LaCie Rugged 80GB portable hard drive
Won't get lost in fog...
Exclusive Review LaCie was one of the first hard drive vendors to offer truly mobile products: compact external drives powered by the host computer so the only accessory you need is the connector cable. The down sides have always been a higher price than desktop, mains-powered parts, and usually lower capacities and speeds. But for many users - and not just notebook owners - the minimalism of mobile drives has proved compelling...
These days, the market's a crowded one. After pitching drives designed by the likes of FA Porsche, LaCie's latest mobile drive, the Rugged, is something of a throwback: like the original PocketDrive, it's wrapped in a rubber surround, the better to help it resist shocks, knocks and bumps. LaCie hasn't ignored its more recent fascination with industrial design, but in this instance that could work against it - the Rugged is bright orange.
In keeping with the name, the Rugged comes in a tan and green box that suggests outdoor, military usage. It describes the product within as "all-terrain". Had the Rugged come in a green colour - or even camouflage styling - it might have worked, but bright, almost fluorescent orange? No thanks. At least it won't go missing in fog, I suppose...
But let's not judge the book by its cover: it's what inside that counts, surely? Internally, the Rugged has 80, 100 or 120GB of raw, unformatted storage capacity. The disk platters spin at 5,400, 7,200 and 5,400rpm, respectively. LaCie says each as "8MB or greater" cache memory, suggesting some buyers may luck out with a 16MB model. The 80GB model I tested contained a Western Digital Scorpio WD800VE 2.5in drive with 8MB of cache.
WD claims its 5,400rpm model has the power characteristics of a 4,200rpm drive, but of more relevance here is its shock-protection techniques, such as the way it parks the read/write heads well away from the disk surfaces when the drive isn't in use, and its "whisper quiet" operation. It can also stand "more than 5lbs of pressure - nearly 1.5 times the industry average - without pinching vital internal components", the vendor claims.
All of which boost LaCie's claim for shock resistance, though I note the company's spec sheet warns: "Dropping is not recommended in operating mode." I can't answer to the drive's resistance to shocks, but my cautious 'couple of feet onto the desk' non-operating drop-test produced no ill effects. In places the silicone surround is no more than two or three millimetres thick, but it's stodgy enough on the lead edges and the places where a dropped drive is most likely to hit something. It'll give you cover against most accidents, I suspect, but we're not talking army-grade resilience.
The drive is quiet - you can feel a clear vibration from the drive's motor when it's moving data back and forth, but not much noise, and there's definitely none of the read/write head motion sounds I get from my PocketDrive and other notebook-oriented 2.5in HDDs.
Unlike the PocketDrive, there's no activity light, so having un-mounted the disk, you have to trust it's written the data and parked the heads before you yank the cable out. LaCie nicely bundles Firewire 400 and 800 cables, and a USB 2.0 link - all three interfaces are included on the back of the drive, alongside a power port. No AC adaptor is supplied. Instead, you get a USB-to-power cable is bundled, allowing USB 1.1 users with two free ports to power the disk to full speed.
The drive performed as well as can be expected. Connected to an 867MHz PowerBook G4, and using the bundled Firewire 400 cable, a 1.2GB folder containing almost 800 JPEG images took an average of 1m 43.08s to copy to the drive, and then a further 1m 40.85s to duplicate on the drive - both timings yield throughputs of 11.9MBps and 12.16MBps, respectively.
For a more real-world test, I used Photoshop 8.0 CS to open nine identical 3840 x 2160, 2000dpi 16-bit per channel CMYK TIFFs - 569.7MB of image data in total. Opening the folder off the G4's 4,200rpm Ultra ATA-100 internal hard drive took 2m 5.25s; it took 1m 42.16s to open them from the Rugged. Of course, owners of notebooks or desktops with higher spin-speed drives and/or Serial ATA connections won't see the same benefit.
If the Rugged's performance seems reasonable, its price is another matter. LaCie is offering the drive for £179/$200, for which you get 80GB of raw storage, some shock-resistance and a trio of connection options. Freecom is offering its ToughDrive 80GB silicone-wrapped USB 2.0-only HDD for around £116 - less than two-thirds of the price of the Rugged, though it's based on a slower, 4,200rpm drive.
That leaves the Rugged buyer spending an extra £63 for the two Firewire ports and the orange colour-scheme. If you own a PC or a Mac with USB 1.1 ports, that's something you're going to have swallow, but it's hard to tell someone with a USB 2.0-era computer that it's worth paying the extra for Firewire 400 connectivity. The extra speed of Firewire 800 probably justifies the premium, but with Apple's new MacBook Pro lacking the Firewire 800 port that graced the machine's predecessor, it's questionable how much of a benefit that will be to high-end Mac notebook owners in the longer term.
LaCie does offer a USB 2.0-only version of the Rugged, for £139/$170, only £23 more than the slower, smaller-cache ToughDrive. I'd pay that for the extra speed, which on my system would amount, I'd say, to data transfers that are around 24 per cent faster.
You either like LaCie's Rugged colour scheme or you don't. Yes, it's cool, but even Mac users may prefer something a little more soberly styled and cheaper. The Rugged costs more than rival products, but the difference isn't so great to make it a deal-breaker. The higher price brings you better performance, for Mac users a Mac OS-friendly back-up application - not a feature usually found on competitors' products - and, in the case of the triple-interface version, Firewire 400 and 800 connectivity. Unlike some cheaper mobile drives, LaCie also provides a way to power the drive if your USB port's not up to scratch. ®