The new LaCie Rugged portable hard drive is, in its solid-state drive version, extremely fast. That's number one. For users looking to store and transport files as quickly as possible, such as music and video professionals, this drive is great. However, if you're looking for a cheap way to back up to an external drive, this is not the drive for you. Now that we have that out of the way, let's take a look at what the LaCie Rugged is all about.
The new LaCie is ultimately a modest upgrade on the prior version and visually the same a basic design that it's been selling for years. New on this unit is a built-in Thunderbolt cable that wraps around the product, tucking under a protective cover (which is also a new addition) that goes over the USB 3.0 port.
The company says the permanently affixed cable is meant to ensure that on-the-go users never have to search through a bag of cables to find the right one. As a bonus, the drive has new IP54 protection — basically, a specification that says the drive provides protection against 6-foot drops and from dust, light, water, though only if the protective cover is in place (this can be used when the drive is active because of the attached cord).
The drive has a three-year warranty (up from two), which means that if it isn't trashed, it should be covered. As a bonus, it's more or less immune to bumps while in use. That isn't the case with traditional platter-based drives.
Testing over Thunderbolt with the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, my LaCie Rugged 500 GB tester unit reported consistent write speeds of 336 MB/s and with reads near 385 MB/s (Figure A). This is supremely quick for an external drive, and comparable speeds are really only available with more expensive and less portable solutions.
Blackmagic Disk Speed Test.
Internal SSD storage in recent vintage Macs will be quite a bit faster, so it's always going to be better to boot from the internal storage and use the LaCie as a scratch disk or for storing video files that need high-speed access. For comparison, my 2013-vintage MacBook Air read/write speeds in excess of 700 MB/s, nearly double of the LaCie, with a 2013 iMac reporting slightly slower results.
The LaCie Rugged does have both Thunderbolt 1 and USB 3.0 connectivity, with similar throughput — however, utilizing the USB connectivity will have a small hit on CPU performance. For many power users, USB ports are more scarce than Thunderbolt ports in a portable environment, but it's good to have the option. Note there there isn't a USB 3.0 cable included in the box.
The biggest hurdle for the LaCie Rugged is its price. The 500 GB SSD version is competitively priced with similar drives at $500, while a 250 GB version is $300. The most direct competitor, the 512 GB Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ is available on Amazon for $780.
For many users, these prices simply aren't worth the money, because you're essentially paying for speed, not storage. The price of solid-state drives has plummeted in recent years, but it still can't hold a candle to platter-based versions.
For example, Amazon sells a Western Digital 2 TB portable USB 3.0 drive for just $110. It has four times the storage at a quarter of the price, but in a much slower container.
LaCie also sells hard disk versions of the Rugged Thunderbolt, in 1 TB ($220) and 2 TB ($300) versions. There are considerably cheaper alternatives out there, though not necessarily in portable Thunderbolt form.
The 1 TB and 2 TB HDD versions are available now from LaCie's website and elsewhere, while the 250 GB and 500 GB SSD versions will be widely available sometime in the next few weeks.
Does the new LaCie Rugged portable hard drive have a place in your organization? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.