.09 MB/s
Sequential Write: 7.55 MB/s 7.43 MB/s
Random Write: 3.75 MB/s 7 MB/s

The results here were similar to what we saw with HD Tach. While faster when reading, the Atom lagged well behind the TravelDrive when doing buffered and random writes.

SiSoftware Sandra Removable Storage/Flash Devices Benchmark:

Designed with removable storage and flash devices in mind, this benchmark tests a drive's read, write and delete performance using six different file sizes (512 Bytes, 32kB, 256kB, 2MB, 64MB and 256MB).  The results are then given in both operations per minute and the corresponding net transfer rate in kB/second. This benchmark also computes an "Endurance Factor," representing the wear and life expectancy of flash devices.

   Imation Atom Memorex Mini TravelDrive
512B Read: 196 kB/s 173 kB/s
32kB Read: 6050 kB/s 6190 kB/s
256kB Read: 16320 kB/s 13260 kB/s
2MB Read: 18630 kB/s 15430 kB/s
64MB Read: 19200 kB/s 16000 kB/s
256MB Read: 17070 kB/s 17070 kB/s

The Atom was again the faster of the two drives when reading. While its read speeds peaked at 19200 kB/s, the TravelDrive reached a maximum speed of only 16000 kB/s.

   Imation Atom Memorex Mini TravelDrive
512B Write: 15 kB/s 11 kB/s
32kB Write: 494 kB/s 1060 kB/s
256kB Write: 4020 kB/s 3420 kB/s
2MB Write: 4000 kB/s 4570 kB/s
64MB Write: 6400 kB/s 9600 kB/s
256MB Write: 8530 kB/s 8530 kB/s

While there were a few cases where the Atom had a slight advantage, it lagged behind the TravelDrive when writing 64MB, 2MB and 32kB files. Interestingly enough, both drives reached the same speed when writing 256MB files.

   Imation Atom Memorex Mini TravelDrive
Combined Index: 2813 2914
512B Files Test: 4082 3179
32kB Files Test: 3507 3850
256kB Files Test: 1714 1381
2MB Files Test: 240 235
64MB Files Test: 10 11
256MB Files Test: 2 3

As I mentioned above, Sandra also expresses performance in operations per minute. To keep things simple, I've limited the results to the combined index and the total number of read/write/delete operations for each file size.

The Atom yielded some mixed results in this test. While Imaton's new flash drive completed more operations with 512M, 256kB and 2MB files, its combined index wasn't as high as the TravelDrive's.

   Imation Atom Memorex Mini TravelDrive
Endurance Factor: 17.80 14.70

The Endurance Factor represents the wear and life expectancy of a flash device. According to SiSoft, this number is computed by "dividing the average performance (normal condition, i.e. sequential write) to the lowest performance (high-stress condition, i.e. same block re-write)."

"Real World" Benchmark:

To test the "real world" performance of Imation's new flash drive, I copied and pasted 500 MB worth of randomly generated files and directories. All of the files are between 10 bytes and 32MB in size and no more than four directories deep.

   Imation Atom Memorex Mini TravelDrive
Write: 2:28 2:45
Read: 20 seconds 19 seconds

The Atom yielded some surprising results in this test. While the synthetic benchmarks indicated that it was the slower of the two drives when writing, it came out on top, beating the TravelDrive by 17 seconds. The Atom wasn't as fast as the drive from Memorex when reading. However, the performance difference was very small.


Over the last year or so, Imation has turned out a variety of USB flash drives with new features and ever increasing capacities. With the Atom, the company has introduced its smallest drive to date. By utilizing a system in package (SIP) module, Imation has given users the ability to store up to 8GB of data on a drive that isn't much larger than a paperclip. The Atom's small size didn't have much of an impact on performance either. While not as fast as some other flash drives when writing, it reached some respectable speeds in our read tests.

My only real concern with the Atom is its exposed USB connector. To make the drive as small as possible, Imation decided not to use a sliding or swivel mechanism or include a cap. As a result, the connector could become dirty or damaged over time. Then again, if something does happen, the Atom is covered by a 5 year warranty.

The Atom is available now in 1GB, 2GB, 4GB and 8GB capacities. Suggested retail prices range from $17.99 to $99.99 depending on the size. However, the drive can be picked up for considerably less through some of the vendors on Pricegrabber.