Are Rugged Hard Drives Tough Enough?

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Big orange bumpers. Protective covers for the connections. Armored corners. Rugged hard drives sure do look the part and, with manufacturers claiming they can be dropped, knocked around, and survive a light rain, sure do seem reassuring for the adventurous types. Would they truly hold up to this type of abuse in the real world? We took a sampling of the latest tough drives and held them to their rated standards for falls, water spills, and any other miscellaneous statements printed on the box.

We pulled out four so-called “rugged” drives to test:

This list entails some of the newest and most common choices of current available rugged drive choices. You have the classic orange LaCie, the relative newcomer from the reliable G-Tech, a super small SSD in the SanDisk SSD, and a slight curveball with the standard SD card (did you know they are waterproof?).

We ended up mostly following the recommended specs when it came to testing, where we did some drop, crush, and splash testing. There were a few extra drops all around just for fun, too. As a control, we uploaded a couple of video files, made sure everything sounded right, and then took the drives to the testing grounds.

Drop Test

The most common accident your hard drive will encounter is going to be a drop. That is why many rugged drives sport a hefty rubber bumper to absorb any impacts. They also offer the benefit of preventing the drive from sliding around when it is sitting on your desk. We took all four contenders down the street to what I like to call a micro park, in New York. This gave us some room and a solid concrete sidewalk on which to perform our drop test.

Each drive has its own specific rating, so we felt a couple of gravity-accelerated descents to the sidewalk at around their specific ratings would provide solid results of what you might encounter in the real world. Running through the options, we have the LaCie, with 4' shock resistance; the G-Tech going to 4.9'; and the SanDisk SSD impressively falling from 6.5'. SD cards don’t have a specific rating, but considering their small size, we took this one all the way up to 6.5'.

The next step was to measure the heights and drop the drives! Fortunately, or unfortunately, if you were rooting for catastrophic failures, all the drives survived without any issues. It was almost disappointing how easily the drives survived the falls with just some minor scuffing in places. The SanDisk SSD and SD card were the clear winners here, though, since their small sizes and solid-state designs mean that they can survive major falls more easily.

Crush Test

The next step in our testing journey was the crush-proofing test. Imagine the worst-case scenario in which you drop your drive and then step on it. That’s a good amount of weight pressing down on the drive and, with conventional options, they can crack easily. Tough drives are solid, generally featuring some sort of metal or rubberized exterior elements to handle a bit of compression, if needed. LaCie can handle a ton, literally 2000 lb! G-Tech doesn’t have anything explicitly listed, but it shares many design elements with the LaCie. SanDisk’s SSD and SD card are simply shock resistant, but we will see how they held up to a person’s weight.

Putting them through their paces, they all held up Brett’s weight, all pressing down on a single foot. The LaCie and G-Tech were seriously solid options; however, I probably wouldn’t want to be doing this consistently to the SanDisk SSD or SD card—they just don’t seem as well suited to this particular task.

Water

This is the most intriguing of the resistance classifications, since many stated ratings are very general. What exactly does “rain resistance” mean? We took this to mean that if you spilled water on a drive, or exposed it to rain drops, you would be able to dry off the drive and have it keep going easily. The LaCie has rain resistance; G-Tech offers IP66, since it can float with the bumper and be submersed to 1' for about 30 seconds; and the SanDisk SSD surprisingly has an IP55 rating that can apparently hold up to flowing water for three minutes. Also, the SD card is completely waterproof, something I’m sure many photographers have accidentally figured out by mistake.

Those are the three main protections provided by rugged drives, and I was impressed that they all held up without any issues. Tough drives will definitely hold up to any of your everyday accidents, be it an occasional drop, a spilled water bottle, or even just being stuffed into the bottom of a heavy bag. Oh yeah, and since LaCie said its drive could get run over by a car, we had to try that, too.

Any questions or thoughts on rugged drives? Do you want to see us take these drives to their breaking points next time? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

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