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LaCie RuggedKey review: LaCie RuggedKey

With good performance and a nice design, the LaCie RuggedKey is an excellent thumbdrive, despite its relatively high price tag.

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.
Dong Ngo
5 min read

Though key-fob storage devices have been available ever since the first thumbdrives were made years ago, LaCie is now turning this design into a new novelty with the RuggedKey.


LaCie RuggedKey

The Good

The water- and drop-resistant <b>LaCie RuggedKey</b> thumbdrive offers fast USB 3.0 speed and a practical keyring design.

The Bad

The LaCie RuggedKey doesn't float, caps at only 32GB, and is relatively expensive.

The Bottom Line

The LaCie RuggedKey is one of the best portable, ultracompact, storage devices on the market.

This new little flash-based storage device is basically a regular USB thumbdrive that is shaped like a key and comes with a keyring. The RuggedKey, however, differentiates itself from the rest of the crowd by being the second I've reviewed that supports USB 3.0 (the first being the Lexar Triton), and coming with an easily removable rubber cover that adds both style and high-level protection.

In my testing, the RuggedKey was fast, too, which is always the most important thing when it comes to a storage device. The RuggedKey also comes with a good bundle of software utilities, making it an excellent compact storage device despite the relatively high cost of $40 for 16GB (or $70 for 32GB). If you want something of similar physical size and performance but with up to 64GB of storage space, I also recommend the Lexar Triton.

Design and features

Drive type USB thumbdrive
Connector options USB 3.0, USB 2.0
Size (WHD) 2.09 x 1.06 x 0.83 in.
Weight 1.06 oz
Available capacities 16GB, 32GB
Capacity of test unit 16GB
OSes supported Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 / Mac OS X 10.6 or later (Software works with Intel Mac only)
Software included LaCie Private-Public; Backup software; one-to-one storage ratio with Wuala Secure Online Storage (1-year subscription)

One of the reasons I am not really a fan of keyfob USB thumbdrives is the risk that mine would scratch other devices, such as a smartphone, when I keep them together in my pocket. Or the USB drive itself would be scratched up by the real keys on the ring. With the LaCie RuggedKey drive, that's not a worry anymore, thanks to its thick protective case.

When in use, this case, made of a tough, rubbery material, turns the drive into a cylindrical object about the size of a stick of lip balm that's both good-looking and rugged. The case prevents dust and water from contacting the drive's USB head and keeps the thumbdrive inside safe from outside impacts.

In my trials, the drive easily survived multiple drops after I tossed it straight up in the air. LaCie says that the RuggedKey has been tested and has survived drops from 100 meters (about 330 feet), which I didn't find surprising after spending some time with the drive. What I didn't expect, however, is that the case doesn't help the drive stay afloat. I put it in a bathtub and it sank pretty fast. The drive on the inside was nice and dry, though.

Note that generally, USB thumbdrives can handle water submersion very well, even when they have no protective case; they'll often work again as long as you wait till they are completely drive before plugging them into a computer, but a little extra protection doesn't hurt, either.

The LaCie Private-Public software takes a long time to create a new secure partition, despite its short estimate.
The LaCie Private-Public software takes a long time to create a new secure partition, despite its short estimate. Screenshot by Dong Ngo/CNET

The RuggedKey's case can be easily pulled off (and put back on), revealing the actual thumbdrive, which looks just like any other thumbdrive: about the size of a regular house key with the USB male port at one end. The RuggedKey's port supports USB 3.0 and also works with USB 2.0 and the legacy original USB ports.

Out of the box the RuggedKey is formatted in FAT32, which works with both Macs and Windows computers. FAT32 can't handle files larger than 4GB, however, so if you want to carry large files on the drive, you'll need to reformat it into either NTFS or HFS+. Before you do that, make sure you back up the drive's included software applications; they are bundled on the drive itself.

The software package includes Intego Backup Assistant for Mac (though you might want to skip it and use Time Machine instead), Genie Timeline backup for Windows, and LaCie Private-Public security software.

LaCie Private-Public, first introduced with the LaCie FastKey, allows users when run for the first time to pick a password and format part of the drive's existing storage space into a separate partition that's protected with AES 256-bit encryption. You can choose the size of this new partition as long as it's smaller than the existing partition. The formatting process took a long time in my trials (15 minutes for a partition of 3.5GB), though it was supposed to take just a few minutes per the software's estimate. After that, a new partition with the default name "La-Private" is created. You now can use both the existing partition and the La-Private partition at the same time, with the latter requiring the password you created earlier before you can access it.

Apart from that, the RuggedKey comes with a one-year subscription to Wuala online backup, which offers the same amount of online storage as that of the RuggedKey, either 16GB or 32GB, depending on the capacity you get. After one year, Wuala costs about $4 a month for each 20GB of online storage.

The LaCie RuggedKey performed well in my tests, though its reading speed was much better than its writing speed.

When used with USB 3.0, the drive scored 42MBps for writing, the slowest among all USB 3.0 drives I've tested. In reading, however, it topped the charts with 117MBps. With USB 2.0, the drive performed more similarly to others with 27MBps for writing and 35MBps for reading, about average on the chart.

I noticed the RuggedKey became hot during heavy data transferring section but quickly cooled down once the job was done. This is rather normal for a thumbdrive that's made mostly of metal.

USB 3.0 external hard-drive performance (in MB per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
LaCie RuggedKey
LaCie FastKey
Lexar JumpDrive Triton
IoSafe Solo G3
Seagate Backup Plus
ioSafe SoloPro
LaCie Minimus USB 3.0
Clickfree C6
Seagate GoFlex Slim
HP Portable Hard Drive

USB 2.0 external hard-rive performance (in MB per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Clickfree C2N
Seagate GoFlex Slim
LaCie FastKey
LaCie Minimus USB 3.0
LaCie RuggedKey
Clickfree C6
Seagate Backup Plus
Seagate Satellite

With good performance and a nice design, the LaCie RuggedKey is an excellent thumbdrive, despite its relatively high price tag.


LaCie RuggedKey

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 9Performance 7Support 8