LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt 2 TB Hard Drive
$220 /£157 www.lacie.com

Earlier this year, storage manufacturer LaCie launched an upgraded version of its Rugged hard drive that features improved damage resistance and a built-in Thunderbolt cable. The new Rugged Thunderbolt drive is available with either a hard disk or an SSD, and also has a USB 3.0 port for universal connectivity. 

Specifications / Key Features

  • Built-in Thunderbolt cable
  • USB 3.0 Connectivity
  • Bus powered
  • Shock resistant up to 2m (6.6ft)
  • IP 54 rated for dust and water resistance
  • 1 ton pressure resistance
  • AES 256-bit software encryption included for password protection
  • Removable cover and spare rear cover included

Hard Disk

  • 1TB and 2TB drives available for $219.99 and $299.99
  • 5400 RPM/64 MB cache
  • 350 g (12.3 oz)

SSD

  • 256GB and 512GB SSDs available for $299.99 and $499.99
  • SATA 6 Gb/s
  • Claimed 387MB/s transfer speed
  • 280g  (8.8 oz)

In Use

I’ve owned several versions of the Rugged drives over the last 7 or 8 years.  They’ve been around the world with me several times over and although they’ve taken a lot of physical punishment in the field, I’ve never experienced any issues. It was a pleasant surprise to find that this latest incarnation of the drive actually feels even more robust than my old ones, and this is reflected in the improved IP54 dust and moisture resistance rating that it’s received.

As a photographer who travels a fair bit, having confidence in my storage devices is important to me and the solid chassis and rubberized exterior immediately gave me that confidence after unboxing this drive. I wouldn’t give it a second thought when throwing this into the bottom of my camera bag with all the other accessories that rattle around in there.

The headline feature of the Rugged Thunderbolt is the captive Thunderbolt cable which is neatly wrapped around the edge of the drive's rubber casing. Removing the rubber plug on the back of the drive releases the cable, although the plug itself isn't attached to the drive or the cable in any way and feels like something you would easily misplace. For a drive that's designed for travel and outdoor usage, I would like to have seen some method to secure this, but Lacie does at least include a spare one in the retail box. 
For PC users there's a USB 3.0 port behind the plug and this serves as a useful backup for the Thunderbolt connection as well.

One concern for any drive that has an integrated cable is the fact that any device is only as strong as its weakest point, which in the case of this drive is likely to be the cable. Fortunately though, if the Thunderbolt cable or plug malfunction in any way then you have the USB3 connection as a backup. Western Digital's My Passport Pro also features an integrated Thunderbolt cable, but nothing else - this lack of redundancy would worry me on a long photography expedition to a remote location.

In fact, I’ve just returned from a two-week wildlife photography trip in British Columbia where the nearest town was over 4 hours away. That’s exactly the kind of situation you don’t want to be in without some kind of backup, so I was thankful to have both USB and Thunderbolt options. On that particular trip I also found myself staying in a remote cabin that didn’t have any mains electrical power. I was able to charge my laptop’s battery at a nearby lodge and thankfully the Rugged Thunderbolt drive is bus powered, meaning there was no need for an additional power supply when I needed to use it.

When I’m on those kind of photographic expeditions it’s important to me that I have one copy of my images on me at all times. We all know that you should create backups of your photos, but it’s no good if you then leave them all in the same place. For this particular trip I was photographing grizzly bears from a kayak. Long days in all weather conditions, hauling gear in and out of kayaks and pickup trucks. It was often wet and dirty work but that’s exactly the kind of trip the Rugged drive is designed for. With limited room for gear, I simply put the drive into an unpadded dry bag and tossed it into the bottom of the kayak every day with no concerns and no problems.  

Speed Test 

To really put the drive through its paces I ran a selection of tests on my late 2013 27-inch Apple iMac using AJAs System Test tool, the very same tool that LaCie uses for providing transfer speeds in its specifications. Sustained read and write speeds vary depending on the size of the file that you are writing, but with smaller files I was able to achieve a read speed of 140MB/s and a write speed up to 148MB/s over Thunderbolt. For a 5400rpm drive this is an excellent score, and to underline that I also tested a Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt drive that I happened to have in the office. This produced speeds of only 73.2MB/s and 83.2MB/s for read and write respectively.

I repeated the tests using the USB 3.0 connection and the LaCie Rugged drive again produced excellent scores, this time recording a 138.2MB/s read speed and 144.7MB/s for writing. The GoFlex on the other hand could only manage 54.7MB/s and 59.3MB/s meaning the LaCie is very nearly twice as fast as my previous portable bus powered drive. It's also worth noting that the speeds that I recorded in this test were actually faster than LaCie's claimed speed provided in drive's specifications.  

Included software

When the drive is first plugged in you have the choice to use your platform's built-in disk management software to format it, or running LaCie's own setup program. Normally I would simply format to HFS+ using my Mac's Disk Utility program, but this time I wanted to test out the included password protection software so I ran the LaCie setup tool instead. The first part of the setup tool allows you to select how much of the disk you want to be formatted to work with a Mac, and how much for Mac/PC sharing with Fat32 formatting. A simple slider sets the percentage for each partition and I appreciated the fact this was brought to the user's attention. It's not something I would normally think about, but having a small amount of space on the drive set aside for PC sharing might very well come in handy one day.

The second step allowed me to choose which of the included software I wanted to install. LaCie Private Public, the 256-bit AES encryption software, or Intego, the company's automatic backup software. Since I'm running mine with a Mac, which comes with Time Machine backup included, I was only interested in the password protection software.

The Private Public installation allows you to specify a size for your 'vault' and once created, it appears as a separate drive in your file browser. Since the Rugged Thunderbolt drive is designed to be portable, it makes a lot of sense to have some way to protect your most private files from theft while you are traveling. You could for example, keep copies of your travel itinerary, passport and drivers license locked away safely in the password protected folder. 

Having played around with this, and found myself quite satisfied with it, I decided to reformat the drive with a different split between HFS+ and Fat32. Unfortunately it was at this point that I discovered the setup assistant that comes on the drive is a one-time thing. For some reason there is no option to reformat a drive, and launching it a second time only gave me options to install the bundled software again. You'd better make sure you choose wisely when you first decide on how much space, if any, you want to allocate for your PC 'share'.

Summing Up

The Rugged Thunderbolt drive is a fast and portable drive that would suit any photographer who spends a lot of time traveling or working in inclement environments. The inclusion of a captive Thunderbolt cable gives you one less thing to have on your packing list, and the solid build of the drive instills confidence when it comes to tossing it into a suitcase, or the bottom of a bag on a busy shoot. Apart from the improved build over the previous model of Rugged drive that I personally owned, I'm also very impressed by the transfer speeds of this drive.

What we like:

  • Built-in Thunderbolt cable
  • Excellent speed for a 5400rpm hard disk
  • Included password protection software
  • Solid build and all-round resistance to abuse and environment

What we don't like:

  • No 7200rpm hard disk option this time
  • Rear port cover not attached to the Thunderbolt cable
  • Included setup assistant doesn't cater for re-formatting
  • A little too bulky

Rating: