I was recently in need of a new portable backup drive that uses directly a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 port to go with my new MacBook Pro. I saw a few SSD options and asked my University store. I was propose the tiny, 51g (1.8 oz) 2TB Samsung T5 drive. If like me, you have been using computer for a long time, boy is this unit small for 2TB capacity. I still remember a time were we would leave the home computer ON once we have program a game (from a printout you would get in a specialized computer magazine) because there was no saving option…
Whatever your have gone 100% digital or for occasional use, it is good practice to keep a copy of your important files “off site” from your main backup infrastructure. Mine is a 5-drive Drobo system used by time machine at work (set with 2-drive failure protection mode). So for portable backup, I bought a few years ago a 320Gb rugged LaCie triple interface (USB2/FW400/FW800) drive. Worked very nicely but got a little small. I also knew that I would change by MacBook Pro in 2012, with the expectation that USB3 / Thunderbolt would become the norm. My 15″ MacBook Pro Retina display fits the bill.
So I recently acquire the LaCie Rugged 1 Tb USB3 / Thunderbolt drive.
I decided to submit this drive to real-world read/write tests. By real-world, it means in my case backing-up and reading back files/folders.
- I used three folders: one 9Gb composed mainly of mp3 and mp4 files, a 17Gb folder containing 12 MPixel photographs and finally a 109.8Gb folder composed mainly of standard and high-definition movies.
- I used the terminal cp and time commands for these tests, namely: time cp -r <source> <destination>
- Write tests = getting files from my Retina notebook and write them to the LaCie drive
- Read tests = reading the files from the LaCie drive and to my MacBook Pro
- Each test has been performed three times for each folder for a given interface (USB2, FW800, …)
- I calculated the average values from the 9 individual values in the read tests for each interface. I proceeded similarly for the write tests.
For those who wonder, the Retina is using the latest generation SSD drive, so it is not a bottleneck in these tests!
The results (the good)
The figure below gives the write / read performance in Mb/s for my old 320 Gb triple interfaces LaCie starting at around 35 Mb/s using the USB2 interface and about 60 Mb/s with FW800. In comparison using the same terminal command as above to copy the same folders to another place on my internal SSD drive i.e. read from the SSD drive and write a new version of these folders also to the SSD drive gives over 266 Mb/s!
First impression of the LaCie 1 Tb drive: it is much faster than the previous one thanks to the modern USB3 and Thunderbolt interfaces. The gain factor over the previous incarnation is between 1.7 to 3 times faster in these tests.
The surprise (the ugly)
The main surprise is the Thunderbolt interface is providing very little gain over USB3 in my real-world tests. In fact considering that the standard deviations are between 5 to 10% of the reported values shown in the figure, one can safely assumed that this drive basically offer the same level of performance for both interfaces.
In turns out that LaCie decided to use a 5400RPM drive for this model. I therefore must conclude that the hard drive rotational speed is limiting the Thunderbolt interface (maybe it even limits the USB3 interface). While marketing this drive as a Thunderbolt enable drive is a great publicity pull, the decision of using a sub-standard hard drive (in term of speed) is a very stupid one from LaCie in my opinion and deceiving for the buyer expecting to obtain significant advantage from the Thunderbolt port.
The new LaCie Rugged 1 Tb USB3/Thunderbolt external hard drive is a very capable, robust drive for anyone needing a drive that can travel and sustain some level of bumping. It is much faster than the previous triple interface LaCie rugged version. However even for its 220-230$ price point, do not expect the enhanced Thunderbolt speed. You will have to settle for USB3 speed.