We’re in what I’d call a transitional period with many devices. The future is decided, and the standard USB plug is making it way out, for the new and improved USB Type-C design. The smaller form factor seems sensible, with tech getting smaller and smaller with each new generation and its increase in speed is a welcoming design (as is the symmetrical, ‘ain’t no wrong way to plug it in’ design).
The LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C comes in just a single flavor, at 5 terabytes of space. And while there are many other options within the product line (2TB Thunderbolt USB 3.0 or the 4TB Rugged Raid, for example), the Thunderbolt USB-C comes in as the largest and fastest option currently offered in the LaCie Rugged lineup.
The LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C sports the familiar design of its now iconic Rugged Line of drives first introduced years ago, and since become a staple of photography and videography sets all over the world. The orange design provides high visibility as well as protection from drops from upwards of 6ft. And while I didn’t test these numbers, I’ve certainly had my previous LaCie Rugged drives fall from my desk in the past, and landed with no damage. Additionally, the drive promises a 1-ton crushing resistance, as well as IP54 rated, which protects it from dust and dirt, as well as light water splashes.
Along with the rugged drive itself, the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C comes with a large variety of plugging options and cables out of the box. Integrated with the drive, is a thunderbolt cable, allowing for speed up to 30Gb/s (capability – see below for a better explanation), along with a Thunderbolt 3.0/USB3 Type-C cable to be plugged into the side port as needed. The added port on the side allows for plugging into an archaic USB2/3, futureproofing, and more importantly, past proofing the drive to be used on systems new and old.
The Elephant in the Room
The one thing that must be discussed before going too far into this review is a tech phrase known as bottlenecking. Bottlenecking is basically that your computer is only going to be as fast as the weakest link in the chain. That is, universally, your hard drive. Hard drives just cannot keep up with the speeds of processors, GPUs, and memory. That said, hard drives have changed significantly over the last ten years, and speeds have improved astronomically. From the standard spinning drives to SSD, and now M.2, hard drives are getting faster (and smaller) more than any other component in a computer. Even still, you’re not going to see radical performance out of a USB Type-C drive over a USB3 drive – or not yet at least.
To punch the numbers, USB Type-C offers speeds up to 10Gps (and the nearly identical plug, Thunderbolt 3.0 offers speeds four times as fast). Compared to the USB3, the Type-C plug provides twice the speed, in a much smaller form factor that also allows for 100 watts of power for charging. However, hard drive capabilities are far less for those numbers. On average, an SSD drive will reach speeds of around 500MB/sec, or around 4Gb/s, more than half the capability of USB3 Type-C. And while M.2 drives have already surpassed the speed capabilities of USB3 Type-C (And nearly Thunderbolt 3.0 as well), it still needs a PCI-e 3.0 slot to operate at those speeds, and still not even close to those speeds in an external design.
So what does that mean for the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C? It means it’s a fantastic drive for now, but still too young to reach the speed improvements that are on the near horizon. For reference, the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C has chosen space over speed, offering 5TBs of data on a 5400rpm drive. For now, there are few drives which can offer you better performance at five terabytes of capacity. But with M.2 drives becoming more and more popular, and at a fraction of the size to even SSD drives, one would hope that the storage will become faster, smaller, and at greater capacity sometime in the next year or two. So while the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C is an incredible drive, the future for external drives is far brighter than what even this drive can serve.
In short, the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C is a fast drive, even by today’s standards, but is largely built with storage in mind. Using independent speed tests, I was able to find numbers comparable to what is stated on LaCie’s website. When using Thunderbolt 3.0 or USB Type-C, speed reached around 125MB/s, meaning file transferring is blazing fast given this is a 54000rpm spinning drive, even when moving multiple gigabytes of data.
But this is all service level talks of hope. Is the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C a great drive? Absolutely. With USB3 Type-C indeed becoming the new standard for output ports on laptops and desktops, this makes for a great transitional product for those who have plenty of files to backup, and no time to wait for the next generation of hard drive options to become affordable.
But that doesn’t mean it’s entirely future proof. At this point, a spinning drive is two generations old, superseded by both Solid State Drives, as well as M.2 drives. The bulkier design of the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C is already noticeable now, and will only become more obvious as SSDs and M.2 drives become larger in disk size, and more affordable in time. If you’re looking for a drive today, to better archive large amounts of data, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than the LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C. But in six months, that statement can no longer hold true.