LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt & USB 3 review

LaCie is famous for its eye-catching computer peripherals, taking ordinary products like portable and desktop hard drives, and adding a style element you won’t find elsewhere. See also: Best portable hard drives you can buy right now

In the case of its Rugged Thunderbolt portable drive (product code 9000602), LaCie and the product’s designer Neil Poulton poured in a little lifeboat chic, to make a tough portable storage drive in emergency-services orange. The result is a drive that is not only harder to lose thanks to its beacon-like visuals, it should also shrug off more than a casual battering.

LaCie has now gently updated the original popular product, increasing the storage capacity available to the SSD version up to 1TB, and additionally hard-wiring in one of the connection cables.

The revised LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt is still based on the same basic form, comprising a 2.5-inch SATA drive in an aluminium case, that is then held within a thick rubber orange bumper case. This life jacket, combined with the shock-resistant solid-state storage technology inside, really deserves to be a very tough combination.

You can still choose between either of two high-speed data connections, either USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt, with a Thunderbolt cable now fixed to the drive, and with just enough cable length to wrap around the outside. The plug end rests neatly in a cut-out in the bumper case, and a concealed magnet gently holds the plug fast.

When unfurled, the cable is 35cm long, sufficient to easily reach the ports on even stand-mounted laptops. Also in the box is a 44cm detachable cable for USB 3.0.

 LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt review

In addition LaCie now includes a removable rubber seal which fits over the docked Thunderbolt plug, and fills in the remaining aperture reserved for the USB 3.0 port. With the drive locked down with its rubber stopper in place, LaCie specifies the drive with ingress protection (IP) up to IP54, meaning simply it has limited protection against dust, and is protected against splash water from any direction.

Shock and pressure should also be mitigated, the specifications listing resistance to a drop up to 2 metres, and surviving being run over by a 1000kg car (you're extremely lucky if one of these rare beasts drives over your LaCie - modern cars are significantly heavier than this). Included software enables AES-256 encryption and data backup.

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt & USB 3 review: Performance

Inside the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt is a very accomplished solid-state drive, the Samsung 850 PRO, currently one of the finest SATA Revision 3.0 SSDs available. This was the world’s first SSD to promote a form of 3D NAND flash technology that Samsung calls V-NAND, which unusually builds flash memory up in layers. It is still using MLC flash memory, with better performance and reliability than the emerging TLC technology, and the increased process size of 40nm also bodes well for long-term longevity.

The Rugged drive is always bus-powered whether used in USB or Thunderbolt mode of operation. This does mean that perhaps contrary to expectation for the technology, it performs a little slower with the nominally faster Thunderbolt connection, since Thunderbolt is currently more easily compromised by under-power mobile operating conditions.

In our tests using the Thunderbolt connection, we saw sequential reads speeds peak at 390MB/s, with sequential writes reach up to 367MB/s. For small random I/O – a good way to gauge real-world speed when working with typical documents and system backup files – the average across data from 4kB to 1024kB was 182MB/s for reads, and 215MB/s for random averaged writes.

Turning to USB 3.0, sequential reads reached 439MB/s and writes up to 390MB/s. Small file transfers were more closely aligned to Thunderbolt performance here, averaging 197MB/s random reads and 210MB/s random writes.

The raw SSD inside is capable of much higher speed again (exceeding 560MB/s sequential) but despite being somewhat reined in by both the USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connections, this is still one very quick drive to carry as portable storage.

Of course, if you don't need this level of performance but do want a rugged portable drive, the same enclosure is also available in 1TB and 2TB versions for around £130 and £175 respectively with 5400rpm hard disks. We haven't tested them, so can't give specific performance figures but if you're not willing to shell out the thick end of £700, one of the pair could be a viable alternative.

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt & USB 3.0 1TB SSD review: Specs

  • 1 TB portable solid-state flash drive
  • Samsung 850 PRO Serial ATA Revision 3.0 SSD
  • Thunderbolt connection with built-in 350 mm cable
  • USB 3.0 connection with separate 440 mm cable
  • 142 x 90 x 26.4 mm
  • 292 g
  • 1 TB portable solid-state flash drive
  • Samsung 850 PRO Serial ATA Revision 3.0 SSD
  • Thunderbolt connection with built-in 350 mm cable
  • USB 3.0 connection with separate 440 mm cable
  • 142 x 90 x 26.4 mm
  • 292 g

OUR VERDICT

The LaCie Rugged has been updated so is now available with up to 1 TB capacity of award-winning Samsung SSD technology inside. The built-in Thunderbolt cable means one less cable to lose or forget, while an additional rubber end cap will keep out some dust and light water splashes. It’s a good, tough solution with plenty of capacity and speed but LaCie’s own price of £719 will be too rich for most tastes. Especially when the drive inside itself can be found for half that price at time of review – making the remaining £360 an ambitious price for just the outer LaCie Rugged casework and cables.

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