La­Cie Rugged Thun­der­bolt and USB 3.0

Tech Advisor - - REVIEWS - An­drew Har­ri­son

La­Cie is fa­mous for its eye-catch­ing com­puter pe­riph­er­als, tak­ing or­di­nary prod­ucts such as por­ta­ble and desk­top hard drives, and adding a style el­e­ment you won’t find else­where. 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 bea­con­like 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 2.5in 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.

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 2m, 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.

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 4- 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 1- 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.

Ver­dict

The La­Cie Rugged has been up­dated so is now avail­able with up to 1TB 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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