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CalDigit Tuff review: One tough (and fast) portable drive

Always dropping your data? The CalDigit Tuff is the portable drive for you.

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Dong Ngo
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Dong Ngo

SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

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If your data is in danger due to the nature of your workplace, or you simply tend to throw things in the air when excited, the CalDigit Tuff is for you.

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CalDigit Tuff

The Good

The CalDigit Tuff portable drive is superfast and durable. It includes cables for both USB-C and regular USB ports.

The Bad

Expensive. Doesn't have encryption. The SSD version caps at just 1TB and Windows users will need to reformat before use.

The Bottom Line

The CalDigit Tuff is an excellent portable drive if you need a fast external storage device to use in rough, dirty or wet environments.

Living up to its name, this is one tough portable drive that can protect data against drops, dust and water submersion. And its solid-state version, which currently costs $500, £500 or AU$500 for the single 1TB capacity, is extremely fast. The Tuff is also available in a larger but slower 2TB hard drive-based version that currently goes for $180, £190 or AU$180.

On the other hand, if you work in a regular office or always handle your storage devices with care, the Tuff could be overkill. And it's expensive. Most other portable drives, like the WD My Passport, or the Seagate Backup Plus, or even the SSD-based Samsung T3, are a lot cheaper with more storage space.

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The Tuff comes in two versions: 1TB SSD and 2TB hard drive.

Dong Ngo/CNET

Tough design

CalDigit says the Tuff passed the MIL-STD-810G standard test for ruggedness, meaning you can drop it multiple times from up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) without damaging it. In my trial, I threw it around many times and didn't cause any damage or data loss at all.

It's also IP57 rated, meaning it can handle dusty environments as well as being submerged in some 3 feet (1 meter) of water for up to 30 minutes. I actually left it in a full bathtub for a couple of hours and it survived without any problem. Effectively, this is the first waterproof portable drive I've seen. Other rugged drives, like the LaCie Rugged, can only handle splashes.

All that toughness is warranted by the drive's hard aluminum casing and a removable rubber outer shell that comes in black, green, blue, orange and gray. Each drive comes with a shell, but you can buy extra shells for $15 each if you want to change the look of the drive.

The Tuff is about the size of a typical portable 2.5-inch drive. It's not as compact as the Samsung T3 or the Glyph Atom but it's not too bulky, either. It's bus-powered, meaning you need to carry just a data cable as it draws juice from a computer's USB port to power the drive.

USB-C-ready, no security feature

The Tuff supports USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) and has a USB-C port allowing it to work with all new computers that have USB-C or Thunderbolt 3. If you have an older computer that just has regular USB-A ports you can use the Tuff, too, since it includes a USB-C to USB-A cable. It also work even with a USB 2.0 port, albeit at much slower speed.

Out of the box, the drive is preformatted for Mac. If you want to use it with a Windows computer, you will first need to reformat it into NTFS, which takes just a few seconds. Or you can format it using exFAT if you want to use it with both platforms interchangeably.

The Tuff doesn't feature encryption, which is a bit disappointing. You don't have the option to shield the data it contains from prying eyes in case of loss or theft.

Fast performance

I tested both the SSD and HDD versions of the drive and they were fast. The SSD version was in fact the fastest among all single-volume portable drive I've reviewed, with sustained copy speed of some 460 megabytes per second. The HDD-based version, as expected, was slower at 140MBps, but still quite fast.

CNET Labs USB 3.1 portable drive performance

Glyph Atom RAID SSD 674.8 459.89Caldigit Tuff (SSD) 462.7 420.48Glyph Atom SSD 421.4 269.45Sandisk Extreme 9000 Portable SSD 312.6 259.53Samsung Portable SSD T3 311.1 240.91Kingston DataTraveler Ultimate GT 165.1 326.94LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain 155.7 227.43Caldigit Tuff (HDD) 140.9 140.79G-Drive Mobile USB-C (USB 3.1) 109.9 125.75WD My Passport (Fall 2016) 103.4 108.56
  • Write
  • Read
Note: Mesured in megabytes per second. Longer bars mean faster speed.

Should I get it

The CalDigit Tuff is a niche drive. If you need a tough storage device, and only then, it's a great investment. But if you just want a fast drive and it doesn't matter if it's vulnerable to drops and water damage -- which is the case of the majority of storage and electronic devices -- you can find many alternatives that are cheaper while offering more storage space.

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CalDigit Tuff

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 7Performance 9