You might be attracted to LaCie's Rugged USB 3.0 drive for its durability, but inside the orange and silver case is a 500GB hard drive that performs, on average, better than its counterparts. At $149, this is not the cheapest or slimmest option, but you're getting a drive that can be dropped from 7 feet, and it comes with online backup to boot.
Like most recent LaCie drives, this one was designed by Neil Poulton. Love it or hate it, the Rugged USB drive certainly stands out. Its aluminum case, divided into a number of squares, is fitted with a removable neon orange rubber guard that covers the sides and corners; pull it off, and you can open the hard drive case itself, which voids the warranty.
As the drive is made to withstand drops from 2.2 meters (approximately 72 inches), all that padding needs to go somewhere, which is why the LaCie drive, at 5.7 x 3.5 x 1.1 inches and 9 ounces, is bulkier and heavier than traditional portable hard drives. This much is certain: it won't fit in a pants pocket.
Compatible with both Mac and Windows machines, the LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 comes with the Genie Backup Assistant, a simple (but effective) utility for getting all your vital data onto the drive. The software is pretty basic; after installing it, you can choose either the Easy or Normal layout. Easy presents three options: Create Backup, Restore, and Run Backup. The Normal view lets you adjust settings, such as when it should run a backup, and what files should be excluded.
Also included is 10GB of free storage for a year with Wuala online backup. This drag-and-drop service encrypts files even before they get stored online, lets you share them with others, and supports file versioning. However, after one year, storage gets expensive: that 10GB will cost you $25 annually, and 50GB costs $95 per year. That's steep considering you can get unlimited storage from MozyHome for about $60 per year.
The drive comes with a two-year warranty--one year less than the Iomega eGo and SeaGate FreeAgent.
On the whole, the LaCie's 7,200-rpm, 500GB drive outperformed other portable USB 3.0 drives we've tested. Writing a 4.97GB folder of multimedia to the drive--the test we consider the most important--from a Lenovo W710 workstation took 2 minutes and 2 seconds, a rate of 41.7 MBps. That was good enough for second place, just 4 seconds slower than the Iomega eGo (43.1 MBps). However, reading the same folder from the LaCie drive took a category leading 57 seconds (89.3 MBps). The next closest was the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Pro, at 1:06 (77.1 MBps).
When it came to large individual files, the LaCie once again rose to the top, or nearly so. We wrote a 1.66GB MPEG-4 to the drive in just 26 seconds, a rate of 65.3 MBps. Following right behind was the Seagate FreeAgent (27 second; 62.9 MBps) and the Iomega eGo (60.7 MBps). Reading that same file, the Iomega blew away all comers with a rate of 283.2 MBps (just 6 seconds), but the LaCie was in a respectable second place, reading the file in 17 seconds, a rate of 99.9 MBps.
It's not as svelte as other models, but the $149 LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 drive is generally faster, and can protect your data better than most other portable hard drives. However, we favor the Iomega eGo ($129) for its sleeker form factor, lower price, and faster performance. While we wish the LaCie Rugged USB 3.0's warranty was longer, for $149 you're getting a good deal for a durable USB 3.0 hard drive.