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LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain Portable Drive review: Rugged design meets extreme performance

LaCie's latest version of the Rugged Thunderbolt portable drive proves to be tough enough for any harsh environments while still delivering super-fast performance. Its innovative, built-in cable design is a bonus.

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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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LaCie's latest Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain is the new height among portable drives, in terms of both design and performance.

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9.0

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain Portable Drive

The Good

The LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain Portable Drive has extremely fast Thunderbolt performance, innovative casing design, and also supports USB 3.0.

The Bad

The SSD version of the drive is pricey, and its USB 3.0 performance is not the best on the market.

The Bottom Line

If you want to keep your data safe from handling mishaps while getting the top Thunderbolt performance on the market, look no further than the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain portable drive.

The storage device has two layers of casing to protect it against dust, water, and shocks -- even when in operation -- and now has a built-in Thunderbolt cable that's well hidden along its sides. In my testing, the solid-state drive (SSD) version proved to be the fastest portable drive on the market.

The only drawback of the drive is its hefty price: about $300 (which converts to £175/AU$320) and $500 (£290/AU$535) for 250GB and 500GB, respectively, for the SSD version. There's also a hard-drive-based version that currently goes for $220 (£130/AU$235) and $300 (£175/AU$320) for 1TB and 2TB, respectively, that isn't as fast as the SSD-based version. But if you can afford that, and want something super-fast to edit your HD content, you'll find the new drive second to none.

Pricing in other markets is not available at the time of review. For more options, however, check out the alternatives in this top list of best portable drives on the market.

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The new Rugged Thunderbolt Drive comes with a lid that seals the internal drive's port from dust and moisture. Dong Ngo/CNET

Innovative all-terrain protection design

The Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain is the successor to the Rugged USB 3.0 Thunderbolt series . While the similar name might be confusing, the new drive's design is distinctively different from its predecessor's.

Similar to the previous model, the new Rugged Thunderbolt comes with two layers of protection. The outer layer is a removable bright-orange rubber protective case that protects the edges to keep the drive safe from shocks and drops. This case now has a watertight cover that seals the drive's USB 3.0 port from water or dust. When you use the drive with a Thunderbolt port, however, this cover can be put back in its place, meaning that the drive is protected even when it's in operation.

Drive type External Thunderbolt portable
Connector options Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, USB 2.0
Available capacities 250GB (SSD), 500GB (SSD), 1TB (HDD), 2TB (HDD)
Product dimensions

3.5 x 5.5 x 1 in (89 x 140 x 24 mm)

Weight

HHD version: 12.3oz (350g) | SSD version: 8.8oz (280g)

Capacity of test unit 500GB (SSD)
OSes supported Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later, Windows 7 or later

Along the sides of this outer casing runs a groove in which the drive's built-in Thunderbolt cable is hidden. This cable is permanently attached to the drive so there's no Thunderbolt port on the drive and it doesn't require a separate Thunderbolt cable to work. To keep your desk from cluttering, you actually pull just part of the cable out, instead of all the way, to plug it into the host computer.

I find this built-in cable great in terms of design, and similar to that of the WD My Passport Pro , which doesn't support USB 3.0 or have a protective outer casing.

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The drive comes with two protective layers: soft rubber gel on the outside and rugged aluminum on the inside. Dong Ngo/CNET

When the outer casing is removed, you'll find the rugged aluminum chassis. LaCie says this layer further keeps the internal storage safe from drops and being crushed in case the drive is run over by a car or even a truck.

Technically, the Rugged Thunderbolt is MIL-compliant, meaning it can protect data against accidental drops of up to 6.6 feet (2 meters). With the rubber cover on, the drive provides IP 54-level protection against dust and water.

Flexible file formats, helpful software

Out of the box, the Rugged Thunderbolt comes with a small partition containing the setup software. You need to run this software to format the drive before you can use it. The software allows you to format the drive for Windows, Macs, or both (two separate partitions). In my trial, the formatting process took just a few seconds to complete. Note that you can manually format the drive, using the operating system's built-in tool, such as Disk Utility in Mac OS X, instead of using the setup software.

On top of that, the drive also includes LaCie Private Public software, which protects the data against loss or theft with AES 256-bit encryption.

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While similar, the new Rugged Thunderbolt is much more advanced than the previous model (left). Dong Ngo/CNET

The drive also includes a standard Micro-USB 3.0 cable and works with either a USB port or a Thunderbolt port at a time. It's bus-powered, meaning there's no need for a separate power adapter. Note that since there's no extra Thunderbolt port, in a daisy-chain setup, the Rugged Thunderbolt can only be used at the end of the chain. It works with both Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 standards.

Performance

The new Rugged Thunderbolt dethroned the recently reviewed Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ as the fastest portable drive on the market. I tested only the SSD version of the drive and its performance blew me away.

When used with Thunderbolt, the drive registered the sustained real-world copy speed of almost 300Mbps for writing and more than 330Mbps for reading, noticeably faster than the runner-up.

CNET Labs Thunderbolt performance

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain 296.96 332.80Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ 284 308LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt 179 181WD My Book VelociRaptor Duo 192 178WD My Passport Pro 180 170Elgato Thunderbolt SSD 130 169WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo 156 167LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 Thunderbolt series 150.07 154.90Pegaus J2 84 153
  • Write
  • Read
Note: Measured in megabytes per second

When used with USB 3.0, it also did very well, scoring some 155 Mbps for writing and 227Mbps for reading, about the third fastest on the market.

CNET Labs' USB 3.0 external drive performance

Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ 242.9 289.53Seagate Backup FAST 222.5 232.74LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain 155.7 227.43Toshiba Canvio Slim II 118.8 118.49WD My Passport Ultra 118.5 117.87LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 Thunderbolt series 92.29 112.23Silicon Power Armor A15 113.0 112.09Seagate Slim 110.4 111.49LaCie Christofle Sphere 105.5 111.43Seagate Backup Plus 90.94 110.1WD My Password Slim 107.7 107.89Canvio Connect 97.4 97.1
  • Write
  • Read
Note: Measured in megabytes per second

As its design indicates, the new Rugged is more of a Thunderbolt drive and its USB 3.0 port is just a backup connection. For this reason, as far as performance is concerned, it's for now the fastest portable drive on the market. In all, I find the Rugged Thunderbolt totally worth the investment for those needing an ultra-fast, rugged, and compact storage device.

Conclusion

The new LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain Portable Drive is an excellent find for those needing a tough storage device thanks to its design, performance, and portability. And for professionals, such as filmmakers, the SSD-based version of the drive will save them a lot of time, and potential data loss from handling mishaps.

Note that the drive is a single-volume storage device, so make sure you back up its content on a regular basis.

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9.0

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt All-Terrain Portable Drive

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 9Performance 10Support 7