At first glance, LaCie's new Rugged Thunderbolt drive doesn't look much different from it's predecessor the Rugged USB 3.0 Thunderbolt Series, but the company has made some improvements to this iconic drive. The two biggest differences are the addition of a captive Thunderbolt cable and a new removable cap that conceals the cable and covers the USB 3.0 port.
The cap is made of the same orange, non-slip, rubbery material that surrounds the Rugged's edges and gives the drive an IP 54 protection rating against dust and splashing water. Removing the cap reveals a USB 3.0 port and the captive Thunderbolt cable (also orange in color). You can pull the Thunderbolt cable from under the cap and then replace the cover to protect the USB 3.0 port while connected via Thunderbolt. If you don't like or need the protective cap you can easily detach it. If you lose the cap, there's a spare included in the box. Neat.
The captive cable is a good length, enough to reach Thunderbolt ports without any straining. Returning the cable to its hiding spot is easy, and a little magnet hidden beneath the rubber holds the male end of the Thunderbolt cable in place.
The Rugged Thunderbolt is bus-powered over both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt--having two powered connection options is great. USB 3.0 is much more common than Thunderbolt, especially on non-Apple products. With only a single Thunderbolt port, the Rugged needs to be placed at the end of the chain.
LaCie also points out the height you can accidentally drop the drive from is now 2 meters instead of 1.2. I dropped the drive several times from heights above six feet, and the Rugged is still in working order. A couple of the drops were on asphalt, and there isn't any visible damage to the drive. But the punishment didn't stop there. With the cap in place, I kicked dirt all over the drive and didn't find any debris in the ports after brushing it off.
There's no way to forget the cable, so long as you're down with Thunderbolt.
The performance of the drive is primo; in our real world tests of the 500GB SSD model, the Rugged Thunderbolt was among the top performing portable drives we've tested. We found little performance difference between the USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt interfaces, which isn't surprising given that the Rugged Thunderbolt is a single drive product.
Mildly interesting though, USB 3.0 was slightly faster than Thunderbolt when writing files, and a bit slower than Thunderbolt when reading. Regardless, the speeds we saw using either interface were highly consistent.
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