Every so often, a company will get so caught up designing a new product that it loses sight of its basic utility. Unfortunately, such is the case with LaCie's new 320GB Mobile Hard Drive. LaCie enlisted the help of French product designer Philippe Starck to help bring about a new kind of external hard drive made out of 2 millimeters of sleek aluminum that unfortunately weighs twice as much as the competition. The $100 drive performed well in our speed transfer tests, but the user experience is once again flawed by a strange cable storage system and a bulky USB 2.0 plug. Fashionistas and design geeks will no doubt fall in love with the LaCie Starck Mobile Hard Drive, but utilitarian techies and cost-conscious consumers will be happier with the Fujitsu HandyDrive, which provides increased storage space for less money in a much lighter casing.
Design and features
LaCie's history with high-fashion, low-function consumer products are consistently hit or miss here at CNET. While products like the LaCie IamaKey USB flash drive and the classic Triple-Interface Rugged All-Terrain Hard Drive received excellent reviews, other products, including this Starck Mobile Hard Drive, join the ranks of LaCie's poor-sounding USB speakers and other products that are mostly style without any substance.
|Drive type||2.5-inch external USB flash hard drive|
|Connector options||USB 2.0|
|Size (LWH)||5.4 x 3.6 x 0.7 inches|
|Available capacities||320GB, 500GB|
|Capacity of test unit||320GB|
|OSes supported||Microsoft Windows, Mac OS|
Still, there's no denying the time and effort put into designing such a beautiful product. The 2.5-inch hard drive is wrapped in 2 millimeters of polished aluminum that protects it from hits, drops, and spills, while also preventing the drive from overheating. It also has an integrated USB cable that unfolds from one side so you'll never have to worry about bringing an extra cord on the run again. The inlaid logo and regal gray finish exude class and style, but the fun comes to a halt when you actually use the drive.
The first fumble is the weight of the drive, which weighs a massive 355 grams--more than twice the size of the 175-gram Fujitsu HandyDrive. First and foremost, this device is geared toward frequent travelers who deserve a sleek, functional, and portable solution for extra storage. We'll assume that they already have enough weight in their carry-on without having to lug around almost a pound of extra aluminum. LaCie will surely argue that the aluminum is there to encase the drive in 2 millimeters of extra protection from the elements, but to that we offer the Hitachi SimpleTough portable drive that can withstand a 10-foot drop and 1 ton of pressure and still doesn't weigh as much as the LaCie.
Like the Hitachi SimpleTough, the LaCie also includes a USB 2.0 cable that folds right into the top of the drive. We appreciate the convenience of a built-in cord, and the end of the plug itself has an extra-thick piece that helps keep it snug inside, but the extra bulk is so obstructive to other cables in neighboring USB ports that we had to unplug and rearrange the back of our test computer in order to accommodate the faulty design. This oversight is further proof of LaCie's misdirected focus on aesthetics rather than usability.
The drive automatically launches the LaCie setup assistant when you plug it into your computer for the first time. This application gives you a brief rundown of the different partition and formatting types, including NTFS, HFS+, and FAT32, then formats the drive according to your needs. The drive also includes a preloaded copy of the Genie Backup Assistant, a simple backup tool that uses a folder-based backup and incremental restoration points to keep your data safe. Mac OS and 64-bit Windows users are out of luck, as the software only works with Windows 2000, XP (32 and 64-bit), and 32-bit Windows Vista.
Cost per gigabyte
The Starck Mobile Drive comes in two capacities, a 320GB version for $100 and a 500GB model for $140. Using our 320GB test drive, we calculate the cost to be 31 cents per gigabyte. Compared with other external hard drives, that price is on the higher side of average.
As always, we performed a simple data transfer test and compared the LaCie to four other external drives in a similar price range. According to the chart below, the Starck Mobile Drive places just above the 27.5 MBps Transcend StoreJet 25f, but that's not to say that the drive is slow by any means. A simple numbers comparison shows that the differences are so minor that you most likely won't be able to tell unless you're transferring 10GB or more at a time.
|USB Read (MB/s)||USB Write (MB/s)|
Service and support
LaCie backs the Starck Mobile Hard Drive with a two-year warranty that covers parts and labor. Telephone support is offered Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST, but requires a tool to connect. You can also create a support ticket on the LaCie Web site. A two-year warranty is acceptable for an external hard drive, but we always prefer three years to ensure the physical integrity of a portable device made to withstand the abuse of daily transport.