LaCie 500GB Portable Hard Drive Secures Data with Style

By Matthew Sarrel  |  Posted 2010-07-01

LaCie 500GB Portable Hard Drive Secures Data with Style

Every road warrior needs rugged and encrypted storage. Intellectual property, client lists and contracts could fall into the wrong hands if stored on a removable device that gets lost. It goes without saying that every corporate data asset in the field today should be encrypted at the very least. Earlier in 2010 I reviewed rugged and encrypted USB flash memory from BlockMaster, Lexar and IronKey. I was impressed by the products' ruggedness, performance and security, but what if I want to store and transport hundreds of gigabytes of data rather than several?

LaCie stepped up to fill the gap in my life with the recent Rugged Safe 500GB portable hard drive. This MIL-STD 810F Shock Proof 128-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) hardware-encrypted hard drive with USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 connections resembles a metal box wrapped in soft silicone with a fingerprint reader in a perfectly ergonomic groove on top. Designed by Neil Poulton of "Ageing Pens" fame, the only thing that gives it away as a hard drive is the presence of USB, power and two FireWire ports on the back (oh, and that it says LaCie on the bottom).

This is a secure, able and good-looking portable hard drive with very easy-to-use biometric authentication and strong encryption. It's not a centrally managed, enterprise-level device; for example, this would be an entirely manual provisioning process. There's no remote destruct feature or way to apply security policies other than through the included software. The included Genie Backup software does a good-enough job if you're backing up a single workstation.

As far as ruggedness goes, this is almost certainly rugged enough to survive the typical crashes and bounces that it would encounter in the briefcase of a corporate road warrior, but I have my doubts about how it would survive the all-out assault to which I subjected the flash memory. To be more specific, dropping it off the desk is no problem, throwing it down a flight of stairs could be and throwing it off the roof would probably destroy it.

Pricing for the unit is $189.99 for the 500GB model and $299.99 for the 1TB version.

Testing the LaCie Rugged Safe

I unboxed the drive and all necessary cables were included. The Rugged Safe can get power either over USB or FireWire. There is a Quick Install Guide printed in a booklet that got me up and running in minutes. Software utilities and setup are on included on the CD-ROM, but I didn't need those because a partition of the drive itself has the same software on it.

On my Windows Vista Ultimate 64 workstation I followed the quick-start guide and connected the drive physically via IEEE 1394 FireWire. Windows found it and offered to format it for me; however, I fortunately realized that Windows wanted to format the drive that mounts automatically with the installation applications in it, so I canceled. Instead I mounted the drive and explored it to find the LaCie Safe Manager referred to in the Quick Install guide. I installed it, which involved creating the first user (there can be up to 10) and enrolling my fingerprints, and then had to restart.

After I restarted, I swiped my finger on the drive and Windows asked me to format it. I went with NTFS (NT File System) for performance reasons. After the drive was formatted, all I had to do was connect it, watch the red light come on at the top of the unit, then swipe my finger. The light turns green and the volume gets mounted as removable media, with 463 beautiful gigabytes of encrypted data storage.

As I mentioned above, one drawback to the Rugged Safe is that it is an end-user-managed, rather than centrally managed, asset. The Safe Manager software can manage up to 10 users and their access to the hard drive. This is really more of a single-user solution-and it's a great, secure addition to the corporate traveler's technology kit.

Performance was very good. I used ATTO Disk Benchmark and got a maximum of 26.5MB per second write and 29.7MB per second read for the Rugged Safe, compared with another external FireWire drive with 13.4MB per second write and 22.0MB per second read. Also, copying a directory containing 13.7GB of files to the Rugged Safe took 14 minutes and 39 seconds (copying back took 9 minutes and 36 seconds), compared with 17 minutes and 20 seconds there and 12 minutes and 7 seconds back for the other drive.

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