In most ordinary circumstances, you can equate hard disk design with the word "dull". At the end of the day, it's a hard disk, a bit of external storage designed to let you carry data from one place to another where it's not practical for either bandwidth or security reasons to send it over a network. Thankfully, nobody told Lacie, and specifically industrial designer Neil Poulton this, as the new Lacie Rugged All-Terrain Hard Drive is something of a visual charmer, as well as being built with physical sturdiness in mind.
The drive itself is encased in a tough and ever so slightly flexible aliminium casing, surrounded by a tough rubber outer shell in eye-catching orange that also serves as something of a shock protection mechanism. One minor flaw with the design lies in the fact that it's not a terribly small unit. At 90 x 25 x 145 mm, it's not entirely pocket sized in the way that something like the Seagate Pocket Drive or even an iPod is.
The rear of the unit's casing shows off its three way connection model, with socket plugs for USB 2.0, Firewire 400 and Firewire 800 connectors, as well as an additional power plug that can be used with systems where the USB Bus power is insufficient. Whether you're using USB or Firewire connectivity, the entire unit is powered from your connection, so there's no need to carry around a chunky power supply along with the unit. Lacie also sells a variant of the drive that offers only USB 2.0 connectivity.
Lacie sells the Rugged Hard Drive in three capacities -- 80GB (5400rpm, AU$399), 100GB (7200rpm, AU$689) and 120GB (5400rpm, AU$649) -- which is a touch on the lower side for a modern hard drive, although it should be plenty for most mobile applications. The unit we tested came with an 80GB 5400RPM hard drive with 8MB of internal cache. Lacie lists it as being capable of up to 100MB/s using the Firewire 800 interface, and predictably half that for Firewire 400 users. USB 2.0 connectivity tops out at a claimed 60MB/s, although all the above figures really only apply to small file transfers. Lacie's own notes on the product drop those speeds to a slightly more realistic 40MB/s for Firewire 800, 30MB/s for Firewire 400 and 30MB/s for USB 2.0 transfers over a lengthier period.
On the software side, the Rugged Hard drive ships with utilities for compatibility with older Windows and Mac systems; users with Windows 2000 or better and any variant of OS X should find the Rugged Hard Drive to be essentially plug and play -- although there is a minor catch there for Windows users. Simple backup software is also provided, along with an extensive product manual in PDF format.
In a terribly Windows-centric product world, it's interesting to see a product that's been designed with Mac users in mind first. Specifically for Windows users, the hard drive in the Rugged Hard drive is shipped pre-formatted for the Mac HFS+ file system, meaning that Windows users will have to re-partition and format the drive before it'll show up properly in Windows Explorer. This isn't rocket science, but at the same time we can see some users struggling with it, and it's a touch annoying that the procedure isn't covered in the supplied quick start guide; you need to check the PDF manual for the full rundown.
In testing with the USB 2.0 interface, we didn't quite hit the high mark of 30MB/s claimed by Lacie; in fact we averaged out at around half that for a sustained transfer of an 11GB folder of files in our transfer tests. That's still fairly impressive for a 5200RPM drive, especially an external one.
As to the drive's rugged status, it's a touch hard to accurately test the durability of a drive without destroying it in the process -- and it's not as though Lacie is claiming that it'll survive a direct rocket attack, or anything of the sort, even with the rather silly "all terrain" monicker. Still, in the name of science, we dropped the drive during transfers multiple times with no ill effects -- not even a scuff on the rubber shocks on the corners, in fact. Even dropping it flat side just saw the aluminium bounce slightly inwards -- but that flexibility absorbed the majority of the impact forces, keeping the drive within nice and safe.
If you're in the market for a portable hard drive that should be able to survive a few nasty knocks, this is the one to go for.