Review: LaCie 1TB Rugged XL external hard drive

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One of LaCie’s most recognizable products, the Rugged line of external HDDs has been around for ages, but only recently expanded into the 3.5″ HDD realm with this 1TB unit. The design is much the same, but obviously it’s significantly larger — and more spacious. But is it worth the premium over other 1TB drives?

Big ‘n grippy
There’s not too much I can say that hasn’t been said about previous models. The Rugged XL is very similar to them in every way but size. Whereas the previous drives were paperback-sized, this one is more like a hardcover.

The drive is as heavy as you’d expect a 3.5″ drive to be, but feels well-balanced, and since it’s meant to lie down instead of stand up, gives a sense of stability. Its little feet, which keep it from sitting flush on the table, give it a good grip on whatever surface you put it on. It also has a very healthy glow when turned on — maybe a little too healthy. Unplug before going to bed if you don’t want to dream in orange.

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More ruggedesque, really

Its size is the first indication that while it is an external drive, it’s not really a go-everywhere thing. I mean, it will go everywhere, but like most other 3.5″ drives, it’s bulky and isn’t bus-powered. So what’s the point? Well, it’s a good-looking, relatively spacious drive that you really don’t have to worry about spilling your Diet Pepsi on or knocking off the table.

“Rugged,” though, is probably a bit of an exaggeration. To be sure, it’s more rugged than cheaper drives, which have no shock absorption at all and may be vulnerable to a splash of wine, but it’s not rugged in the true sense of the word. The rubber bumper helps, but the aluminum shell is thin (can’t keep the heat in after all) and the vents on the bottom provide a weak point (though they are shielded to keep crumbs and grit out). The ports are also exposed, which I didn’t really expect — a flap or little hanging port plugs might be ugly-looking, but it would prevent a lot of trouble if this thing spent a lot of time in bags.

I didn’t really test the shock absorption, because I wanted to keep this thing in one piece, but it’s established in reviews of LaCie’s other drives that it can take a minor hit pretty well as long as it’s off. It’s well-put-together, in any case, and the rubber ain’t gonna dent any time soon.

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That said, I’d much rather have one of these (or their smaller brethren) with me in any situation but a controlled office-type environment. Coffee shop? This thing. On location? This thing. Outdoors? Well, maybe not this thing exactly, since you need to plug it in, but you get the idea.

Test drive

Setup was essentially non-existent, although a wizard did pop up the first time with the option of simply formatting in NTFS or having a separate partition in FAT32 to act as a go-between for Macs and Linux machines. Handy, but the second partition is limited to 32GB or less. I’m sure there’s a good reason for that, but it might have been really nice to split it down the middle and use this thing for both equally.

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volumes

I performed a few informal read/write tests, and found that the stated maxes of 30MB/s over USB2 and 80MB/s over eSATA were at least within normal tolerance ranges:

  • A 1GB file took about 34 seconds to transfer to the drive, and 31 to transfer from, which is right in line with the estimated 30MB/s.
  • 1GB of mp3s took significantly longer: a little less than a minute, averaging about 18MB/s, while transferring the mp3s from the drive took 50 seconds at 20MB/s.
  • 1GB of photos and mixed documents (about 2000 or so) took over a minute, averaging about 14MB/s, and transferred back in a minute flat, or about 16.5MB/s.

Not going to set the world on fire, but it didn’t seem to choke on anything. The “exchange” partition tended to copy large files slower and smaller files quicker. I didn’t test eSATA extensively because, if I’m honest, I forgot about it until just a few minutes ago, but a quick couple of copies put it at 60-70MB/s on average, more on the high end when transferring from the drive.

Check yourself before you write a check… from yourself

Now, this drive costs roundabout $140, which is a good $30 over the average price for a 1TB external these days. Is it worth the extra cost? Well, consider what you’re going to be doing with it. If it’s going to sit safe behind your monitor for a year, it’s probably not; it has no speed advantage and will take up more space on your desk due to its big footprint. But if you’re mobile, work in a shared space, or are just plain clumsy, it may be worth it to have one of these. Of course, its mobility is hampered by the fact that it’s not bus-powered, but if that’s not an issue either, go for it.

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