The LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt/USB-C is heavy on compatibility, light on speed

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posted Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 10:31 AM EDT

 
 

LaCie’s Rugged is one of the staples of photo storage thanks to its long tenure as a product and its iconic orange bumper exterior. Over the last few years, LaCie has expanded the number of Rugged models available, and their latest, the Rugged Thunderbolt/USB-C, is an attempt to give access to the drive regardless of what kind of computer you have. It features the same iconic look and feel, but three different connection options: Thunderbolt 2, USB-C and USB 3.0.

The build quality and form factor of this particular model, one of six Rugged models currently available from LaCie, is exactly what you would expect from their shock/water/drop resistant line of portable drives (water resistance is IP54, which is protection from “splashing water”). It is a steel rectangle protected by a bright orange rubber padding that protects the drive from a drop from up to six and a half feet. It can also withstand the weight of a vehicle with its crush resistance of up to 1-ton.

 
 

It features a built-in, wrap-around Thunderbolt 2 cable as well as a USB-C port. That USB-C port can be used direct with a USB-C compatible computer, or you can use the included USB-C to USB-3.0 cable to connect it to just about any computer on the market. This it the main selling point of this particular Rugged: no matter what computer you are presently operating, you will be able to access this drive. There isn’t really another compact and durable drive on the market that can say that. If you were to ship images, video or data across the country to another office or client, this drive would assure that the recipient would have a near 100% chance of being able to access that data without question. The only exception is FireWire, but the use of that cable is far diminished, and those who have a preference for it will likely also have access to USB-3.0.

 
 

The Rugged line has often been a choice for shipping in the mail due to its ability to withstand quite a bit more roughing-up than most any other hard drive on the market. I have traveled extensively with this particular model over the past two months, keeping it in a variety of pockets in backpacks and checked luggage, and have found it to be just as reliable as the day I removed it from the box. Under normal wear and tear, including a few tumbles off a desk onto the floor, this drive will not let you down.

As mentioned, the main differentiator of this particular model is its connectivity and modularity over speed. Though it’s not slow by any stretch, it’s not nearly the fastest Rugged LaCie has produced. For this review, we had the 2 terabyte HDD version (it is also available in 4 and 5 terabyte models). This Rugged model is unfortunately not available in SSD, but as mentioned this drive has its focus on compatibility and modularity, not speed.

Speaking of speed, this Rugged model is rated to reach up to a 130MB/s transfer rate, but given that it has three different connection possibilities, we tested each to see if it was able to meet that speed with each cable:

USB 3.0 (using the included USB-C to USB 3.0 cable):

USB-C:

Thunderbolt 2:

In all cases, we actually tested the Rugged Thunderbolt/USB-C to exceed the 130MB/s transfer rate, with only one exception on the read speed with the USB-C cable. It’s quite rare to see any form of memory, be it card or drive, to meet let alone exceed posted speed rates, so this was quite a pleasant surprise.

On the downside, even though we exceeded the 130MB/s, the drive is not particularly fast. It’s good for storing data for transfer, but is often much too slow for using as a working drive. For those photographers who are editing single images, you might not care. But for anyone viewing a large library of images or editing video, you will notice a significant slowdown when compared to a computer’s built-in SSD (like on a new MacBook pro) or other higher-speed working drives.

I tested this by attempting to cull images taken on a Sony A9 after a few hours shooting (which amounts to several hundred images) and the slowdown in both Lightroom and Bridge was very noticeable when compared to looking at those files on the native SSD or even on my iMac with a fusion drive.

As disappointing as this is, it’s not unexpected of this product. As mentioned, the speed is clearly marked on the product box and literature, and the use case for this drive is not as a “working drive.” It is best suited for storing files or transferring data between computers. If you want durability and speed, I recommend the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB 3.0 SSD model, which can churn data in the high 380MB/s.

 
 

The price point is a bit more than one would hope, at $220 for the 2 TB version, $300 for the 4TB version, and $350 for the 5 TB version, but you do get what you pay for: reliability, durability and compatibility that is thus far pretty much unmatched across competitor products.

Pros:

  • Compatible with USB (Type A), USB-C and Thunderbolt 1 & 2
  • Lightweight and durable (splash, dust, crush and drop resistant)
  • Read and write speeds up to 130 Mb/s
  • Easily identifiable thanks to bright orange color

Cons:

  • A bit pricey
  • Not fast enough to use as working drive

If you're looking for a solid option to share data among computers with different ports, it’s going to be hard to find a better and more versatile option than the Rugged Thunderbolt/USB-C. Though not particularly fast, it’s excellent at being a product that can interact with just about every computer on the market today. With the right formatting, which is easy to do, you can even set it up to be readable across both Mac and PC, giving you total coverage on accessibility.